Business and Economics: Vietnamese Women Business

Background

Introduction

Mapping out the gender dimension of entrepreneurship in order to assess the objective base of women’s entrepreneurial capability is a challenging task” (Carter, 2000). In the recent past, there have been quite a number of studies and debates comparing make and female owned businesses. As it is in many parts of the world, women are slowly embracing business and opportunities to compete effectively with the male. In an effort to develop gender sensitivity, many countries are also putting in place measures that make it possible for women to implement their entrepreneurial capacities (Taipei, 2004). These differences are discussed in terms of assets, level of debt and management styles, among others. A study by Haynes et al. (2000) argues that “on average, women-owned businesses have lower levels of total business assets, liabilities, equity, and income than men-owned businesses”. In another study, Haynes et al. (2007) explains that “success of small businesses is not necessarily tied up to family prosperity; however, women-owned businesses are more likely to realize an increase in the transfer of money from the business to the household”. These differences will make part of the basis of the paper’s arguments, and will form a good part of this study.

Some of the significant areas of concern for women-owned business include attitude towards their relationship with the government and law enforcement bodies. Women owned small businesses are characterized by their indifferent attitude towards and their unwillingness to cooperate with regulatory agencies, as well as a common tendency to use consultants who may not be qualified for regulatory advice (Delgado, 2011). Another areas of concerns for women-owned businesses include financial challenges which range from policy, access to fund, management and growth, just to mention a few. Financial challenges also are identified as the biggest trigger towards self-employment. This reveals the need for the area to be addressed effectively and keenly. As O’Neill & Dennis (2004) points out, banking jargon has for a long time been scary and as a result, many people will stay away.

“Modern economic roles and social status reflect both change continuity for women” (Brickham, 2008). This is evident from the number of girls and women who have access to education today. This is an area of concern and will be addressed in the study. As Landoli (2007) observes “schools and universities are segregated, and levels of enrollment of girls and their performance are impressive”. Another area of concern is technology. Gender plays a significant role when it comes to adoption of new technologies and business practices (Lee, Stearns & Jerome, 2009). A study conducted in Australia by (MacGregor & Vrazalic, 2008) reveals that there is no major difference between the way women and men view technology, but reveals a difference in the way men and women react to technological problems facing their businesses.

The aim of this research is to study women entrepreneurship in Vietnam. Objectives will include mapping out the gender dimensions of entrepreneurship, studying the base of women’s entrepreneurial capacity in Vietnam, understanding business opportunities for women entrepreneurs and studying women’s ability to compete effectively with men in Vietnam.

Justification of the study

“Although well established in most countries, women entrepreneurship has not reached its full potential” (The World Bank, 2011). In Vietnam, labor participation among women is growing steadily. “However the surge in participation rates of the Vietnamese population, especially among women, has left the rate of unemployment among women higher than that in men” (The World Bank, 2011). The result has been more need for other means of raising income among women, a common reason why women start business.

As business environments and markets change, the way business is done has changed. Unlike earlier generations, self-employed women today have more-knowledge based businesses (Gebler, 2011). They also run businesses that can be easily integrated to the global markets and plugged to more relevant such as those that can be integrated with technology based solutions. There is therefore need to understand these trends and level of adaptability among women entrepreneurs.

According to Scheela (2004) “Vietnam treats female entrepreneurship as a popular cause and women economic empowerment is an important aspect in any country”. The ways through which is implemented is an interesting area of study. The efforts from the government, donors, the private sector and other non-governmental organizations could be well defined and understood through this study. The role of government through different stakeholders such as the microfinance sector is significant and will also make part of the study

According to International Labor Organization in Vietnam (2007), barriers faced by women entrepreneurs in Vietnam are still huge. The barriers not only hinder start-ups, they restrain women’s women entrepreneurs and their ability to grow their potential. Possible barriers range from education, technology, culture, religion, financial constraints and perception, just to mention a few. In order to establish and implement solutions to them, there is need to understand them comprehensively.

Doing business in Vietnam

Economy’s background

As at July 2011, Vietnam had more than 90 million people (Central Intelligence Agency, 2011). The country is multi-ethnic with over 54 ethnic groups throughout the nation. Vietnam’s official language is Vietnamese, even though more people continue to adopt English. The country has an extensive network of education facilities. The national literacy level is among the best in the world at more than 90.4% (The World Bank, 2011). In the last 30 years, Vietnam has been trying to recover from the ravages of war that rocked the country many years before that (UHY Diong, 2009). The war which lasted between 1955 to 1975 left over 1.1 million people dead and investments worth billions of dollars destroyed. In the last decade, Vietnam’s growth has continued above 6%. “In the mid 2000s, the country’s economy grew to 7.5% and was ranked the second-fastest growing economy at the time” (UHY Diong, 2009). Since then, the country’s economy has only gotten better, increasing its investments by three times and domestic savings by four times.

According to the International Labor Organizations. (2011) “Vietnam’s unemployment rate is among the lowest in the world at 2.9%”. The country’s GDP now is the third largest in Asia. In recent times, the government has constantly reiterated their commitment towards international integration and economic liberalization. The ministry of planning and investment were able to meet their 9% GDP growth target starting 2008 (UHY Diong, 2009). Its exports to the US and Europe have more than tripled since 2006 after accession to the World Trade Organization.

Market characteristics and opportunities

Vietnam’s business opportunities arise from a sustained process of stabilization, especially as the country struggles to recover from a history filled with war such as the Indochina war in 1941 and the Vietnam war which lasted for lasted for 20 years starting 1955. “After the war, the collectivization of farms, factories and economic capital was implemented, and millions of people were put to work in government programs” (General Statistics Office, 2010). The country has been able to pick itself up and was ranked among the world’s fastest growing economies between 2000-2005. The country’s stability even in recent economic crises makes it a very attractive region for investment. According to the General Statistics Office (2010) “growth remained strong even in the face of the late-2000s global recession, holding at 6.8% in 2010”. International competitiveness and globalization has stimulated Vietnam’s market growth, leading a healthy build up of economical reserves, increased foreign investments and a strong balance of payments.

Special marketing customs and issues

A large population in Vietnam is made up of average income earners and population is well distributed among rural and urban areas. As quoted in UHY Diong’s report in (2009), the average wage per person in is $150 per month. This poses a major challenge for marketing, especially for products aimed for the mass market. However, the country’s telecommunication industry has seen a radical growth in recent years, allowing marketers to reach a large number of people through mobile devices. The industry’s income rose from US $2200 to 4600 million per year from 2006 to 2009 (Business in Asia, 2010) Traditional advertising such as radio and television are still the most common modes of marketing for many businesses in the region. Billboards and banners are still common especially for those businesses trying to reach rural markets.

Global network in investments

“Foreign investment agency figures show that Vietnam’s newly pledged and expanded FDI capital stood at US$ 12 billion in 2006 and US$21.3 billion in 2007” (International Business Publications USA, 2007 and UHY Diong, 2009). The Law on enterprises 2005 outlines what is expected of foreign investors. It also gives the guidelines under which any foreign investments or business relations will be conducted. This gives an idea of what anyone intending to trade externally should do and procedures to follow.

The Law of Enterprises 2005 is easily accessible to all foreign investors to allow openness and ease when one is opening a business in the country. The simplicity of the law is particularly important for small women entrepreneurs who may find it hard to understand jargon associated with laws and regulations. For women and women groups in rural areas who come together to make and sell their products outside their country, a relationship with foreign investors who help them market their products is paramount.

Benefits and challenges of investing in Vietnam

Benefits

The Vietnam market offers enormous opportunities for any investor from either gender. The biggest advantage of the market is the country’s labor force as a result of a huge population. The country has more than 80 million people, 65% of who are over the legal working age (International Labor Organizations, 2011). The same statistics indicate that the country’s unemployment levels are as low as 2%, meaning that a majority of the people are well experienced in different jobs.

The people of Vietnam are among the most literate people in the world. The literacy levels today stand at over 90% (Central Intelligence Agency, 2011). For any investor such as female entrepreneurs in the country, this trend makes it easy to access professional labor, as well as employees in any other level of the business. High literacy levels make it easy for a new investor to recruit and train its employees. Consumer products make a big percentage of the industry and are among the most vibrant in the Asian region. This makes it a viable market for a big number of women entrepreneurs who have interests in the industry such as farmers and food traders.

Challenges

Though the country offers immense opportunities for entrepreneurs, it also presents challenges for any investor. Its struggle with human rights puts it on a global spotlight often. Vietnam is under constant pressure from the west and especially the US, to allow more freedom to its citizens, a factor that may make spoil the country’s image out there and make it hard for Vietnamese entrepreneurs to sell their products in the outside markets. The country’s negative image on such issues needs to be worked on to allow entrepreneurs from the country be able to compete effectively with the rest of the players in the global markets.

The country has a long history of war, the most famous being the Vietnam war. Even though it has worked to put this in the past and clear the country’s image, women entrepreneurs, and especially those who want to do large scale business, may have a hard time importing expatriates and exporting their goods and services to other countries. The war period still influence the nation’s politics and decisions, especially regarding foreign policies that affect entrepreneurs and their access to markets in other countries. However, like the Taskforce on implementing the Enterprise Law and the Investment Law (2008) argues these can be resolved if all the stakeholders realize that “a thoughtful management of Vietnam’s process of economic integration in the regional and world economy would require further reflection on internal and external possibilities for more sustainable and competitive roles for MSEs in the broader chains of business”.

Growth and development of women and men owned businesses in Vietnam

Business laws in Vietnam are guided by the Law on Investment or simply LOI (UHY Diong, 2009). The legislation governs both direct and indirect investments in the region. They also allow the Central Bank of Vietnam to regulate and monitor the functioning of businesses in the country. Like many other countries, every local and foreign investor in the region is expected to practice business ethics such as honesty and integrity. To start and run a business in the country, one must have legitimate interests and operate within the country’s laws. Proper standards of accounting are also a must and so is proper and regular auditing (UHY Diong, 2009).

Most of the licenses in Vietnam are processed and given through the ministry of commerce and industry, who operate under laws passed by the National Assembly. “Business laws are all outlined in the Law of Enterprise 2005” (UHY Diong, 2009). Other authorities responsible for business licensing include the central board of excise, customs and different municipal offices. Like most countries, security and environmental issues are a major concern and women entrepreneurs must take note of such concerns to ensure their investments are in line with the law. For this reason, businesses transactions must not pose any threats to the national security or the environment, and especially security for Vietnam. Some of the basic requirements for a business in the country include a business license, tax account number, a security clearance certificate and the registration fee. Business ethics such as being honest and treating employees well apply.

Marketing and development of brand names and products has been mainly happening through the traditional media. The younger generation is slowly changing the trend by embracing modern methods of communication such as mobile phones and social networks (Organization for economic co-operation and development, 2004). This has given business a better platform to reach bigger masses at a cheaper cost. As the telecommunication industry grows, the number of people using the internet is also on the rise. More than ten million people in the country today own a mobile phone (Business in Asia, 2010). Companies are therefore utilizing short messages, internet videos and other forms of advertising possible through mobile phones to reach consumers.

In the recent past, as many regions work towards embracing equality and ensuring equal access to opportunities, differences between men and women entrepreneurs has attracted a lot of attention. As it is in many parts of the world, women are slowly embracing business and opportunities to compete effectively with the male. In an effort to develop gender sensitivity, many countries are also putting in place measures that make it possible for women to implement their entrepreneurial capacities (Taipei, 2004). These differences are discussed in terms of assets, level of debt and management styles, among others. A study by Haynes et al. (2000) argues that “on average, women-owned businesses have lower levels of total business assets, liabilities, equity, and income than men-owned businesses”. In another study, Haynes et al. (2007) explains that “success of small businesses is not necessarily tied up to family prosperity; however, women-owned businesses are more likely to realize an increase in the transfer of money from the business to the household”. These differences make the basis of many arguments, and will form a good part of this study.

In this case study, “while the investment climate in the country is similar for both men and women, female owned firms is Vietnam perceive some constraints as more biding than do male-owned firms” (International Labor Organization in Vietnam, 2007).). The differences between literacy levels, experience, cultural influences and level of responsibility at home makes the constraints different for the sexes. Accessibility of finances as well as regulatory issues further weighs differently for men and women. However, the formal sector seems to present equal challenges for both men and women. As Secondary School Material, (2011) explain, “the shortage of small and micro male and female owned firms in the region suggests high barriers to entry into the formal sector for all”.

Vietnamese women involvement in business

“Although well established in most countries, women entrepreneurship has not reached its full potential” (The World Bank, 2011). In Vietnam, labor participation among women is growing steadily. “However the surge in participation rates of the Vietnamese population, especially among women, has left the rate of unemployment among women higher than that in men” (The World Bank, 2011). The result has been more women starting small businesses out of necessity to cater to their financial needs. Unlike earlier generations, self-employed women today have more-knowledge based businesses. They also run businesses that can be easily integrated to the global markets and plugged to more relevant markets. These include businesses in the telecommunications, foods and fashions industries.

“With such clear potential, Vietnam treats female entrepreneurship as a popular cause and women economic empowerment is an important aspect in any country” (Scheela, 2004). It is implemented through combined efforts from the government, donors, the private sector and other non-governmental organizations. The country today pays a lot of attention to the microfinance sector, with the intention of advocating women’s access to financial resources. The government further puts a lot of emphasis on building capacity for women entrepreneurs and strengthening measures that support them.

Even with all these efforts and measures to support women entrepreneurs, analysts argue that minimizing and eradicating barriers facing women entrepreneurs would be more helpful. “Women face additional hurdles-gender related, and the cost of being outside the traditional investment environment” (International Labor Organization in Vietnam, 2007). The barriers not only hinder start-ups, they restrain women’s women entrepreneurs and their ability to grow their potential. Many governments and non-government organizations have come up to support women entrepreneurs in Asia and many other regions. Kantor (2001) argue that having invested significantly in their education in a considerable number of years, the world should work towards minimizing the disparities that exist between men and women. The differences between men and women in the business world should be minimal, considering women have equal access to education as men (Holmgren, 2009).

The transition economy

Vietnam’s economy is one under transition. According to Secondary School Material (2011), “its economy is undergoing rapid change as it moves away from non-market socialism to a market economy with a socialist orientation”. It is a country with vast natural wealth and a population that ranks 12th in the world. It is rich in mineral resources and the population offers it significant human resources required to support investments in the country. Entrepreneurship is critical for a country in which much of the population is still dependent on agriculture.

In 2010, the country’s economy was supported by different sectors distributed as follows;

  • Agriculture 20.6%
  • Industrial 41.1%
  • Services 38.3%.

These statistics give a brief idea of the areas of entrepreneurship many people will focus on. One of the long standing issues in the country has been the issue of land possession and the inability to sell land since the state retains all the rights to the land. The growing service and industrial sectors are hugely owned by the state through State Owned Enterprises (SOE). As the country undergoes transition, there is an evident shift to a market system to allow investment opportunities for both men and women who want to invest is different sectors. One way to do this is privatize SOEs and merge SOEs to sustainable investments capable of competing with the growing private sector and global business which would call for the government’s willingness to do so. Some of the areas that need to be addressed to allow men and women investors benefit from the transition economy include:

  • A faster pace of economic reforms
  • Improved efficiencies in banking and other financial management bodies
  • Increased domestic consumption
  • Increased foreign investments
  • Increased industrial output and development

Women entrepreneurship in Vietnam

Role of attributes

Personal background

Personal background plays a significant role in any person’s goals to be an entrepreneur. As Carter (2000) explains, “studies conducted in the past on the role of gender in business management have revealed that women and men have very different management approaches”. According to Lee, Daesung & Seong (2005), studies in Europe, Scandinavia and the US show that “females saw the small business sector as a means of circumventing the ‘glass ceiling’”. The studies further reveal that growth of females owned businesses in developing economies is over four times that of males. Even in this situation, the reality is yet to catch up with an environment where men and women should enjoy equal chances in business management. “The successful managerial stereotype remains masculine-self confident, dominating, competitive, decisive, aggressive and independent” (Brickham, 2008).

Personal background plays a significant role in determining whether women excel or fail in the competitive business world. Differences in the way they communicate handle pressure and resolve problems have contributed to a slower pace of investments among women. In a country like Vietnam where cultural and traditional practices have been upheld for so long, women are less exposed and have fewer platforms to express themselves. Even as this slowly changes to allow equal opportunity for both men and women, a lot still needs to be done.

Cultural conditioning and gender stereotyping in the country still creates big difference in the way women approach technical issues and solutions at work, as well as how they develop teams to manage challenges at work. Women are more likely to use their positions to create an environment where people are supported and nurtured. “Men on the other hand use senior positions to create hierarchal environment where nothing short of obedience is expected” (Torppa, 2010). The environment supports issuing and receiving of orders, as well as authority. Women grow up knowing how to be responsible and handle easy things that have well defined futures. As a result, technical issues which can be hard to predict become hard to manage.

Further differences arise from the way men and women perceive issues and at what level of priority they place them on. According to Landoli (2007) “females perceive technical issues to be a more important barrier than organizational issues”. Men on the other hand are more concerned with the development of a plan and how a new aspect will help develop the plan. This is echoed by MacGregor & Vrazalic (2007) who explains that “by contrast, male SME owners/managers are more concerned with the sustainability of technical aspects in the organization, implying the need for a different focus in technical initiatives”.

Furthermore, differences exist between the way men and women handle management and other business related matters. They have different preferences and strategies as consumers. These differences are widespread and revolve around adaptability, attitude regarding new business paradigms, and the perception of risks (Landoli, 2007).In the Middle East, there are few economic and political opportunities for women as compared to what is available for men (Lee, Stearns & Jerome, 2009). This has been the trend for long as men and women continue to assume different roles in the society. This trend is explained in the gender role theory which explains that boys and girls assumed roles that were assigned to them as they grew up, roles that they have to keep up with even as grown men and women (MacGregor & Vrazalic, 2007b).). In Vietnam, women are considered to be homemakers while men are considered as the providers. This means that women are less involved in different economic activities to earn a living for themselves as well as for their families.

As a result of their weaker physical features, women are considered the weaker sex. Less economical responsibility is placed on them leaving them in a position where they are not constantly interacting with social and economic activities. As they continue to be considered the weaker sex, they are continually assigned less aggressive duties such as taking care of children. This trend is slowly changing in Vietnam and women have access to more economic activities. Women in this country today have access to education, formal employment, they have rights to entitlement and have legal representation when need be. As a result, they are more involved in economic activities and can easily relate to different economic paradigms.

Educational background

The people of Vietnam are among the most literate people in the world. The literacy levels today stand at over 90% (The World Bank, 2011). For any investor, this trend makes it easy to access professional labor, as well as employees in any other level of the business. High literacy levels make it easy for upcoming women entrepreneurs to recruit and train its employees. As recorded by (Central Intelligence Agency, 2011), according to the 2009 census, the literacy level among men and women is 96.1% and 92% respectively. The country is ranked 49th on the list of literacy levels in the world. However, education is not free in Vietnam, making it hard for women from poor families to access good education.

Education level plays a significant role in the level of women entrepreneurship in any industry country (Varghese, 2009). Differences between men and women in business management styles raises questions over whether men and women pick out different benefits from literacy. Like Tanner (1990) notes, “it is critical to understand that even if there may be average tendencies in the directions different theories suggest, these generalizations certainly do not apply to all women” (Truong, 2002). Other factors such as upbringing and social settings among others may influence the way a woman communicates, and sometimes it may be very different from what is expected of them from the established theories. The differences are argued to be less in the current world as various factors come into play. Like Dindia and Daniel (2009) explains “researchers in the 1970s predicted the disappearances of gender management differences as women moved into higher management positions, but the gap or “disconnection” remains”.

Different levels of literacy between women may also present challenges when trying to get them to work together and benefit from established structures promoting equal entrepreneurial opportunities between men and women (Obafemi & Adetayo, 2004). As theorists established with time, the differences between the learned and the illiterate should not be a source of conflict between women, as long as they can learn to develop and sustain healthy relationships to help them work together (Muravyev, Oleksandr & Dorothea, 2009). For example, big organizations and business require casual laborers, whose availability is possible when people have different levels of education. In so doing, this is a chance to work on any mistakes on challenges that make it hard for two groups to communicate. As women in Vietnam take such differences seriously and work towards establishing healthy relationships between women from all levels of education, they are able to build confidence among those who are then willing to stand by each other even when differences exist. Satisfying relationships between the two are just some of the suggestions offered and proven to work in helping women improve on communication skills as well as allowing everyone benefit from available opportunities (Knowledge Wharton, 2010).

Even as Vietnam works towards ensuring equal educational opportunities for both and women, there are many sources of information today for women entrepreneurs today. There exist books of all kinds, blogs, classes, motivational speakers and many other resources offering professional solutions to women in business. These resources can help bridge the gap that arises when women who have different educational backgrounds are working towards the same interests and goals (Shivani, Mukherjee, & Raka, 2006). As the world becomes more and more liberal, men and women move away from traditional practices and expectations, and open up to different entrepreneurial tendencies and skills. For example in the past, “as females grew up in most cultures, they were taught not to be confrontational, not to make a scene or be aggressive or pushy” (Runyan, Patricia & Jane, 2006). The result is that women were left with no way of expressing any opposition to ideas or opinions. This is rapidly changing as women become more aggressive and equally competitive in all fields and professions, including entrepreneurship (Lee & Cynthia, 2010).

Business factors

Entrepreneurship calls for more than just education and the right idea (Nguyen, 2001). According to International Labor Organizations (2011), “there is no exact data indicating the number of SME in Vietnam but government statistics show that SMEs account for 97% of the total number of enterprises in Vietnam (according to the old definition of SMEs under the Decree no. 90)”. Decree no. 90 defines SME as “business establishments that have registered their businesses according to law and are divided into three levels; very small, small and medium according to the sizes of their total capital” (n.a., 2011). They play a significant role in the economy by using more than half the labor force in the country, as well as contributing to over 40% of the country’s GDP. For women entrepreneurs to participate fully in the SME sector, there has to be an enabling environment for them and growth. Just like it is with all entrepreneurs, women in business may fail or succeed depending with different factors and parameters, some of which may be beyond their influence.

As outlined by Gutierrez & Salvador (2009) business factors that influence the success or failure of both men and women entrepreneurs include market trends, competition, government policies and technology. “Building a business environment to enhance women’s entrepreneurial capability is crucial to Vietnam due to its current integration in the regional and global economies and women’s contributions in this regard” (Ministry of Science and Technology. 2008). Even as the stakeholders do that, there is need to further research on and understand which factors need to be given priority. Equal opportunities for women in school and at the work place allows them a good level of exposure to understanding and integrating these business factors to their ventures. A women is able or has access to a work force that allows her understand the markets has a chance of being able to launch relevant products at the appropriate time (Yilmazer & Holly, 2010).

The level of competition also influences their level of success. Venturing to the same industry at the same time has been common especially in rural areas where women engage in common activities. Without proper marketing and supply structures, the women are not able to reap maximum benefits from their small scale trading activities. Technological innovations an d their influence in a particular industry may impact women’s success or failure rate in business. For example, their inability to adopt technological innovations in the current markets may leave them out of the current competitive environment. Women in rural areas have to compete with traders from other regions who sell the same products but do so online, being able to reach a wider clientele. Government policies that do not favor women may also jeopardize women entrepreneurs’ efforts to venture into different industries.

Start-up experience

According to the General Statistics Office, (2010), Vietnam’s Enterprise Law on 2000 is accredited with an increased number of registered businesses, as many as 100,000. However, the process of starting a business is still not an easy task for women in Vietnam. In a report on business registration and startups in Vietnam, International Finance Corporation (2005) points out that these statistics should be used with caution as they do not reflect the level of entrepreneurial activity on the ground. Start up experience plays a significant role on how a venture develops after registration.

Trinh (2005) explains that the number of functioning firms is roughly 40% less than the registration figures quoted by the National Business Information Centre. This reveals that the hardest task for all entrepreneurs including the women is sustaining the business after registration. The author also reveals that although business registration for women entrepreneurs is relatively easier, many lack the experience to grow their businesses to sustainable stable ventures. This for a long time was contributed by a lack of equal opportunities between men and women. Today, women in Vietnam enjoy more than 90% literacy levels and the labor markets offer equal opportunities for both sexes. As a result, women have both the academic and profession start-up experience needed to develop businesses.

Triggering factors

Income incentive

Many women entrepreneurs are driven by the desire to make a better living. The Australian Agency for International Development by the Centre for International Economics (2002), report records that “female-headed households are usually materially better off than in male-headed households, but they have a lower expenditure than male headed households”. The report also indicates that in the rural areas, families with a larger number of females are poorer than those with more male members.

Disparities between income levels between men and women in Vietnam stem from differences in power level among the two. The Asian Development Bank (2001) attributed lack of power among women to inequality in decision making power, much more heavy work for women in the rural areas, high levels of domestic violence and women’s beliefs on their roles in and out of home.

The poorest regions in Vietnam have been identified as the Northern uplands, North Central and Central Highlands. According to Truong (2002) “many households living in the highland areas were simply too remote and deprived of land and capital to take advantage of opportunities”. However, women still strive to make a living through very small scale trading. Their desire to rise above miserable financial conditions has been one of the biggest motivations and triggers to engaging in economic activities as individuals and as groups (Das, 2000).

Financial independence

Financial independence is the biggest motivation for women who choose to engage in business. This is especially so for women who are already in employment. The desire to make more and break from dependence on salary is a major drive for many women entrepreneurs in all parts of the world (Koellinger, 2008). Vietnam is today listed as a middle-income country, and the gap between levels of income is quite big in rural and urban areas. The average income is $150 per month (Business in Asia, 2010). Just like in other countries, salary varies with the job level and wages are distinguished between state-owned and private organizations. As the cost of living goes up, more people embrace the idea of making money outside their jobs. This is equally so for men and women. Furthermore, the cost of living has provoked the need for both the men and women to contribute towards a home’s financial responsibilities. It is also notable that women are increasingly becoming independent and equally responsible for financial responsibilities at home.

Social status

The need for class and status is a significant driving force for women entrepreneurs in Vietnam. The need to occupy equally powerful and influential status in society has resulted in equal levels of competitiveness between men and women (White, Stewart & Elizabeth, 2006). Women earn as much as men in the country and are driven by the need to acquire status just like men. Global influence also plays a role in the way Vietnamese women embrace opportunities in their country. Through the internet and other avenues of communication with the rest of the world, women have learnt how to be aggressive and invest in available opportunities (Harada, 2003). They also have access to financial and professional assistance from international organizations and platforms set up to help women entrepreneurs all over the world. Through shared experiences and success stories from other women in different parts of the world, Vietnamese women desire the same level of influence enjoyed by other women in different economies.

Conflicts from previous working places

Self employment is viewed as freedom from conflicts between employees and bosses (Cruz & Mattias, 2010). Conflicts at work are a major problem for women due to their inability to hold back on emotional arguments. The desire to be free from conflicts is a major drive for women entrepreneurs in Vietnam, a society where for a long time women did not have a voice or a way to express themselves. A good number of women therefore view entrepreneurship as an avenue where they have a chance to make decisions, be the boss and have a flexible schedule that is not dictated by other people (Olson, et al., 2003).

Barriers for women in the entry mode

Regulatory issues

“In a nation-wide survey, statistics gathered from 46 provinces and cities show that in the non-State economic sector, the number of enterprises headed by women increased 5 times between 1992 and 1997” (Mai, 1998).In the beginning of 1998, there were over 2000 women leading private enterprises and were a source of livelihood for over 44,000 people through employment. Judging from this number, it’s fair to conclude that there is great potential for women entrepreneurs in the country. It is however important to note that without the relevant support, the potential benefits may not be real.

With a realization that there is need to address the special needs of women entrepreneurs in Vietnam, various regulatory concerns must also be addressed to be able to benefit from the efforts comprehensively. From Nguyen & Nhung (2008). report “A survey on women entrepreneurs by IFC in 2006 reveals that the women surveyed would strongly support the establishment of a special government advisory board for women’s business development issues, so that their voices can be heard in policy deliberations”. Barwa (2003), helps us understand the issue better by pointing out that “until now, the Vietnam Women Entrepreneurs Council has established within VCCI and is mandated with this role”.

Even though this is so, women entrepreneurs in the country feel that the council has a lot to do and ought to a more significant role in negotiating policy, especially those that directly address women entrepreneurs. Women entrepreneurs are also much interested in regulatory parameters addressed in the Gender Equity Law, few of which have been addressed by the council. Regulatory challenges facing women entrepreneurs in Vietnam include those that address how employees are treated, period taken to register a business, insurance, and banking regulations, which dictate access to money.

Financial constraints

One of the major challenges facing women entrepreneurs in Vietnam is the ability to access starting and working capital. “At present, 90% female entrepreneurs need loans or top-ups, but where and how to get loans is a problem for them” (Lau, 2009). For these women though, the author points out that financial challenges are equally about education on how to manage the money as it is about accessing it. This is evident from Phuc & Nguyen (2009), report, which points out that “nearly one third of the women entrepreneurs in Vietnam have bank credit, yet few have been able to reinvest business earnings for growth”.

Tambunan (2009) records that “according to SME White Book 2010, only one third of women-owned business have access to access to bank loans and under the incentive credit programmers by the government, just 5-10% of SMEs is accessible to credit”. The statistics refer to developing Asian countries where the study was conducted. Other than being unable to access credit, the other challenge that women entrepreneurs face is the high interest rates charged by the banks. Bank rates in Vietnam are exorbitant going as high as 27% per annum in the last year. This makes it extremely hard for new business to borrow to sustain or expand their businesses. Privately owned businesses have a hard time accessing loans and any other financial assistance that they may require. “While state enterprises can get loans from banks without collateral, private investors have to mortgage their properties and complete many complicated procedures” (Ardrey, Anthony & Clifford, 2006). The other challenge arises from the fact that small loans are only available to entrepreneurs for very small periods of time.

Phuc (2009) also quotes the country’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who admit that procedures set by banks are too complex for women SMEs, some of who in the first place may not be able to understand the language used in banking. As Tran (2006) further explains “recently, as a result of credit tightening requirements, many banks have limited their growth in credit portfolio and have to apply for criteria to reduce the number of loan applications”. Education on financial matters is not well addressed in Vietnam for women entrepreneurs, making it hard for them to borrow. This is because, some of them don’t even have or know how to write business proposals. This is made worse when these entrepreneurs lack collateral, audited accounts and other requirements established by banks in the country. Since most of small entrepreneurs lack adequate knowledge on borrowing and banking policies, even those who are able to access loan s may not be able to repay them as they do not anticipate the high cost of paying it due to high interests (Salvato, 2004).

Economic culture

Women entrepreneurs often face challenges related to financial management. “They face financial disclosure, information transparency and they do not have standard accounting systems” (Watson & Sherry, 2003). Women-owned SMEs are characterized by too small average capital size. Lack of planning and clear business plans means that most owners do not plan for the next months that follow and end collapsing due to lack of a working capital (Mair, n.d.). In an attempt to maximize on profits, many SMEs take shortcuts and avoid the required regulatory procedures, mistakes that might end up costing them heavily. In addition to all these negative practices, women in general have been blamed for their indifference towards financial matters and management, as evident by the number of those who are banked compared to that of men. Everett & John (1998) summarizes this by pointing out that “women business owners often indicate that they need better financial management skills, and specific training and technical assistance in the areas of financial management and using capital for business growth could yield significant results”.

Application of Vietnamese women business

Sustainability

Business planning

The need for planning in business cannot be underestimated (Welter, 2004).). Looking at the challenges that face women entrepreneurs in Vietnam, there is no doubt that putting in place measures that counter them is paramount for any women entrepreneur. Daniels (2010) advices that “a business plan should cover aspects such as marketing, finance, sales and promotion plans, as well as detailed breakdowns of costs and profit predictions”. Unfortunately, small businesses lack a comprehensive plan and more often leave out the important aspects of a business. For example, a plan that lacks direction on costs and expenses may not be able to sustain itself regardless of how well marketing and sales were planned. In Vietnam, a considerable number of small business owners are young and may lack the much needed level of experience to address some of the challenges that arise from poor planning. The result is the inability for small businesses to go through any challenges that arise.

Sufficient resources

According to Barreto (2007),insufficient finance often means that businesses are unable to take opportunities available to them, or have to compromise-going for high cost solutions to problems, rather than lower cost ones that would yield greater competitive advantage”. In Vietnam, the government recognizes the significance of the women-owned small businesses by offering different kinds of support. This is through establishing structures that will allow increased grants, financial advice and information for them, as well as making loans more available to small entrepreneurs (Tang, Zhi & Franz, 2007). Grants are today not very available but the few which are awarded are through the government and other non-governmental organizations. Information and advice are essential since most small businesses suffer from poor financial management, bad credit and inability to sustain the high costs in the early days of business (Fini, Rosa & Gian, 2009).

Financial challenges are obviously challenges that stakeholders cannot afford to ignore (Dana, Robert & Kirsten, 2009). Women-owned small businesses are at a higher risk of closing down due to lack of sufficient funds to run their day to day expenses. Financial related challenges can be solved through education, training and making funds available for small businesses. The Vietnam government can get involved by having subsidized interest rates for small business loans, making the process of accessing funds easier, and encouraging non-governmental organizations to get involved through grants and training. The Vietnam government in the recent past has put in place measures to encourage small women entrepreneurs through government funded grants. Budgetary allocations for small businesses further need to be increased to help more start-up access financial support.

Labor force

Another area in which small businesses need help is managing human resources. Many times small women-owned businesses employ less qualified personnel in an attempt to cut cost. Low level of literacy among the workers then makes it hard for them to be trained or adapt to new and challenging business environments (Earley & Miriam, 2004). Because of their lack of knowledge, the workers are unaware of how different factors affect the business. In small enterprises, controls are normally decided by custom and practice and not by an exact risk assessment of the work practices. Reason (2008) found that the owners cited number of barriers including limited resources, lack of in-house expertise and competition as to why they were failing in human resource management. It is therefore important that small business use everything they have to improve their human resource, as well as seek help on those issues that they cannot address (Sadler, 1999).

Armstrong (2009) further explains that “the issues that surround running a business are more pronounced in small enterprises by virtue of their sizes act to restrict the initiatives for meeting the health and safety standards for their workers”. The issue of safety is especially important for those businesses in high risk industries such as production. Issues of safety can further be categorized into management, finance, compliance and environmental practices, all which affect human resources (Cook, 2008). All these issues are inter-linked, are dependent on each other, and operate as a total force. Based on this premise, the key factors that affect the occupational health and safety in small businesses can be grouped under these heads. They are (a) low or lack of management and training skills; (b) lack of financial and human resources; (c) burden of statutory and regulatory compliance; (d) relationship with regulatory agencies and the use of consultants; (e) dependent relationship with large businesses; and (f) employment and occupational health and safety practices.

Business management ability

Management in small businesses differs largely from that of a large undertaking with formal structures (Martins, 2004). As against large businesses, in small business enterprises, the lines of communication are shorter with simple organizational structure (Bohlander, 2010). The small enterprises feel the commercial pressures almost instantaneously and severely. In the small businesses, management practices are intertwined with other aspects of running the business and it is not possible to separate them for higher focus. According to (Bohlander, 2012) “a shift in one area of functioning will have immediate consequences on another because of the inter-relationship between the functions of operating a small business is tightly knit”. In most cases the employer has to consider the provision of even basic management measures based on the cash flow.

Human resource management

Most of the women-owned enterprises face the challenge of training and skill development (Nguyen, n.d.). This is especially so in the area of business communication and management. Women-owned businesses mostly lack both the management attainment and adequate resources to meet their commitments on human resource requirements of the industry (Clutterbuck, 2007). The women business owners generally do not understand their obligations and responsibilities as far as their workers are concerned. Women business employers are often specialized in their particular trade rather than on the business management practices. They can frequently be characterized by a norm of independence and a shared belief in their personal values (Burmeister & Christian, 2007). The women business owners are keen in their individual autonomy and hence do not take much care of what the rest of the team thins or requires. The tension between the role of management and the rest of the team in the business also act to distance the owner-managers from meeting the requirements of the employees (Vivarelli, 2002).

Management skills

The first resource that women-owned businesses need is education and training. This is in areas of cash flow management, health and safety, marketing, and compliance with laws and regulations, among other areas. Santos, Fatima & Joaquim (2011) studied health and safety systems in small construction companies in the Asian region. The authors reported that newly hired construction workers in the small organizations are particularly at risk of occupational injuries because of insufficient safety education and training. This is important for women-owned businesses in such industries where safety issues could collapse a business. It is also important for women entrepreneurs to learn how to receive and send important information on issues that affect them. For example, full compliance to the law would require being fully updated on any new changes and new requirements (Petkova, 2009).

Role of government policies

A significant area of concern for women-owned business is attitude towards their relationship with the government and law enforcement bodies. Women owned small businesses are characterized by their indifferent attitude towards and their unwillingness to cooperate with regulatory agencies, as well as a common tendency to use consultants who may not be qualified for regulatory advice (Delgado, 2011). The same author observed three major reasons for the business owners resorting to external consultants to assist them in compliance issues rather than dealing with the government agencies directly. First reason is that many women-owned business owners feel alienated from the state. As a result, the business owners choose not to approach government agencies and relevant authorities directly for advice or guidance on matters that affect occupational, safety and health at work.

Secondly the women entrepreneurs always presume that they might be prosecuted by the government for not meeting the regulatory requirements. The result is that business owners are not in direct contact with the government, and will instead be more comfortable to use the services of small business advisors (Lee, Stearns & Jerome, 2009). The intermediaries may not relay all the information to both stakeholders, creating a communication breakdown. It is important that all relevant stakeholders put effort to fill the gap in their management knowledge. It is important for businesses and the government to note that by relying on the advisors to guide them on managing regulatory requirements, businesses may not have access to all the relevant information. Important subjects such as financial, tax and legal issues may not be fully addressed. For this reason, the government must ensure easy access of such information by reaching the women entrepreneurs instead of waiting for them to reach them. Compliance can also be improved by making it affordable for the women-owned businesses (Nabeel, 2002).

Other areas in which the government is expected to play a role include;

Business skill training courses

The government plays a significant role in determining how well entrepreneurs do in the country. Business skill training is a significant part of any business, especially start-ups. In Vietnam, a big number of women owned businesses are in the SME category. Most of the owners lack the relevant information and knowledge on how to start and run a business. Most of the businesses are run informally and entrepreneurs make too many mistakes before they can finally perfect the art of doing business in the respective industries they are involved in. Despite these challenges, women-owned businesses make a significant contribution to Vietnam’s economy and therefore should be protected. One way of doing this and ensuring sustainability is training them and offering them skills that help them manage change, competition and other significant parameters in a business (Kantor, 2001).

Loan/capital support with affordable interest

As discussed earlier, finances are a big challenge to women-owned businesses in Vietnam. Financial challenges range from lack of capital, lack of records and accountability in business, difficulties in accessing loans/capital, as well as inability to manage profits. The government has a responsibility in ensuring that these challenges are resolved through training, policy and exposure. A significant number of women entrepreneurs lack the exposure required for them to deal with current financial challenges facing businesses. Therefore, it is important that the government addresses issues of knowledge and exposure in addition to making the money available.

Capital support can be made available through more flexible credit policies and laws. Vietnams Chamber of Commerce and Industry has influence over how banks operate and manage their credit portfolio (Taskforce on implementing the Enterprise Law and the Investment Law, 2008).The government has a responsibility of ensuring that banks have less complicated loan application processes and terms. Furthermore, the banking language must be simplified as much as possible to make it easier for women entrepreneurs to understand the process. As O’Neill & Dennis (2004) points out, banking jargon has for a long time been scary and as a result, many people will stay away. The same case applies to women entrepreneurs in Vietnam who would rather struggle with finances rather than engage in processes they understand little about.

Through policy and budgetary allocations, the government has a responsibility of ensuring that women entrepreneurs have access to funds when they are starting and through the process of running their businesses. The Vietnamese government can do this through collaborations with non-government organizations, credit companies such as banks, insurance companies, and other micro-finance organizations. Policy adjustments are also required to make it easy for privately owned businesses access funds by minimizing the amount of collateral security required for loans. By encouraging women entrepreneurs to come together into groups and access capital by guaranteeing each other is just one of the practical measures that can be used to ease the situation.

Transparent economy

A significant number of women entrepreneurs lack the exposure required for them to deal with current challenges facing businesses. A good example is their inability to integrate technology into their businesses and embrace inventions that help manage their businesses more effectively. This also comes into play in the inability to understand technological developments in banks and other financial organizations that they deal with in the course of business.

Transparency is important in creating trust between women entrepreneurs and other stakeholders such as the banks. It is important for the government to simplify policy and language used in the financial world to encourage the involvement of more women. Trust will help more women develop courage to approach government agencies and other financial institutions for knowledge and assistance. It also helps them plane effectively as they have all the facts right. When women entrepreneurs know what to expect in different types of economical situations and periods, they are able to anticipate any challenges that may arise and plan for them.

Measuring success

Level of income

“The most common method business use to measure success is financial worth of a business” (Reib & Lutz, 2005). Many women entrepreneurs as discussed earlier are driven by the need to increase their income. If women are able to increase their income through their ventures, then one of their goals is fulfilled. This can be measured through their expenditure as households, earnings per month and quality of life before and after venturing into businesses. It is also through how many people they help earn a living through direct or indirect employment. Entrepreneurship for women also benefits them as groups and community at large, parameters that will be considered to measure the success of female entrepreneurship in Vietnam.

Growth rate

The sole purpose of investing in a business is to grow the invested capital. Unless a business is growing, it is of no value to an entrepreneur. Growth for women-owned businesses varies with different parameters, regions and other parameters. For example, different research papers reveal that women-owned businesses in urban areas pick-up more fast than those in rural areas, a trend mostly attributed to the differing levels of exposure. It is also due to the fact that most women from urban areas have more academic knowledge than those in rural areas.

Profitability and customer satisfaction is among the biggest measures of success and growth for a business (Fuller, Lorraine & Paul, 2008). A business is growing it its customer base is growing and it is able to trade more products as time goes by. Growth is further measured by the number of employees and other stakeholders such as suppliers and distributors. These among others are used to measure the level of growth among women entrepreneurs in Vietnam.

Longevity of a business

Another measure of success is the longevity of a business. Lee, Daesung & Seong (2005) explain that more than half of new businesses are not able to survive beyond the first 3 years of business. A business that goes beyond this time is considered as having a high chance of growing further and gaining stability. The more time a business is in existence, the more it is able to manage and handle challenges that arise when one is establishing a new business. These include uncertainties, competition, fluctuating currencies, and changing market trends, just to mention a few.

Launching new products require a significant amount of investment and the period it takes to break even will depend with the company’s marketing strategy. If a business is able to grow its number of products over time, it means the management is able to manage its finances, costs and profitability, and this can only be established with time. A further growth in revenue and profits over time will be a good indicator of success for a business.

Adoption of technology

Technology plays a significant role on the way business is conducted today. In order to succeed in such a competitive environment, small and big business are required to stay constantly in touch with the markets and other entrepreneurs. One way through which businesses can do this is adapting technological innovations and platforms to do business. E-commerce is one way through which businesses all over the world are able to attract global audience to their entrepreneurial skills. “Electronic commerce, commonly known as e-commerce, refers to the buying and selling of products and services over electronic systems such as the internet and other computer networks” (Reynolds, 2004). As a matter of fact, Tambunan (2009), mark that there has been an extraordinary growth registered in online transactions in the Vietnam, China and the entire Southeast Asian region. The essence of the issue lies in the following that the trend is attributed to the availability of internet in the country and the region, as well as technological innovations that have made communication between buyers and sellers easier and more convenient for both the parties concerned. According to Botha & Deldenhuys (2004), “adapting technology in business involves more than just buying and selling products online. It also includes the entire online process of developing, marketing, selling, delivering, servicing and paying for products and services”. Adaptable technologies for both men and women entrepreneurs in Vietnam include the following;

Electronic funds transfer

As defined by Laudon & Carol (2010), “electronic funds transfer (EFT) is the electronic exchange or transfer of money from one account to another, either within a single financial institution or across multiple institutions, through computer-based systems”. Money is stored electronically, and electronic bills make it possible for a buyer to make payment. In Vietnam, these transactions have been made possible due to use of electronically stored money in debit cards, as well as using the following payment methods such as wireless transfer. This has been a good platform for women entrepreneurs, especially those who deal with export products.

Supply chain management

Harland (1996) defines supply chain management (SCM) as “the management of a network of interconnected businesses involved in the ultimate provision of product and service packages required by end customers”. Success in any business is highly dependent on well structured supply chain management. Buyers are to be able to access products when they need them, and suppliers should have a consistent supply of products from manufacturers to provide their customers with all the necessary goods. Just like it is in physical stores, online stores need an effective inventory management system. Online sellers in the Vietnam can address some of the challenges which they usually face using supply chain management systems. These problems include distribution network configuration, cash-flow, trade-offs and distribution strategies. This challenge is particularly common for women who due to domestic responsibilities are unable to move frequently and monitor movement of goods and products. Technologies that allow them to do this even from home offers them more flexibility and convenience.

Internet marketing

The success of businesses today in different regions is highly dependent on digital marketing. Sellers need to market their products, as well as create awareness of the existence of their stores. E-marketing as it is commonly known has gained a great popularity in Vietnam in the recent years. The trend is attributed to the positive reception that e-commerce has received in the region, especially among women who are keen to inquire and learn new things.

Internet transaction processing

“Online transaction processing, or OLTP, refers to a class of systems that facilitate and manage transaction-oriented applications, typically for data entry and retrieval transaction processing” (Winser, Keah & Keong, 2009). OLTP offers major benefits, such as efficiency and simplicity to e-commerce trade. Flexibility is important for women entrepreneurs to be able to embrace, adopt and integrate as well as use new innovations that make transactions easier.

Electronic data interchange

Entrepreneurship today cannot work well and prosper if there are no systems that allow electronic transmission of work, information and payment. Different parties in a transaction need to have a way to transfer documents and data without human intervention. Therefore, electronic data interchange must be made possible before business technologies can be fully implemented in Vietnam. Value added networks in Vietnam are carried out by companies technologically equipped to manage such operations such as telecom companies. They also are well equipped to carry out inventory management systems. Managing inventory electronically requires technology and personnel that can keep up-to-date information of transactions and those involved in them. One way of achieving this is through automated data collection systems. Automated data collection systems allow organizations and governments to store information on relevant parameters in e-commerce.

Among Vietnam’s women entrepreneurs, e-commerce is estimated to be rising rapidly. The region is recognized as one of the busiest business hubs in Southeast Asia. This trend arises from an improved economy and increased interest the region has received from foreign investors who bring with them new trends, culture and ideas. Even as this happens, several challenges still linger. Internet filtration among women entrepreneurship is one of them.

Technology and women entrepreneurs in Vietnam today

Adaptability rate

“The number of internet users in Vietnam is estimated to rise more rapidly in the recent past” (Alharby, 2006). The graph below represents internet penetration in the Southeast Asia and GCC vs. the rest of the world.

Internet penetration Aug. 2002-End of 2005
Figure 1. Internet penetration Aug. 2002-End of 2005

This trend is not unique to Vietnam as over the last decade, the world has experienced rapid proliferation and penetration of the internet, even in countries that were previously viewed as conversant. This rapid uptake has not spared even the most conservative countries in the Asian continent. As such, the heightened speed of implementation of the internet, especially in Vietnam, indicates that people are hungry for alternative means of communication and doing business within and without their borders. For instance, freedom of press in Vietnam has always been entangled in argument largely due to the government’s unwillingness to guarantee total press freedom. Therefore, internet penetration has turned out to be a real time solution towards this problem. Moreover, the ease with which internet has accelerated publication of business information, as well as its ability to reach millions of audience at very minimal cost, has been received well by the Vietnam government.

It is against this background that the Vietnam government has realized how internet has demolished monopoly walls of information control, a situation that has witnessed authorities taking major steps towards implementation of controversial policies aimed at controlling penetration and access of internet in this region (Deibert, 2008). This in many ways affects women entrepreneurs even as the future looks so dependent on e-commerce and other online based business models (Allagui, 2009). Consequently, this move by Vietnam government to repress web freedom has generated numerous debates on implications of such a move to young entrepreneurs who are trying to open up to online trading, marketing and transactions. Nonetheless, the biggest concern for women entrepreneurs is whether such a move is genuine in protecting them or a retrogressive strategy that could make it harder for them to access opportunities that arise from a global connection offered by the internet.

According to Deibert (2008), the mandate to regulate Internet penetration and access in Vietnam rests with Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) which was established in 2003. When addressing any topics that address women entrepreneurship, internet regulation is a topic that cannot be avoided. Accessing global markets and internet adaptability can only be assured by ensuring that there are adequate and effective telecommunication services in the country, as well as coming up with regulatory and policy frameworks to act as a guideline while implementing these services. By designing polices such as Internet Management policy that is responsible for censoring online content, women entrepreneurs could benefit from the protection that comes from such measures, or could lose on opportunities that arise when people enjoy different online business platforms.

In Vietnam, the last few years have witnessed development of numerous policies which have largely imposed restrictions on how much web content can be accessed by the public. This affects different women entrepreneurs depending with the different industries they have invested in. For example, those in the fashion industry may be affected since some of the content in the fashion industry may appear as indecent. A recent research by ONI testing between 2008-2009 periods found out that TRA is tasked to block any content that is considered to be morally offensive such as nudity, as well as those that will in any way hinder or distract the main goal which is to benefit businesses in the nation and connect it to the global markets (Allagui, 2009). It is also a challenge for them since it is among the industries that have embraced online trading largely.

As illustrated above, though broadband access has been growing at a relatively high rate in Vietnam as compared to other regions in Southeast East, internet adaptability rate is still not satisfactory (Deibert, 2008). In response to the looming threats that come with internet accessibility, entrepreneurs may be hesitant to fully adapt it in their businesses.

It is evident that when addressing internet adaptability, allowing freedom of use and access will benefit women entrepreneurs, and especially the young whose businesses are very dependent on their ability to embrace technology. Deibert (2008) is of the opinion that such a move to censure internet has no place in 21st century world where information exchange is very significant in liberating the world population and the way business is conducted. The move by Vietnam government to prosecute bloggers and online activists following publications of content deemed to be violating TRA regulations indicates that the country has a long way to go before achieving maximum internet adaptability.

Deibert (2008) further adds that the fundamental idea behind information revolution, which is promoted through technological revolution, is to universal access to information as well exchange of information among entrepreneurs doing business in different economies. Therefore, the move by Vietnam to embrace information technology, while at the same time restricting universal access and free exchange of information, tends to dilute the whole essence of promoting technological advancement among entrepreneurs.

Networking

According to Gebler (2011), women are more reluctant to accommodate social business networks than their male counterparts. As a result, women are not in a better position to attract investment partners or even partners who will be in a position to use such networks to attract technical assistance. This is despite of the importance of such partnerships in the contemporary business world. As already noted, women are more concerned with technical difficulties. They take technical difficulties with more weight. On the other hand, male managers do not consider technical difficulties as a major intricacy (Fornahl, 2004).

Networking could be improved by education and minimizing the differences between women in Vietnam and the rest of the world. Improving education is a possible means of ensuring that the gap between Vietnamese women and the people they want to trade with is minimized. “In Vietnam, gender gap in education at the national level has been narrowed at the primary and secondary level, as more women are entering schools” (HY Diong, 2009).However, as the author contains to explain, the gap still remains a source of concern at the high level of education. Furthermore, this gap differs with regions and ethnic groups. According to the National Centre for Social Sciences and Humanities (2001), “in this regard, equal entrepreneurial development policy entails specific attention not only to the difference based on gender, but also to differences based on other factors such as income level, and exposure”

. Networking could further be improved through training and having solutions focused on gender constraints in marketing and effects of trade organizations and platforms that allow interaction. It could also be through improved women-friendly business in internal and external markets, as well as having industrialization policies that ensure easier access to global markets. Options and measures available for promoting networks between women entrepreneurs can be divided into two major directions. The first one according to Trinh (2005) is “to closely weave their activities into the country’s broader export-oriented industrial strategy and its vision on regional and global competitiveness”. The second one in Tran (2006) words is “to strengthen the space for the improvement of existing activities that are internally relevant and coherent with local socio-economic contexts”.

Furthermore, cultural differences and tolerance could also be a significant an issue of concern when building networks between women doing business in the country. In many developing and conservative countries, “females appear to be less welcome in social business networks often resulting in a reduced ability to use network partners to gain finance or attract technical or marketing assistance” (Brickham, 2008). Addressing such challenges could be significant as the region strategically sets itself up for significant benefits that come with networking.

Role of gender in the perception of barriers to e-commerce in Vietnam

“The association between e-commerce barriers and gender has not been explored in-depth, even though it has implications for the adoption of this technology” (Kolsaker & Payne, 2002). As evident from many developed nations, the role of women in issues that affect the economy cannot be ignored. The difference between the way men and women perceive issues needs to be addressed effectively to allow consistency.

A study carried out by MacGregor & Vrazalic (2008) reveals that men and women face different challenges as business managers and entrepreneurs. “Addition finding from the study reveal a greater differentiation of barriers within male owned/managed SMEs, which suggests the need for more customized e-commerce adoption program in these organizations” (MacGregor & Vrazalic, 2008). Differing levels of appreciation for e-commerce between men and women could slow down the level of growth in its application. It is important that women develop the same level of appreciation for e-commerce as men to allow its development (Hohenthal, 2006).

Issues that concern men in business management further differ from those which women would be concerned about. While women are more concerned about details, men tend to pay attention to cumulative progress. Their management styles further differ as explained by Hersey, Kenneth & Dewey (2008) who point out that “female managers of small business are more comfortable with giving instructions to staff through informal conversation than are their male counterparts”. Communication and problem solving strategies further differ. “While men will stress the role and use of power, female managers stressed the importance of interpersonal communications” (Whitehead & Roy, 1999).

Gender plays a significant role when it comes to adoption of new technologies and business practices. The differences arise from the way men and women perceive the importance of a certain technology, its benefits and challenges. A study conducted in Australia by (MacGregor & Vrazalic, 2008) reveals that there is no major difference between the way women and men view e-commerce, but reveals a difference in the way men and women react to technological problems facing their businesses. In a study conducted on small business owners, the results reveal that men are less concerned about new technologies for their businesses and felt they didn’t need them. Women on the other hand are more receptive as far as new technologies are concerned. They are keen on understanding how the technologies could benefit their businesses and how easily the technologies can be integrated into their businesses.

In Vietnam, differences in gender arise from many other factors. The level of literacy among women is lower compared to that of men. This makes it more difficult for a larger number of women to appreciate and use new technologies in the market such as e-commerce. It may not be easy to shop online if one does not understand the technical language associated with some parameters of an online transaction. The other difference between men and women is their level of exposure. Men are generally more exposed than women and are likely to learn about new trends and technologies quicker. This is mostly blamed on religion which allows women a smaller space to interact and explore trends. For a country where a big number of the people are Buddhists, women have less participation in public forums and have less representation in areas where policies are made and discussed. This is because the religion calls for more participation of women at home such as taking care of their children. As a result, they are less likely to be involved in using e-commerce or incorporate it in their businesses.

E-commerce is increasingly becoming a popular aspect of many businesses. This is so in both developing and developed worlds as businesses try to reach global markets. In the last decade, there has been increased rate at which businesses adopt e-commerce as a strategy in improving their level of performance in the contemporary competitive market. However, there are several barriers that have delayed the adoption of e-commerce, especially in women-owned businesses. One of the main barriers to e-commerce is gender.

However, it still remains that the role of gender of gender in the perception of issues affecting e-commerce has not been investigated comprehensively. This is despite the fact that gender influence is a formidable force in many aspects of life and even technology. Among the things that this paper seeks to understand is the differences between men and women perceptions of challenges facing e-commerce and significant barriers in Vietnam.

There is a difference in the perception of barriers to e-commerce from men and women. In order to eliminate the barriers to e-commerce, there is a need to have a clear understanding of various perceptions of these barriers in order to come up with necessary solutions. These perceptions matter in entrepreneurship to ensure that both men and women are able to adapt to modern ways of trading and accessing information.

There could be a number of barriers that has faced the adoption of e-commerce by many women-owned businesses in Vietnam. One possible barrier is the cost. The adoption of the current technology usually requires a significant amount of capital in its implementation. Many women-owned businesses are however not ready to incur such expenses. Another barrier in adoption of e-commerce is complexity involved in its implementation. This kind of technology requires an organization to adopt on several changes in its operations. For instance, it may face resistance in an attempt to implement these changes. When resistance takes place in an organization, it usually has a significant implication in various business operations. Some women-owned organizations may also not be in a position to access the necessary resources required for the adoption of this kind of technology. In addition, security concerns could also be a major barrier in the adoption of e-commerce among others. As a result, adoption of e-commerce in Vietnam has not been successful as expected.

As already noted, there are possible barriers to the E-commerce in Vietnam. These barriers have to some extent obstructed the adoption of E-commerce. However, there has not been adequate effort made to examine the association between e-commerce and the gender in Vietnam. This is despite of the fact that it has a significant implication in adoption of technology in day to day operations in Vietnam.

As noted earlier, there are possible differences in perception on the barriers to e-commerce from both men and women perspectives. According to previous studies, it has been revealed that women perceive technical issues to be more important than the organizational issues (Schniederjans & Cao, 2002). This implies that women take the technical problems with more seriousness than the organizational issues. For instance, they perceived the compatibility of the technology to have a major impact on e-commerce and its application in an organization. On the other hand, men emphasize more on the suitability as well as the fitness of the e-commerce in an organization. This calls for having a more modified approach in the adoption of e-commerce in an organization.

The issue of gender has many implications in today’s business world. There are a number of questions that are raised as a result of gender related differences. Several aspects in the workplace are to some extent affected by the gender differences. For instance, ability to use mathematics as well as fighting stress in the work place is usually different across the gender (Marchall, Michael & Elnora, 2006). In the traditional way of production, the business was dominated by the men. Things have however changed. Women are now actively involved in day to day business operations in Vietnam. In the traditional economy, the main economic activities were manufacturing oriented which was more dominated by men (MacGregor & Vrazalic, 2007b). This has been modified to a more retail and service based economy that has encouraged more participation of the female gender.

There are several reasons that can be the possible causes of the differences in perception of these barriers from different people of different gender. For instance, female are seen to be more comfortable when giving instructions through informal instructions than their male counterparts (Schniederjans & Cao 2002). Most of the male managers for instance are seen to stress the use of power in management. On the other hand, the female managers are seen to stress the importance of interpersonal communication in day to day operations in an organization (Kolsaker & Payne, 2002). As a result of these differences, varying perceptions have also emanated from these differences.

Despite these barriers, several attempts may have been made in an effort to mitigate these barriers. For instance, the technical barriers involving the compatibility are expected to be minimal after the adoption of extensive markup language (Carter, 2000). By adopting this strategy, the problem associated with interoperability setbacks which have been a major barrier may be eliminated. This might promote the adoption of e-commerce in an organization to a greater extent.

From the above discussion, it is clear that there are significant gender differences in perception of the barriers of e-commerce. Women are more concerned about the technical barriers to e-commerce. They view the factors that are related to technology to pose a significant barrier in the attempt to adopt to e-commerce. On the other hand, men are more concerned about the suitability of the e-commerce as well as its fitness in an organization. However, both perceptions are significant in promoting e-commerce.

Conclusions

As explained earlier, “mapping out the gender dimension of entrepreneurship in order to assess the objective base of women’s entrepreneurial capability is a challenging task” (Carter, 2000). As it is in many parts of the world, women are slowly embracing business and opportunities to compete effectively with the male. In an effort to develop gender sensitivity, many countries are also putting in place measures that make it possible for women to implement their entrepreneurial capacities (Taipei, 2004). These differences are discussed in terms of assets, level of debt and management styles, among others. A study by Haynes et al. (2000) argues that “on average, women-owned businesses have lower levels of total business assets, liabilities, equity, and income than men-owned businesses”.

However, many obstacles and concerns still exist for women entrepreneurs. One possible obstacle is attitude towards policies and regulations. Women entrepreneurs might presume that they might be prosecuted by the government for not meeting the regulatory requirements. The result is that business owners are not in direct contact with the government, and will instead be more comfortable to use the services of small business advisors (Lee, Stearns & Jerome, 2009). Another possible obstacle is in the area of finance. Financial challenges for women could range from lack of information in the area of finance to having the wrong information. Lack of records is another area of concern and could pose as a major challenge. Accessing loans is identified as a challenge for most women entrepreneurs and is an area that requires a more in-dpeth research. Other possible challenges include education, attitude, culture and religion just to mention a few.

Possible solutions to these challenges can be classified into the roles played by the government, those by the women entrepreneurs themselves, and those by other stakeholders such as financial institutions. The government has a responsibility in ensuring challenges are resolved through training, policy and exposure. Women entrepreneurs have the responsibility of ensuring they have the exposure required for them to deal with current financial challenges facing businesses. Other stakeholders such as the banks have the responsibility of ensuring issues of knowledge and exposures are addressed, in addition to making the money available. Each stakeholder has a role to play and examining these roles will help identify possible solutions to challenges facing women entrepreneurs in Vietnam.

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