Empowering women to participate fully in economic life across all sectors is essential to build stronger economies. It unquestionably improves the quality of life for women, men, families and communities in every society.
The private sector is a key partner in efforts to advance gender equality and empower women. This includes social enterprises, small and medium businesses, as well as large corporations. But how or what is the role of women as leaders within this space?
On Friday 24th March, I attached an event titled “In Dialogue with the British Council: Women’s Empowerment and Social Enterprise in the UK.” According to the State of Social Enterprise Survey 2015 by Social Enterprise UK, 40% of all social enterprise leaders in the UK were women in 2015 (up form 38% in 2013). This contrasts with 18% of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs),* 3.6% of FTSE 250 leaders** and 5% of FTSE 100 leaders.** Women lead 42% of social enterprise start-ups under three years old.
However, women as leaders are less represented as social enterprises get bigger. The recent research discussed at the event hosted by the British Council indicated that the larger the social enterprise, the smaller numbers of women in leadership roles.
At the dialogue event, we also heard that even though recent trends show a greater investment in social impact, the gender imbalance of people making investment decisions remains strikingly male. Among “Angel Investors” who are individuals who provide capital for a business start-up for example, it was reported that only 14% are women.
These and other data raised some provocative questions:
- Are women less ambitious to grow businesses to scale or more averse to taking risks?
- Are women more inclined naturally to social causes, rather than more traditional profit based models of doing business?
- Do women face additional challenges because of gender when it comes to accessing finance and business development opportunities?
- For entrepreneurs with children, do the timescales and daily demands of running a successful business synchronise with demands of motherhood? Do they or how are those demands different for fathers?
- What does real women’s empowerment in terms of business and enterprise look like in reality?
To help provide a framework, some of these questions were considered along the 7 principles of women’s empowerment, as defined by UN Women:
- Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality
- Treat all women and men fairly at work—respect and support human rights and nondiscrimination
- Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all women and men workers
- Promote education, training and professional development for women
- Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women
- Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy
- Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality
One of the catch phrases of the day was a reminder to be “on” the business as well as “in” the business. I have been pondering what exactly that means for some days since… For Watipa, it means exactly that I need to make more time to attend interesting dialogues such as this. To put aside a long list of overdue tasks and step outside the day-to-day operations and to listen and learn and think critically and strategically about running the business and achieving our social impact goals.
Women’s business is everybody’s business. For Watipa, women’s business is our business. As an organisation that was founded by nine inspiring women, we are just as much in the business as well as on the business. Surely we can do both, while being mindful of both, to seek empowerment for all. We mean business.
* BMG Research (2015) ‘Small Business Survey 2014: SME Employers’ Department for Business Innovation and Skills
** Vinnicombe, S., et al (2015) ‘The Female FTSE Board Report 2015: Putting the UK Progress into a Global Perspective’ Cranfield Business School