A Womenabling Manifesto

Last week, during Global Entrepreneurship Week, I kicked off the FastTrac Global Women’s Summit at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City with an opening address focused on the key global and domestic trends in women’s entrepreneurship today. So, naturally, I touched on some of the most recent knowledge from the World Economic Forum’s 2011 Global Gender Gap report, the latest Women, Business and the Law report from the World Bank’s fabulous Gender Law Library, and US trends from the American Express OPEN State of Women-Owned Businesses Report (which I authored) that was published this past spring.

But I couldn’t stop there. Given that the audience numbered 200, and the address was webcast to countless numbers of others around the world, I closed this trend-focused keynote address with a bit of exhortation focused on what we all need to do next, which I called the Womenable Manifesto. In brief, here’s what I think we womenablers need to focus on in the coming months and years to REALLY advance women’s economic empowerment, entrepreneurial development, and thought leadership.

  • Words matter, changing our lexicon: Discussions and definitions of business growth are currently conducted using a very male-defined, testosterone-charged dictionary. When held up to this lens, women business owners often fall short and are described as “risk averse,” owning “lifestyle businesses,” or lacking the ambition to grow. Instead of thinking of women as falling short of a male-defined yardstick, let’s develop our own measures and descriptors, including thinking of women as more aware of risk as opposed to averse of it. Also, many women don’t want to grow just for growth’s sake, which causes some to see them as lacking in ambition. We need to talk more about growing businesses as a means toward a broader end of making an even bigger difference, impacting more lives and making the world a better place – that would be much more attractive too more women than a currency-based growth exhortation. And, importantly, “growth” is not a zero-sum game. It’s not either-or, and the term “high growth potential business” should not just be used when referring to multi-million dollar, equity-backed ventures. Yes, it’s true that only 2% of women-owned firms have crossed the million-dollar threshold, but only 5% of men-owned firms have as well. So we need to make thinking and growing bigger – not just huge – a more central part of the conversation.
  • Policies with possibility, not proscription: Our public policies also do growth-oriented women – and men – business owners a disservice. Entrepreneurship support from many state and local governments – as well as the SBA – is the equivalent of primary school: they will only get a business owner so far along the educational process. While some may say that the government’s role should only be to provide a kick-start and that other players should pick up later in the journey – I would say that it is in a nation’s best interest – for international competitiveness and for sustainable economic growth – not to drop support when it’s needed the most. A case in point are the “golden handcuffs” of the SBA’s Women’s Business Center program. More about that later – and it’s covered in much more detail in my full remarks – but suffice it to say that the legislative marching orders for the program, and the tone that’s set in its management, do not support growth-oriented clients. This needs to change.
  • Building an entrepreneurial road/canal system: I used one chart in my presentation (see slide #22) depicting the canal system around Birmingham England, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution – to make the point that it was only when this canal was built did the revolution truly take off. We need an analogous system for enterprise development: one that provides multiple pathways for an entrepreneur to start and navigate her journey; one that provides super highways as well as local roads, off ramps and on ramps, and scenic routes as well as straightaways. One size does not fit all in entrepreneurial development assistance, so there should be a variety of routes to business growth as well.

Of course, there’s a lot more than this to be done, and each of these ideas deserves a deeper discussion in and of themselves. However, I believe that many hands make light work and we’ve got to start somewhere – AND we have to invest in areas that will have a broad and lasting impact.

What do you think about the elements of this manifesto? Any others to add? Am I off the mark on anything? Let’s get a dialogue going about how we can all work together to embrace, empower, and legitimize women’s entrepreneurial leadership in ways that allow for growth “in a different voice” and through multiple pathways.

If you’re interested, the slides from the PowerPoint presentation accompanying my remarks is available on Womenable’s SlideShare page, and the archived webcast of my address will be posted on the FastTrac Global Women’s Summit web page very soon.

Three cheers for the triple bottom line power of entrepreneurial women – hip, hip, hooray!

A Focus on Frameworks

You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint, would you, so why are so many efforts to provide greater economic empowerment for women undertaken without a strategic framework? A rhetorical question, we know, but we’d like to call attention to the fact that folks are starting to realize that a framework for action can make governments and other actors more accountable, provide benchmarks and targets against which to chart progress, and give the women’s business community and other important stakeholders a soapbox for advocacy.

We write this because we’ve come across several new strategic framework reports we want to make sure all of you womenablers out there take a look at, bookmark, and file away for future reference and/or action.

First, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has published a Gender at the Heart of ICPD (International Conference on Population and Development): Strategic Framework on Gender Mainstreaming and Women’s Empowerment. While it does not focus much on enterprise development, gender equality, policy action and stakeholder engagement are central tenets covered in the publication. You might also want to take a look at their 30 second public service video, “Empower Women, Empower the Future,” which illustrates how a girl’s future can change with education rather than early marriage. (Puts us in mind of the excellent Girl Effect video.)

The UN agency in the Asia Pacific region, ESCAP, has also recently published a report looking at efforts that could be undertaken in that region to “strengthen national mechanisms” for gender equality and the empowerment of women. Learn more at THIS LINK. Sounds like a framework to us!

Next, there’s a new mid-term assessment of where things stand vis-a-vis MDG3, the Millennium Development Goal related to women’s empowerment. This AWID review of the Dutch MDG3 Fund shows the ways in which targeted investments can really make a difference in organizational capacity and women’s increased participation in advocacy and the political process, which has a ripple effect in other areas of women’s economic empowerment.

And, finally, we would be remiss if we did not mention and remind you of the Roadmap to 2020 report, spearheaded and published by Quantum Leaps in 2010, which focused on what women’s entrepreneurship stakeholders in the United States should do to move the agenda forward. It joins the October 2003 Prime Minister’s Task Force report in Canada and the May 2003 Strategic Framework report in the United Kingdom as a trilogy of policy and program recommendations to be undertaken in a developed economy context (which, truth be told, is not terribly different from areas of focus in developing economies).

If We Own It, We Can Define It

I’ve just spent a thought-provoking and engaging day discussing how to “drive collaboration, energize the global discussion, and create a road map for increasing women’s participation in high growth entrepreneurship” at the second annual We Own It Summit, organized by Astia with support from the Kauffman Foundation and other growth-focused groups. The summit, an invitation-only event limited to under 150 participants designed to have an engaging, roll-up-your-sleeves dialogue, offered 12 thematic discussions, scheduled 4 at a time. More’s the pity, as they all sounded interesting. I attended three, including one in which I was a panelist.

The order of the day was to challenge assumptions and look at things from multiple points of view, which was helped by a diverse mix of viewpoints – from women entrepreneurs, equity capital investors, researchers, policy makers, and entrepreneurial support organizations. I heard several recurring themes or areas of (positive) tension during the day, so I thought I’d dash off my impressions and take-aways, while they are still fresh in my mind.

  • Cultivation vs. Gardening: One key undercurrent throughout the day was whether the focus on fostering high-growth women’s entrepreneurship should be on “picking winners,” that is on identifying and cultivating high growth potential women entrepreneurs, or on “fixing barriers,” meaning doing a better job tilling and preparing the soil so as to improve the overall yield of high growth women entrepreneurs. My reaction: why should it be either or? In business development as in gardening, both are important.
  • It Takes a Village: Even though I’ve heard some say that “eagles don’t flock,” today the importance of networks, introductions, mentors, and relationships was mentioned time and time again. In business generally who you know matters as much as what you know, and that is doubly important when it comes to the equity capital markets. That makes networks such as Astia critically important for growth-oriented women entrepreneurs. It also points out the importance of other champions as well: in government, in the equity markets, in educational institutions, and among entrepreneurial support organizations and associations.
  • Validating Variety (on Taking the Road Less Traveled): For many women entrepreneurs, growth is not a linear journey. In their pre-entrepreneurial as well as entrepreneurial careers, women have more diversions – be they family-related or otherwise – and are more likely to “off ramp” and then re-enter the workforce. In addition, women entrepreneurs lead and manage differently, and often have broader goals for their businesses – such as desiring to make a difference as well as creating wealth. This variety in the pathways to growth should not only be celebrated, they should be legitimized. To do so, I strongly believe, will lead many more women to aspire to grow their businesses to a higher level, and will provide a much more robust pipeline to high growth.
  • Do We Know What We Don’t Know?: In a growth-focused environment, data drive decisions, but we still lack data-driven intelligence on the ROI of different combinations of investment and support – especially over the longer term. And does the fact that, in the US at least, the value of angel investments now matches or exceeds that of institutional equity capital indicate a permanent expansion of funding possibilities or a temporary blip driven by recessionary times? What types of education and support are critical at various points in the entrepreneurial journey, and do they differ for women and men? More longitudinal research, including a look at the large number of high growth firms that eschew equity, can aid in the legitimization of the variety of ways that high growth can be achieved, and greater acceptance of the value of offering a blend of support services.

Overall, I came away with an overriding sense that – if we do indeed own it – we not only can re-frame and widen the lens on the discussion of what it means to be “high growth” – we must do so. The status quo, as it stands now, was not established with our input and experiences, so now that women entrepreneurs are entering into this realm in increasing numbers, we have the power and the obligation to redefine what it means to be growth-oriented, how growth is achieved, and how “success” is measured.

All Hail the women and men who showed up to engage in this important conversation. Let it be the start of a fruitful collaboration, and let the 10-year goals of Astia be realized!

The Most Womenabling Research Studies of 2010

In tandem with our list of the top ten womenabling news and events of the year – highlighted in the previous blogpost – we’d now like to share our list of the most noteworthy womenabling research reports of 2010. Here they are, listed in alphabetical order by report title.

You might notice that there are 11 rather than a “top ten,” but we couldn’t decide which one to take out. And we might even have had 12 if we’d only seen a GEM women’s entrepreneurship report this year …

Take a look at these important studies, and save them in your womenabling reference files. Happy New Year!

An Online Discussion on Gender & Aid Effectiveness Worth Joining

Woman at computer with coffeeCalling all womenablers! The United Nations’ International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, known as UN-INSTRAW and now a part of the UN Women “entity,” has announced that it will host a three-week online discussion focused on promoting gender-sensitive development, integrating gender considerations into development projects, measuring effectiveness, and sharing good practices in helping women around the world.

The “virtual dialogue” starts November 15 and will be open through December 3. Participants may wish to read the “preparatory working paper” offered as background for the discussion, and to view other items in their Library Section.

Visit the UN-INSTRAW Virtual Dialogue Platform to learn more and to register as a participant in the discussion.

Celebrating the Power of Numbers

Where would we be without numbers? We womenablers know well that women business owners would still be all but invisible if not for statistics that show:

  • women are starting businesses at a faster rate than their male counterparts,
  • despite that fact, women-owned firms lag all firms with respect to number of employees and revenues, and
  • while gender gaps are closing in education and health indicators, and there is growing gender parity in terms of political participation, it is in the area of economic participation and entrepreneurship where the largest gaps remain.

It is often said that what does not get measured does not get managed, so what better way to improve the situation of humankind than to measure – and to celebrate measurement.
That’s the thought behind the first-ever World Statistics Day, being celebrated around the globe on October 20: 2010-20.10. The UN Statistics Office website lists a number of activities being held (pun intended) to celebrate statistics. Among them:

  • In Canada, Statistics Canada is throwing a party for their staff, and celebrating the role that Canada plays in supporting information-gathering domestically and internationally,
  • In Germany, the German Federal Statistics Office is hosting a conference entitled “What drives politics – How relevant is statistics?” at the Social Science Research Centre in Berlin, and
  • in Qatar, the Qatar Statistical Authority will be releasing their 2010 Census of Population, Households, and Establishments – and announcing a plan for public use of the results.

There’s even a Facebook page for the initiative, which you can “like.” (We have, of course.) So, join us in a hearty cheer: “All hail the number-crunchers of the world”!

2010 WEF Global Gender Gap Report published

It’s out: the fifth annual ranking, from the World Economic Forum, of how 134 world economies are faring in providing gender equality to their citizens in four key areas: economic participation, education, political empowerment and health. As in past years, Nordic countries come out on top. The top five-ranked countries in 2010 are the same as they were in 2009:
Global Gender Gap report cover
1) Iceland
2) Finland
3) Norway
4) Sweden
5) New Zealand

The Global Gender Gap Report’s index assesses countries on how well they divide resources and opportunities amongst male and female populations, regardless of the overall levels of these resources. The report measures the size of the gender inequality gap in four areas by tracking the following indicators:

  • Economic participation and opportunity: outcomes on salaries, participation levels and access to high-skilled employment;
  • Educational attainment: outcomes on access to basic and higher level education;
  • Political empowerment: outcomes on representation in decision-making structures; and
  • Health and survival: outcomes on life expectancy and sex ratio.

As this is the fifth year of the effort, the report contains some assessments of progress made. Among 144 economies studied in all five years, 86% show progress in narrowing gender gaps in these areas, while 14% are regressing.

It’s also the case, however, that progress has been uneven, taking place in some areas of empowerment more than in others. It is no surprise to Womenable that progress in greater gender parity in economic empowerment is lagging the most. Says one of the study’s co-authors, Ricardo Hausmann, Director of the Centre for International Development at Harvard University, “We have found that gaps are closing between women and men’s health and education – in fact, current data show that in the 134 countries covered, 96% of health gaps and 93% of education gaps have been closed. And, yet only 60% of economic participation gaps have been closed. Progress will be achieved when countries seek to reap returns on the investment in health and education of girls and women by finding ways to make marriage and motherhood compatible with the economic participation of women.”

To read the study’s press release or to download and read the full report, click on these links, or go to the main WEF Gender Gap Network web page. It’s worth putting on your Womenabling reference shelf!