Female Entrepreneurship in Greece: Challenges, Highlights & Heroes

EU Female Entrepreneurship Ambassador for Greece Lina Tsaltampasi shares the challenges of being a female entrepreneur in Greece; describes the steps she took to succeed in a country of male-dominated enterprises (including hiring a male 'front man' to meet with clients who didn't want to work with a woman!) and profiles three inspirational Greek female business heroes. Part of our 'Europe' theme.

When The NextWomen's Global Editor, Beth, asked me to write an article about the challenges and highlights of being a female entrepreneur in Greece, my first reaction was: it depends on the angle you look at it from. Does this sound strange to you? Let me explain.

Female entrepreneurship is an issue that brings to the fore some strong controversial arguments. For me personally, a self-developed woman entrepreneur, a native (it’s important too), with three University degrees, speaking 5 languages, and with a positive family environment; I am STILL disappointed with the current condition of Female Entrepreneurship in Greece.

Since most of you have heard so many things about the Greek Crisis (some true, some exaggerated), I'll start by sharing some background information about my country.

Greece is a Southeast European country which, until the 90’s, was bordered by Eastern Bloc countries and Turkey only, which puts it in a unique position. We have a Western-type economy and in some ways an Eastern-type society.

Though Greek women are among the most educated in all Europe and also globally, they still struggle for equality in their working and business environments.

Even though it is common knowledge that a woman should work, the family still believes that working in the public sector or as a low-level employee the most suitable way to combine work and family life. 

Greece is a relatively small country with a population of approximately 11 million. Greek economy relies by more than 90% on SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises). So actually the “multinational” career is not a model one could follow in Greece. A big percentage of women choose a self-employed career to follow their dream, and actually create a dynamic career instead of being passive employees. .

Family heritage is an important aspect of Greek culture (not like My Big Fat Greek Wedding… but important all the same). A significant percentage of SMEs in Greece are family-owned business, and have been transferred from one generation to the other. When a family with a successful SME has daughters, the heritage seems simple. When the family has both daughters and sons, guess what might occur. Often the business is left by default to the male members of the family. Sometimes girls are included in the shareholders’ team, but have minor percentages and decision making roles. When women are included in the family business just as much as men, it is statistically proven that they are more successful. This is more or less the same if the initial capital is a family-loan.

The gender pay gap in Greece is the second largest in the EU, measuring 23%. This gap is evident both in terms of salaries and payable services to self employed people.  

After this introduction I wonder how many of you are still eager to know if female entrepreneurship exists in Greece.

Well, YES!!!! It does exist. It is only approximately 20% of the total entrepreneurship, but it is a proven fact that female enterprises are more viable, competitive, and growing more steadily than male enterprises. The question that has been raised by the government, civil society organizations, female entrepreneurship associations, as well as individuals is how female enterprises should be promoted and developed. Campaigns and capital support programs have been supporting female entrepreneurship in Greece in the past few years, but the results are not very obvious yet. We believe that in the next decade the percentage of women entrepreneurs will reach 35%.

It is notable that 80% of the women who have managed to own their companies are more than satisfied with their decision.

My personal experience is bitter-sweet but at the end of the day I feel thankful for my decision to become an entrepreneur.

When I started my personal business I was 27 years old, I was entering a male-dominated sector (I’m a business consultant) instead of following a family tradition. It was difficult at the beginning, I had to work hard, and prove myself twice to each new client. Firstly I had to convince the clients that I had the capacities, and secondly that I was reliable “in spite of being a woman”. Strange but true! I used to have business appointments and some clients used to tell me “Now, young lady, tell your boss to come and sign the agreement”. I even had to hire a front man; a 45-year-old man who used to have appointments with clients who were reluctant to work with a female consultant. Even though now I’m considered well-known and successful in my field, I still have a burden; I’m still the only female board member in the Business Consultant Association, and I belong to the 5% of female consultants in Greece.

Though I didn’t inherit my business from my family, I inherited their open mind. They were always supportive and positive thinkers. To be honest, I strongly believe that this is the main ingredient for a successful Greek female company.

I would like to introduce you to some remarkable ladies that really found their way.

  • Enie Michailides: Anyone who doesn’t know Enie would probably say she inherited her business; since her family owns one of the biggest Tobacco industries globally. For someone who knows her well, I say Enie was just an intern in her family business. Her spirit, her creativity and her open mind led her to new roads. As the mastermind of the first frozen food company in Greece and now owner of a Fertilizer Industry Ernie keeps on challenging herself and everyone else around her.
  • Artemis Kosmidou-Konstantinidou: I like to call Artemis the golden figure. She is a walking success. Artemis used to have a shop with home products. She had the instinct to understand that production lines in Asia are going to be unbeatable. She invested in producing her own line of products in Asia, based on European design and aesthetics. Whatever product she launches is a sell-off. She now works as a wholesaler with her own branded products that are manufactured in booked product lines mostly in China. She exports 70% of her products to third countries.
  • Niki Koutsiana: Niki is the perfect example of a self developed entrepreneur who managed to go from zero to Success Heaven. A determined pharmacist who wished to develop alternative pharmaceutical and cosmetics from natural first material of Greek nature. She used honey and herbals for her products that were developed with love and scientific basis. The result one of the biggest natural cosmetic brands in Europe, with a wide range of products. Not only did her company receive a Winning Prize by Ernst and Young for her Leading Company; but Niki also saws a great example of CSR donating material for Women Prisoners in the Greek Female Entrepreneurs Association’s activities wherever asked.

The road of female entrepreneurship is tough, challenging and full of obstacles. However, it is rewarding and Greek ladies have tools, capabilities, spirit and they are stubborn enough to make it happen.

To read Lina's article about the role of the EU Female Entrepreneurship Ambassador, click here.

Lina Tsaltampasi is a Business and Development Consultant. Her business is what she calls an International SME, working on projects with partners from more than 50 countries. She was attributed the title of the EU Female Entrepreneurship Ambassador for Greece, based on the fact that she is one of the youngest owners of such a successful SME. At the moment she is the youngest Ambassador in Europe. She is Gen. Secretary of the Association of Greek Women Entrepreneurs, and she was elected as the first Secretary of the Balkan Entrepreneurship Women Coalition. She is now committed to developing the Black Sea Basin Entrepreneurship Women Coalition - Atalanta. She is also a Young Entrepreneurs Mentor and a frequent speaker on Female Entrepreneurship.

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