Our Top Ten Womenabling Events of 2009

To close out the year, the Womenabler Blog would like to offer up what we see as the most interesting and relevant activities that have taken place in the field of women’s enterprise development. So here – in no particular order – are what we see as the ten most noteworthy trends and events of the year:

  1. The feminization of US entrepreneurship policy? With a new administration and a new Congress in 2010, for the first time ever, four of the five key political figures in small business in the United States are women: SBA Administrator Karen Mills, Senate Small Business Committee Chair and Ranking Member Mary Landrieu and Olympia Snowe, and House Small Business Committee Chair Nydia Velazquez. Might that be one reason why, for the first time in years, there’s been an increase in the budgets for the Women’s Business Center program and the National Women’s Business Council?
  2. The “male” recession. It’s been referred to as a “man-cession,” mostly because of the disproportionate impact it has had on manufacturing and other male-dominated sectors. (One could also say it was caused in large measure by testosterone-fueled behavior in the financial sector.) It remains to be seen, though, whether the recovery will lead to a return to “business as usual,” or if some female common sense will start to be taken more seriously. Right now, it doesn’t look good for the latter scenario.
  3. The growing case for investing in women’s economic empowerment internationally: We’re seeing more and more evidence coming to light showing a broader impact from and greater return on investment in women’s enterprise development compared to gender-blind program support. Right now, the focus is on developing economies and micro-enterprise. Up-market ROI seems more elusive to capture.
  4. Glossy recognition for advances women have made in the workplace in developed economies: The Shriver Report, “A Woman’s Nation” made a big splash this year by bringing some attention to the progress that women have made in the workforce in the US, largely in spite of lagging public policy. Ernst & Young has also published two glossy reports on women as “groundbreakers” and on the need for more women to “scale up” in business. While all are welcome additions to the knowledge base, women’s entrepreneurship is largely missing from these discussions.
  5. Organizational implosions: Two organizations that have helped to make great strides for women-owned businesses, the Center for Women’s Business Research in the US and Prowess in the UK, each imploded this year – with their founding directors (of 20 and 10 years, respectively) both leaving somewhat less than voluntarily. Here’s hoping that these two valuable womenabling organizations will emerge stronger from their current states of limbo.
  6. Skål to women in Scandinavia: Yet again, when the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report and the UN‘s Gender Empowerment Measure and Human Development Index were published, Nordic countries came out on top, showing women in the region to be closer to men than in any other part of the world in terms of health, education, labor participation and political empowerment. Still, entrepreneurship rates for women lag behind those of men there and elsewhere around the globe, according to the annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor reports.
  7. A new journal for women’s enterprise: 2009 marked the official launch of a new academic journal focused on women’s entrepreneurship issues, the International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship.
  8. A growing focus on people over profits: We’ve noticed more talk of social enterprise this year – businesses that exist to reach goals that go beyond the financial. Some of the sources of that increased attention may be coming from: the Ashoka Fellows program, now in its 28th year; the Skoll Foundation and its World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship; and a new “Social Enterprise Mark” for products and services offered by social enterprises in the UK. May it continue to spread in the new year.
  9. One size does not fit all: 2009 saw the launch of new or expanded women’s business centers in Egypt, Pakistan, and Peru – and a promising effort in the UK to set standards for the essential elements of women-friendly and female-focused business support services (see wbcinternational.org). All efforts recognize that one size does indeed not fit all in terms of supporting enterprise development.
  10. Most noteworthy non-event: In this, the 10th year of the annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor series of reports on entrepreneurial activity, where was the annual report on women’s enterprise? Missing in action! Let’s hope that 2010 will see the resumption of this important analytical effort.

Women-Owned Firms to Create 1/3 of New Jobs by 2018? Not So Fast …

It’s another headline that seems a little bit too good to be true (hearkening back to the October announcement from the National Women’s Business Council and the Center for Women’s Business Research that women-owned firms “create or maintain” fully 23 million jobs, more than three times the number published by the US Census Bureau) – that, by the year 2018, women-owned firms will account for half of all new small business jobs and one-third of all new jobs in the US.

Guardian’s Small Business Research Institute made this announcement in a news release just the other day, saying that these projections are based on a “rigorous analysis of converging factors.” The release goes on to say that these firms will transform the workplace due to women business owners being less hierarchical and more customer-focused.

While Womenable agrees with their findings that many women are launching their enterprises in part to thumb their noses at the corporate rat-race, and that women are more likely to seek fulfillment from enterprise creation which goes beyond making a buck (see our commentary in our most recent e-newsletter), we have our doubts that such a sea-change in the business environment will happen in less than a decade. We would, of course, love to be proven wrong!

To read more about these new projections from the Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute, click here.

Transition Time in UK for Women’s Enterprise

Given the overall political situation in the United Kingdom, it may come as no surprise that women’s enterprise issues are in transition as well. But even though, as the saying goes, there’s nothing as constant as change, two recent “swan song” events there are noteworthy and warrant some observations.

First, the three-year lifespan of the UK’s Women’s Enterprise Task Force came to an end late last month – with a final event on Women’s Enterprise Day on 18 November, the issuance of a final report and recommendations to the government and other stakeholders, and the publication of an official government response. While we at Womenable have heard many comments from womenablers in the UK that the performance of the task force has been – to put it kindly – underwhelming, we’d like to offer up this thought: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. In the case of the National Women’s Business Council in the US, after which the WETF in the UK was patterned, it took until 1993, four years after it was first established, for the organization to be restructured into its current form. Prior to that time, like the WETF, there was a strange brew of public and private sector members, and the Council was chaired by whomever was the Administer of the US Small Business Administration. Now, the NWBC governance rules call for a woman business owner chair, and the 14 members are either individual women business owners (8) or representatives of women’s business organizations (6) – a much more impactful structure. We’d advise the same for the UK.

Secondly, a two-year project – the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Expertise – has also come to an end. Housed within Advantage West Midlands, a regional economic development agency, WECOE was founded to take a hard look at business support within the region with an eye to gathering and sharing good practices, conducting research to assess needs and impact, and provide fact-based guidance for all of the stakeholders in the region – and beyond – that wish to increase the effectiveness of their support for women’s enterprise development. It, too, had an “end of remit” gathering, at which several interesting pieces of research were discussed. (Visit the link above to access links to all of them.)

At the event, Womenable was asked to provide observations on trends in women’s enterprise in general, and offer suggestions for the way forward – not only for women’s enterprise development in the West Midlands, but the UK, the US and elsewhere. If you are bored and can tolerate the low-quality audio, here is a link to a SlideShare presentation of the remarks, which is 14:12 in length:

In a nutshell, my observations were:

  • bricks do not a building make,
  • if you build it they may not all come, and
  • many hands can make light work.

In summary, it takes a long-term vision and strategy to make change happen: gathering evidence is like making bricks – necessary but not sufficient for building a sustainable, weather-proof structure of support. It takes much longer than two years to start seeing results.

Secondly, efforts must be inclusive and mindful of the diverse needs and unique styles of learning and leadership among women; one size definitely does not fit all.

And, finally, my wish for the new year: that we all – we enablers of women’s enterprise – start doing a much better job, not only of communication and cooperation, but of but true and deep collaboration amongst ourselves; for we are the ones that need to concentrate our passion and purpose to effect a faster rate of change. I, for one, am growing tired of small steps and incremental change. It’s time for a women’s enterprise revolution. Anyone care to join me?