Business Needs Female Leaders

 Technology is an opportunity for female entrepreneurs and a threat to low-earning women. How do we balance the two? Photograph: Alamy
Technology is an opportunity for female entrepreneurs and a threat to low-earning women. How do we balance the two? Photograph: Alamy


This week, the United States moved one step closer to having it’s first female president after Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination.

But if you think that’s the glass ceiling shattered, then think again.

The number of female senators in the US stands at 20%. Just 4.2% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs.

That sound you heard isn’t a glass ceiling shattering, it was just the creak of a small crack slowly spreading. We already know that achieving gender pay parity is going to take another 70 years, so what can we do to speed the process up? According to Harriet Minter of The Guardian, it starts with with supporting and elevating female entrepreneurs, because when women run their own companies they can make their own rules.

At the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year event this week, businesswoman and writer Margaret Heffernan spoke about the moment in her career when she realised she had been playing a game designed by, and for, men.

“I realised that all I’d learned [in my career] was to be tough,” she said. “Did I want my kids to think, ‘she was tough’? It didn’t seem like such a great idea anymore. ‘You’re an idiot’, I thought, ‘you played [a man’s] game and you should have played your own’. Then I realised, I didn’t have one.”

Women starting their own businesses are able to set their own gameplan and start to dictate the future of work, not just for themselves but also for other women. Rather than waiting for women to get to the top of existing businesses, we should be encouraging them to set up their own and rewrite the rulebook. The effect of this would go beyond just their own lives.

“Women in leadership roles [whether that’s business, government or third sector] must take action in support of other women,” says Uschi Schreiber, global vice chair – markets at EY. “ As we see more female CEOs, let’s make sure they remember that they have a responsibility to create an environment that is supportive for other women too.”

Technology is enabling these entrepreneurs but it’s also potentially threatening the jobs of other women. While tech allows us to work from anywhere, at times that we dictate, it’s also being used to automate many routine, lower-paid jobs. Jobs such as check-out staff or admin roles, jobs that were traditionally filled by women.

Furthermore, it is predicted that 40% of the US workforce will be part of the gig economy (where people work on a freelance or ad hoc basis) by 2020. This type of working structure is particularly detrimental to women – it does enable them to take on smaller jobs that fit around their lives but also results in less pay and greater job insecurity.

(Article first appeared in The Guardian)


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