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Despite gender inequality in the job market, women rule the roost in direct selling

South Africa’s already severe unemployment crisis was further exacerbated by COVID-19, with job losses stemming from the pandemic peaking at 1.5 million at the end of last year. Data shows that only about 40% of employment losses have been recovered to date.

Research by ScienceDirect also shows that women were more severely affected by employment losses during the COVID-19 lockdown, with women accounting for two-thirds of the net job losses between February and April in 2020.

This has further intensified gender inequality in the South African labour market, which has historically always been more favourable to men. Recent data released by Statistics South Africa found that men are more likely to be in paid employment than women, and that the overall unemployment rate among men is lower than among women.

However, in contrast to this trend, the direct selling industry remains a women-dominated sector that offers female entrepreneurs earning opportunities, flexible working hours, training and the ability to work from home.

Direct Selling Association (DSA) of South Africa PR and Marketing Director Lise de Kock points out that direct selling empowers women entrepreneurs by giving them access to a low-cost business model that offers independence and flexibility, as well as an opportunity to grow at their own pace.

Meaningful connections

“Women are successful in direct selling because the model complements their values and their innate nature to establish meaningful connections with others, as at the core of direct selling is networking and it is these meaningful connections that women forge with their communities through their caring nature,” she says.

The latest figures released by the DSA show that of the 870 382 individual direct sellers in the country, 77% are women (up from 76% the previous year), while the global percentage stands at 75%.

“For us, as the DSA, it is extremely encouraging to see that women are finding direct selling to be the ideal platform to enter the world of entrepreneurship. Women are without a doubt the industry drivers for direct selling as both consumers and entrepreneurs,” says de Kock.

She notes that while direct selling requires hard work and commitment, it also enables women to overcome the barriers that often keep them out of entrepreneurship in the corporate sector: lack of capital, lack of time and lack of skills.

De Kock says that while the formal sector may hold fewer opportunities for women, an increasing number of South African women are making the decision to turn direct selling into a permanent income opportunity as it enables them to leapfrog the barriers that they face in the labour market.

Attracting young talent

Another trend that she points to is that the local direct selling sector is becoming increasingly attractive to our youth. The latest statistics on the age profile of direct sellers in South Africa reveal that 38.3% of direct sellers are under the age of 35, while 25.9% fall into the 35-44 age bracket. Taken collectively, 64% of direct sellers in South Africa are under the age of 44.

“Over the past few years, we have seen a significant shift towards millennials who are looking to direct selling as a means of income generation and these numbers are growing rapidly,” de Kock points out.

“Young people often seek opportunities that give them the flexibility and freedom to forge their own career paths and direct selling is ideally suited to this.”

She adds that social media and technology have become an integral tool for millennials to grow their direct selling businesses, as it provides exposure for their products to new markets in the digital space.

The advancement of technology and social media has enabled direct sellers to hold digital conversations with their customers, without the need to be physically present in their customers’ personal spaces, while effortlessly growing a wide professional network,” she concludes.

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