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Sanja Popović- Pantić, President of the Association of Business Women in Serbia

Female Entrepreneurship as a Chance and Not a Compelled Choice

One of the most positive changes over the last ten years has been the flourishing of digital entrepreneurship among women. The opportunity to market their products and services via digital channels has enabled women to assume a better social position and establish themselves in the world of entrepreneurship

The world in which today’s successful female entrepreneurs are maturing has changed a lot compared to the time when the Association of Business Women in Serbia established the ’Cvet uspeha za ženu zmaja’ [Flower of Success for a Courageous Woman] prize 17 years ago.

Also testifying to this is data from research on female entrepreneurship conducted in 2021, showing that women no longer enter entrepreneurship out of necessity, due to being unable to find employment, as was the case ten years ago, rather today it is an opportunity and a need for women to try their hand at entrepreneurship, says Sanja Popović-Pantić, President of the Association of Business Women in Serbia. “I believe the credit for that change largely belongs to the greater social acceptance of women in entrepreneurship and business than was the case prior to the flourishing of digital entrepreneurship,” says our interlocutor.

How many young female entrepreneurs focused on digital operations and in women’s startups do you have among your members?

— There are ever more of them, so we created a strategy for attracting digital entrepreneurs just in the last months of the year, after having previously conducted a survey among them, and almost 90% of them declared that they were very interested in joining the Association and that, despite having large numbers of social media followers, the lack contacts with entrepreneurs who base their business in an off-line environment. We believe strongly that connecting these groups to one and another is a win-win combination, because just as digital entrepreneurs can help their non-digital counterparts to digitalise their businesses, at least in some aspects, so the experience of offline entrepreneurs is of great importance to them, and the opportunities for mutual cooperation are unlimited.

How well represented are women in STEM occupations at higher education institutions and how does your association help them enter the world of innovation?

— The Association of Business Women has been commemorating the International Girls in ICT Day for more than a decade, and through that project we connect schools and businesses, but also the public sector. We deal with the development of interest in STEM professions among girls from the age of 13 and already have generations that have graduated university and are grateful to us for inspiring and encouraging them, through this project, to choose these professions. The young girls spend a day with female managers and entrepreneurs in STEM disciplines, in various companies, and the girls are free to ask them about their career path.

Apart from that, we currently also have a project linked to encouraging girls and women from rural areas to study entrepreneurship through an educational platform that has proven to be very effective, and we are proud of all those who’ve passed through this training course, but also some of the previous students who were taught to make websites, thus providing them with important skills for self-employment and to work for either themselves or others.

Thanks, among other things, to your association’s efforts, women have today conquered positions and professions that were previously reserved exclusively for men, such as in the construction and IT industries. How much prejudice did you encounter before women sat in the driving seats of forklifts and how did you overcome that?

— Exactly! We trained women in construction and IT through that specific project, and I must admit that stereotypes were very evident, but what helped us the most in quickly overcoming them wasn’t a change in awareness in society, but rather a lack of personnel in all branches, and in these ones the most. So that worked out for us, because both the employers and close family members of these women were fully supportive, which wouldn’t have been the case earlier. I think the time of such stereotypes is in the past and that they won’t return precisely because the world has been restructured after the Covid-19 pandemic, in a relatively short period of time, and the new era has its own new laws, that don’t have much room for stereotypes on the labour market and in employment.

To what extent is the business world really open to women and what experience did you gain in advocating for women’s companies to enter major supply chains?

— The corporate world has its own legal norms and procedures that do not always favour females. On the one hand, through our award for the most gender-sensitive company, which we’ve been awarding for several years already, we’ve seen that excellent examples of good practice in the application of gender equality exist, mainly in international companies that have certain obligations to apply them and that measure indicators.

We deal with the development of interest in stem professions among girls from the age of 13 and already have generations that have graduated university and are grateful to us for encouraging them to choose these professions

However, when it comes to improving the position of women in the local community where they do business, few companies showed an affinity for the inclusion of women in the supply chain, starting from strict procedures in the procurement process. However, there are companies that have found a way to do so, through various pilot projects, and that offer them the chance to enter the “back door” as suppliers, in order to try them out and for them to prospectively become regular suppliers. These are generally companies that have developed services for corporate social responsibility, that report on their sustainability operations, which also includes social sustainability based on gender equality. And that is also an unstoppable trend.

Are women in rural and smaller urban areas still in an inferior social position and how much does entering the workforce empower them to fight for their position in society?

— Yes, that is a vulnerable category of female entrepreneurs. The primary problem is a common law, to call it that, according to which exclusively male children inherit property and female children renounce theirs, in their brothers’ favour. This is still very commonplace, as is the managing of farms exclusively by male members of the farmstead, despite women being equal participants in agricultural production. We did specific work with partner organisations in rural areas and only a few of them managed to establish themselves, which is a shame. I think we should all work to help organise and educate as many rural women as possible, and I see prospects in the fact that the younger generation of educated women are deciding to start businesses from villages, or to link their businesses to rural areas and thereby increase the entrepreneurial capacities of rural women, connecting them to the ecosystem of service provision and production, mainly of food products for the local market.


We are entering 2024 with the concept of the e-Association of Business Women [e-UPŽ], which will add value to our services for both existing and future members


The world underwent major changes following the pandemic and there was no more room for stereotypes regarding women’s and men’s jobs on the labour market and in employment


Risks are higher in less developed societies and economies, which is why we shouldn’t stop incentives and the promoting of gender equality on the labour market and in employment generally