New UN Women Report Published

Every five years or so, the United Nations publishes a compendium of facts, statistics and analysis of the status of women around the world. These Progress of the World’s Women reports share statistics related to education, legal justice, social and political empowerment, and economic empowerment. They are truly go-to reports that deserve a spot on every womenabler’s reference shelf.fig.4.6-1

The latest report has recently been published. Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights features an interactive web portal and downloadable chapters, some very detailed (see picture at right) infographics, as well as the full report.

Some of what’s available in this report:

  • A discussion of the negative impact on women’s rights that has resulted from the rise of extremism around the world;
  • The notion that connecting economic and social policy is key to increasing human potential and equal rights (we would agree);
  • Far fewer detailed country-level tables (which we are disappointed by, but they may be archived somewhere); and
  • A listing of ten priorities for public action, including “create more and better jobs for women” (but no mention of economic empowerment through entrepreneurship).

For a list and links to past reports on the Progress of the World’s Women, visit Womenable’s Womenabler Reference Library page. or UN Women’s Progress of the World’s Women page. Finally, here’s a handy link to the 2015 report Executive Summary.

Hashtag Feminism Putting #WomenontheMap

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These days, social conversations reverberate quickly around the globe on social media, spawning the term “hashtag activism.” Within that genre, hashtag feminism is alive and well (there’s even a web site, hashtagfeminism.com, that comments on the most viral tags). Earlier this month, I pointed out that the #internationalwomensday theme for 2015 was #MakeItHappen, which thus allowed people to search for this tag to learn about what events were taking place on IWD2015 around the world.

Some of the most popular recent women’s empowerment hashtags have been protests against misogyny (#NotBuyingIt, #GirlsCount, #WomenShould, #YesAllWomen and its corollary #AllMenCan) or calls to support and amplify female voices and change agents (#AllinforHer and #ChangetheRatio are two of the most well-known).

There are three new hashtags, though, that I’d like to point out – as they have the potential to dominate the “airwaves” in the months to come:

1. @UN_Women’s #HeforShe, a call for men to rally and join in on the fight for gender equality. This hashtag campaign was launched by Gen Y’s feminist heroine, Emma Watson. (Check out her eloquent address at a recent United Nations event below.)

2. The Clinton and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations’ recent launch of the No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project report, a data- and video-driven web portal (and, oh yes, a report) launched with great fanfare at a splashy event on March 9, with its accompanying #NotThere social media campaign featuring well-known portraits, magazine covers etc. with women missing – making the point that we’re not there yet with respect to gender equality. Check out the humorous short video illustrating that point.

3. A grassroots, youth-led effort by SPARK Movement to put #WomenontheMap – literally. This group has partnered with Google to map the locations of important women in history around the work on Google’s FieldTrip app. The app will notify users when they are near a landmark location. What a fantastic concept – and there’s room for more. SPARK asks for our help in sharing with them important women (no longer living) to add to the app. Let’s let them have it, shall we? Learn more here.

#MakeItHappen on March 8

March 8 marks the celebration of International Women’s Day. The observance began in the early 1900’s to support equal rights for women – including protesting employment discrimination, ending World War I, and voting rights. In early years the celebration date varied somewhat from country to country, but came to be marked on March 8 after a widespread strike in Russia on that date in 1917. And while, in early years the celebration was associated with socialism, its appeal has broadened and is now an official holiday in over a dozen countries. (Read a short history of the day here.)centredinternationalwomensday

This year, the theme of International Women’s Day is “Make It Happen.” The United Nations has a somewhat wordier theme this year: “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It!”.

There are now nearly 500 events registered in nearly 40 countries on the International Women’s Day information hub as of now, with over 1,000 expected by March 8. Check out the list and find out about an event near you – or organize your own.

And, don’t forget to share your #womensday activities on social media using the suggested hashtags: #makeithappen, #womensday, #internationalwomensday, #IWD2015, or #PaintItPurple. (Why purple? find out here.) Share photos, too. For photographic inspiration, check out this photo gallery assembled by Thomson Reuters.

Here’s to an inspiring International Women’s Day, during which you will make something happen!

Economic Inequality Costing Women Trillions

A report just out from UK’s ActionAid estimates the cost of inequality in women’s work around the globe, and it is truly staggering. The report, Close the gap! The cost of inequality in women’s work, released during the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, puts the gender wage and employment gap at $16.9 trillion USD – including $9.1 trillion for women in developing economies and $7.8 trillion for women in developed economies. The gap takes into account both lower levels of women’s labor force participation and wages.Income differences between men and women

The report’s publication has been noted in a recent article in The Guardian and in an ActionAid-authored article on Thomson-Reuters. Let’s see if the gauntlet thrown down by the report’s call to action section are picked up by their intended audiences: not just economic policy-makers but businesses, civil society organizations and development institutions. Personally, while I’m not holding my breath, the publication of a quantifiable estimate of the financial cost to women of economic inequality is a significant step forward.

Grist for the Mill: Supporting Growth-Oriented Women Entrepreneurs

There’s increasing interest in moving beyond supporting the entry of more women into business ownership, toward a greater understanding of what growth-oriented women business owners need to get to the next level in their entrepreneurial journey. There are two new reports that shed some light on this issue.

gristmillFirst, infoDev, a multi-donor program in the World Bank Group, recently published Growing Women-led Enterprises in the Mekong: Testing a Methodology for Accelerating Growth. This report, supported by the government of Finland, pilot tested a series of workshops, peer-to-peer sessions and one-on-one coaching over a six-month period in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam.

Secondly, the World Bank’s Trade and Competitiveness group also just published a policy note entitled, Supporting Growth-Oriented Women Entrepreneurs: A Review of Evidence and Key Challenges, which draws upon and synthesizes existing research from within and outside the Bank.

Each of these reports is well worth reading on their own, but what is perhaps most interesting and relevant is that they draw some similar conclusions:

  • Short-term training with little or no follow-up does not always lead to measurable business growth. This can be a funding challenge for defined-length, externally sponsored projects and speaks of the need for a greater focus on sustainability measures and local partnerships;
  • Established women business owners benefit greatly from peer-to-peer learning. Merely providing networking opportunities for women business owners can reap valuable rewards;
  • Selecting women who are “growth-oriented” can be challenging: mindsets may matter as much as recent performance; and
  • Existing programs are very heterogeneous, with a wide variety of interventions. This reduces the ability to draw conclusions about what works best and share lessons learned.

Adding to this new information is some research conducted by Womenable way back in 2007, Mapping the Missing Middle: Determining the Desire and Dimensions of Second-Stage Women Business Owners, which not only raised the point that not enough policy and programmatic attention was being paid to established women-owned firms that had not yet cracked the million-dollar revenue barrier, but sized this population at between 16% (if defined to include firms with employees or between $100,000 and $1 million in revenues) and fully 91% (if having employees and revenues over $100,000 was not a criterion) of the entire women-owned business population. A short survey was conducted among established women business owners in the United States and found that “missing middle” women business owners:

  • Were indeed mostly growth-oriented – 64% were in search of tools for business growth;
  • Had a much greater appetite for information than the average woman business owner; and
  • Wanted to learn from one another, would prefer just-in-time, experiential learning over classroom-style information, and would value the guidance of a mentor.

We applaud this increased focus on providing “grist for the mill” of business growth – and for the grist provided by these two new reports!

Woman to Woman: Supporting Women’s Entrepreneurship Through the Power of the Purse

There’s a well-known saying that if you truly wish to support a cause you should “put your money where your mouth is” – meaning not only that talk means little without action to back it up, but that supporting a cause financially beats verbal praise alone.

So it is as well with women’s entrepreneurship: one of the best ways that women-owned firms can be supported is by purchasing their products and services.
pink purse
This pursuit is becoming easier for women-owned purveyors of consumer products through a growing number of online marketplaces focused solely or predominantly on products made by women-owned firms. Perhaps the most well-known is etsy.com, geared toward smaller scale handmade goods, but there are others recently coming online:

  • ananasa.com, an online marketplace based in the Middle East,
  • farandwidecollective.com, a site that sources products from developing economies,
  • pink51.com, which exhorts visitors to “shop with a purpose” – meaning that a portion of all sales are donated to women-focused causes,
  • shop.plumalley.co, sister site of plumalley.co, which invests in women-owned and -led businesses and is based in New York City, and
  • rosiemade.com, which offers goods made by women-owned firms in the USA, and which is meant to remind us of Rosie “We Can Do It” the Riveter.

The biggest potential impact may come through a new initiative spearheaded by Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, in partnership with WEConnect International and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). In 2012 Walmart debuted an online marketplace for women-owned products under the “Empowering Women Together” moniker as a part of their Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative launched in 2011. Now, they are expanding that effort to include a “woman-owned” label on products not only online but in stores. (See this recent Bloomberg Businessweek article for more information.) This could take the Power of the Purse to a whole new level.

A Sterling Milestone

Marking the Silver Anniversary of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988

This month marks a sterling anniversary – the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988. The law, also affectionately known as H.R. (House Resolution) 5050, was signed into law on October 25, 1988. It ushered in a true renaissance of growth and progress for women’s enterprise development. Womenablers often refer to the WBO Act of 1988 as the ‘big bang” of women’s entrepreneurship.

NAWBO leader Susan Hager testifies at the HR5050 hearings

NAWBO leader Susan Hager testifies at the HR5050 hearings (photo by Olive Rosen)

There were four main tenets of the law:

  1. Capital: The law extended the gender equality of access to credit provided in the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 to include business credit. Just think, prior to 1988 women business owners could not get business credit in their own name!
  2. Capitol: The Act also established the National Women’s Business Council, which provides the women’s business community with a seat at the table in the US Capitol and in federal policy circles. The NWBC is comprised of individual women business owners and representatives of women’s business organizations, and must submit an annual report to the President, the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Small Business Administration each year. Read past annual reports HERE to learn what recommendations the NWBC has made to federal policymakers.
  3. Counseling: The law also launched a “demonstration project” of entrepreneurial education and counseling focused on female clients. From four initial pilot programs in 1989 has grown over 100 women’s business centers today, providing technical assistance, education, coaching and counseling, group and peer-to-peer mentoring, and ongoing support to both would-be and existing women (and men) business owners. Many former clients come back and teach and mentor. Do you have a skill or a story to share with budding entrepreneurs? Find a women’s business center near you and volunteer!
  4. Counting: Finally, the law directed the U.S. Census Bureau to include ALL women-owned businesses in their next quinquennial census. Up until that time, the census did not include all industries or all legal forms of business organization. Upon the publication of the 1992 Census in 1995, when C corporations were included for the first time, the number of women-owned firms increased by just 9%, but employment jumped by 111% and revenues generated by women-owned firms skyrocketed by 145%. Women-owned firms were finally on the map!

Take a moment and think about how much easier it is for women starting businesses now than it was for our foremothers prior to 1988 – when there were no women’s business centers, no complete accounting of the number and economic clout of women-owned businesses, no National Women’s Business Council, and no ability to access business credit without a male co-signer.

Some folks are already taking note of the impending anniversary. Click on the following links to read a blogpost from CAMEO (the California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity), an op-ed piece from Connecticut WDBC director (and NWBC council member) Fran Pastore, and an article from WIPP co-founder Barbara Kasoff. And check out what we had to say five years ago at the 20th anniversary during a panel discussion at an academic conference!

And stay tuned – women’s enterprise leaders are talking now about gathering en masse next Spring to celebrate the accomplishments of the past 25 years and talk more seriously about what the movement – and women business owners – need going forward.

In the meantime, we’d like to start a social media conversation about the past 25 years of women’s entrepreneurship. Tweet and post your thoughts about the progress we’ve made, and the work that’s yet to be done. Use the hashtag #WBOAct@25. What are your thoughts, reflections, calls to action? Ready, set, go!