women in business essay

women in business essay

Empowering Women in Business: Challenges and Opportunities

1. Introduction

A poverty alleviation strategy focused on women in fact integrates, as an example of the Millennium Development Goals, the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger and the theme of women’s education, reducing child mortality and improving healthcare, has set itself a number of targets with clear dimensions of gender difference. Women’s rights are thus linked to increased productivity within countries and to poverty reduction. This is to some extent supported by empirical evidence. This document has thus the objective of developing a better focus in the identification of what are the specific challenges that typically reduce women’s participation as entrepreneurs or in high-level positions in the business arena.

A consensus emerges about the central role that promoting women’s economic autonomy can play in the fight against poverty. Nevertheless, important challenges have constrained the efforts to foster women’s participation in the economy, in particular in the business sector. The gender discrimination that, with no exception, exists in every economy, in forms more or less pronounced, but mostly hidden under customary rules and social stereotypes. These are some of the key barriers that often prevent women from taking on their role as economic agents, thus condemning them to build precarious businesses and secondary jobs. On the other hand, greater participation of women in the economy typically brings a series of benefits that range from the reduction of poverty in households to higher household income growth prospects and with benefits to the community, and with a high impact as well on the economy.

2. Barriers Faced by Women in Business

Economic necessity has also been a major stimulus for entrepreneurial undertakings. Home speakers turned seamstresses or house cleaners, or women providing services from home constitute one class of women entrepreneurs. Women are forced into these positions by dual-sex income situations and situations equally compelling women to act as sole supporters. These businesses have limited growth capacities and promises for fulfilling employment. In such cases, the contribution of these women to the workforce is significant.

One of the first reported barriers to success in business faced by women is that of family or societal expectations. Some women perceive success in family and “outside” careers to be in conflict. Society’s double standard still rewards male business success and female domestic success. Complicating the problem is that the traditional and societal relationship family pattern can serve as both a legal and an attitudinal barrier to a woman’s progress in business. Studies reveal that absent strong legal or societal restrictions, women are primarily inhibited by their bidirectional aspirations. Family accomplishments are seen as important by a number of women and are considered to be in direct competition with their business careers.

3. Strategies for Overcoming Gender Bias and Discrimination

Work assignments and feedback – Professionals, particularly working in a team environment, should be given input into their work assignments. Providing feedback about how assignments were made and emphasizing that assignments are done with professionalism and number of factors will decrease the role of unexamined gender stereotypes. Women are often overlooked for important assignments because they do not fit the stereotype of the leader, neither engaging in the risky projects nor getting credit when a risky project pays off.

Performance – Many of the things that women are criticized for are really reflections of negative stereotypes that may have little basis in reality. Performance evaluations that include instructions to focus on actual behaviors rather than unexamined stereotypes can diminish the role of such stereotypes.

Executive speech and writing – Casual conversation is the source of much of the subtle discrimination against women. Men—executives in particular—can counteract this trend by carefully considering the language in their writings and talks.

Leadership – Top executives set the tone for how business will be conducted. In organizations where executives make a genuine effort to treat employees as equals, the gender gap is less pronounced.

Because many barriers to women’s advancement in business are subtle, recognizing and uprooting the subtle forms of discrimination that are often built into business relationships is critical. The following are strategies to overcome problems associated with gender bias and exclusion in organizations, as these problems are responsible for much of women’s low representation in the business world. The goal in all of these recommendations is to remove the subtle barriers to women’s advancement in business.

4. Success Stories and Role Models

Studies in China and the United States indicate that access to female role models in entrepreneurial ventures increases demand, impacts perceived ability to take on personal risk, and perceived self-assessed success rate at entrepreneurship. Resulting recommendations from these studies include increasing self-perceived opportunity replies, informing women of successful role models in related fields, and inferring causal implications of perceptions reflected from self-assessment outcome differences. Women entrepreneurs and business owners in the United States, who are underrepresented and negatively stereotyped in the mainstream media, display considerable social responsibility in their entrepreneurial practices. They use challenging stereotypes themselves as role models/mentors to other women, mentor other women in general, are community-oriented, and women leaders not rewarded by mainstream media are engaged in a self-reflection process that increases the likelihood that the founders’ ethical values are institutionalized in the corporation.

Women who have succeeded in business are role models to aspiring entrepreneurs, especially other women. Role models or mentors act as sources of inspiration and guidance to less experienced individuals and have been found to have a positive effect on entrepreneurial performance. This has been well recognized by professional groups such as the Hubbard’s Women and Entrepreneurship Program, which provide forums for established entrepreneurs to act as mentors to each other and where less experienced members can benefit from their experience. However, few women have access to such programs and often lack exposure to successful women entrepreneurs, so few consider entrepreneurship as an option they could aspire to. Moreover, the role models they are subjected to, such as information on female entrepreneurial role models in the mass media, typically represent the same type of women for the past thirty years.

5. Conclusion and Call to Action

On the one hand, it is in the business community’s interest to support the Compact’s goals of gender equality in the boardroom as well as the first-floor office. Not one, but two excellent empirical studies by International Finance Corporation and McKinsey that we comment on in the introduction demonstrate how good for companies it is to have boards and top management teams that have male and female perspectives involved in the decision-making process. Perhaps some may ask, however, why should businesses who profit from the exclusion of the world’s women invest time or money to help them move forward? We say that argument confuses partial, short-run calculations with one aspect of long-run intelligent business strategies that recognize immiserizing trade-offs when they see them. One research paper predicts that, without policy changes, by 2050, more than half of the world’s poor will live in countries affected by high levels of violence. Violence has high economic and human costs, and the societal gains from reducing it are large, too.

The opening sentence of the preamble to the United Nations’ Global Compact says its principles offer businesses the opportunity to “align their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption.” It is time to act on the “universally accepted principles” included in the initial words of the Compact to add “gender equality” to the other important principles in the Compact’s goals going forward.

We have presented some of the challenges and opportunities that women face in seeking full access to businesses where they live and start to build their economic futures. Exposing these challenges is only a first step in formulating plans to overcome them, and in our finishing section, we lay out an agenda for the civil society organizations, governments and international organizations, and the business community who have roles in addressing these challenges. The first goal is to strengthen the public and political support that exists now, and to bring new stakeholders to the discussion, about how to ensure that women have full economic participation across a wide variety of business cultures, legal traditions, and levels of public sector governance.

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