A ‘Tale of Two Cities’ for the World’s Women: Emperiled and Empowered

We womenablers already realize that empowering women is one of the surest paths to peace and prosperity, but that message was elevated to a wider audience over the weekend – with extensive coverage in the New York Times Sunday magazine and with commentary by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in the Huffington Post. (Click links above to read them – they are definitely worth your while.)
In their article, “Why Women’s Rights are the Cause of Our Time,” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and wife Sheryl WuDunn – drawing from a soon-to-be-published book – state that “the world is awakening to a powerful truth: women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.”

This article is joined by a number of other worthy and thoughtful contributions from others in the Times’ special Sunday magazine “Saving the World’s Women.”

Even though there is a growing recognition that empowering women has both economic and social benefits – and a markedly stronger ROI than “gender blind” aid – we still have a long way to go until we reach gender equality. That point is made quite clearly by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and President of Liberia Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who point out – in a recent op-ed piece in the Huffington Post – the stark facts that that the majority of the 2.5 million people globally who are victims of trafficking are women or girls, and that an even larger number of females – up to 100 million – are “missing” from the planet because of increased mortality from inequality and neglect.

This term of reference, “missing women,” certainly deserves more attention. Coined by Nobel laureate Dr. Amartya Sen about a decade ago, it refers to the fact that – because of pre-natal gender selection, infanticide of girl children, and increased mortality of girls and women because of discriminatory health and nutrition practices – there are about 100 million fewer females alive in the world today than there would be otherwise. Read more about this concept in this New York Review of Books article, “More Than 100 Million Women are Missing.”

Importantly, Sen concludes that one way forward for reducing the number of “missing” women is economic empowerment. He states that “gainful employment (i.e., working outside the home for a wage, or in such ‘productive’ occupations as farming), as opposed to unpaid and unhonored housework—no matter how demanding—can substantially enhance the deal that women get.”

Thank goodness that news is “slower” in August, so that this vital issue and the thoughtful commentary noted above can get a wider audience. Read them … and then pass them along!

Women business owners: ISO balance AND growth

Catching up on my reading after some recent international travel, I came across a recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Welch: ‘No Such Thing as Work-Life Balance.'” In it Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, in an address to a largely female audience at the Society for Human Resource Management’s recent national conference, is quoted as saying, “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.” He went on to say that taking time off the corporate career path essentially removes you from C-suite consideration, but that women could still “have a nice career.”
Time is money
After my initial reaction (red-faced sputtering and teeth-gnashing), I thought, “Well, thank goodness he’s no longer a Fortune 500 CEO.” But, unfortunately, that point of view – and the negative consequences for corporate women – still seems to predominate.

No wonder women are starting businesses at a higher rate than average: many of them are seeking refuge from this sort of mentality and contributing their business skills on their own terms. In fact, seeking greater work-life balance – or is it greater control over one’s destiny – is a key motivation for entrepreneurial women, whether or not they are “corporate refugees.” In addition, and perhaps to the surprise of some, those motivated by seeking balance are no less committed to the growth of their enterprises.

Welch’s recent comments put me in mind of a paper covering this very issue that I presented at two recent international conferences. The paper, entitled “A Connotation for Control: Women Business Owners Seeking Balance AND Growth” discusses and dispels the common perception that women who are “seeking balance” are less committed to the growth of their enterprises. Among members of a US survey population – members of the “Make Mine a Million $ Business” community – seeking greater work-life balance is a key business goal, balance-seekers actually spend no fewer hours growing their firms, and “balance-seekers” have reached the same level of business success (as defined by revenues and employment) as owners motivated by other goals. (Visit this link to read more about the study and download a copy of the paper, and click here to listen to an audio SlideShare presentation of the paper.) Further, seeking balance is found to be defined more by “life stage” than by former profession. Corporate refugees are no more likely to be motivated by a desire for greater balance than women business owners who came from other fields of endeavor. Rather, a desire for balance peaks when women have young children at home.

So perhaps Welch ought to listen more to wife Suzy, and maybe even read her latest book, “10-10-10,” concerning making key life decisions looking at what their impact would be in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years. More and more women are making just that sort of assessment about their careers and are getting off the corporate track for a variety of reasons – including seeking greater flexibility and more control in their lives. Male corporate leaders like Welch aren’t listening, or if they are they are drawing an erroneous conclusion, that if women are seeking greater balance in their lives then they must have lower expectations or less commitment to their careers. Our research shows that this is just not true!