The development of a business from the ground up; starting from its basic idea to forming a profitable business out of that idea is ‘Entrepreneurship’. It has been long past since women has been recognized as key drivers of national Economies. In Sri Lanka this refers to the FDI brought out by housekeepers working in Middle East to the export contributors in the garment factories to the tea pluckers and the hundreds of small business owners. Their contribution however is undervalued, especially in Asian nations, which has led to women facing a number of barriers with relation to economic participation and productivity.
As we think Women and business we normally think of Arianna Huffington, Beyonce or closer to home we have Otara, founder of Odel. However Entrepreneurship that we need to look into is more on the scale of small to medium sized businesses. More than half a million small and medium enterprises in Indonesia and over 300,000 in South Korea are headed by women. Since women also tend to reinvest more of their income in their family units than men, it is undoubtedly increasing financial stability along with the increase of GDP per Capita.
The timely increase in discussion on how to get more women engaged in the labor market is mainly based on changing women’s lives to fit into the already existing system as opposed to restructuring the society to engage women better. Thus women today are expected to take on the roles of a businesswoman and a mother simultaneously. This has ultimately resulted in women having to take on multiple roles in order to survive in the harsh capitalistic world thus threatening the mental, physical and emotional well being of the female community. It is due to this status quo that proper investments have to be made and the correct incentives have to be placed to ease the burden on a modern woman and thus step towards gender based entrepreneurship.
So how can we effectively promote female entrepreneurship in the short term?
Foremost, women centered investments should done by working side by side with women instead of ‘for women’. This enables women to easily initiate their entrepreneurship ideas, as they feel more passionate about and also has the capability to maintain their businesses. Use the tool ‘quotas’ to fearlessly advocate the presence of women within corporate businesses and administration.
Women not only disproportionately spend more of their earned income on food, healthcare, home improvement, and schooling, which has a multiplier effect in local communities but research also shows a positive correlation between the number of women on boards and higher corporate profits[i].
Lets now look more in line with training our thought processes. Regardless of gender we have been brought up in an already conditioned society; a society which derives its customs and traditions from a patriarchal society. Thus it is an inherent necessity to cultivate tolerance and resilience amongst women to cope with bias existing in society. Resilience is not an innate ability and thus has to be taught; through workshop programs, mentorships, education or even as a vocational training skill in business internship programs.
Next, people should always assume bias until deemed otherwise. We live in a pre-conditioned society. Thus, no one can deny that unconscious bias will never take place whether it may be in school, workplace or even a restaurant or government institution.
Looking more in the long term however we have even more to reconsider. Let’s start with how we perceive gender. Traditionally, focusing on women induces a fear of appearing ‘too pink’ providing a notion of being backward and weakly founded. However, it is time we seek a new economic image that advocates the market logic of financial returns with the feminist sense of women’s equality simultaneously. The idea is to subtly shift what we value as potential investments.
So how can we transcend to changing our image of valued assets?
Firstly by broadening and deepening access to capital. This can be done by getting women involved as investors and investees, from New York City and its liberal Art Advancements to Bangladesh’s agrarian community developments.
Secondly, it is by reducing inequity found in the workplace. To achieve this there should be a promotion of using investment to value gender diversity in leadership and promote equal rights in a Top down approach by incorporating company value chains.
Thirdly, it is a necessity to create products and services that affect the lives of women and girls; from clean cook stoves in India to education in Middle East to medicines and drugs adjusted solely for women in more developed nations.
Ultimately all the above-mentioned opens a pathway to increase gender based entrepreneurship. However it is not in anyway an easy transition. Practically there is not enough sufficient existing mechanisms to support a transition of this caliber. There is also a lack of data when studying women and thus drawn out trends will not properly fir the society as a whole. Also as of this moment there is a mismatch in skills women seek through education and where true development in a nation occur. For example the lack of female engineers will decrease female participation in construction of infrastructure as well as mechanical and electrical based research advancements.
On a final note however, this transition is necessary and will benefit the global economy. Thus, however slow, the initiation of transitioning on this front should be undertaken.