Conversations on ‘Women in Power’ in Canada

It’s a provocative title for a series, and an opening salvo in a series of discussions online and in Canada’s leading newspaper, The Globe and Mail. Entitled, “Canada: Our Time to Lead,” the series will feature stories and conversations on eight important topics, one of which is Women in Power.

A look at the stories and video/photo features so far this month (which is Women’s History Month in Canada – this year’s theme is “Recognizing Canadian Women in Business”) is impressive. Here is a sampling:

CLICK HERE to view and bookmark the series page; you’ll want to save it and check in on the stories as they unfold. Three cheers to The Globe and Mail for launching this conversation.

Lighting Candles in Rwanda

“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.” ~
Margaret Fuller (1819-1850), early American feminist and activist

Womenable has long known and valued the simple yet profound act of illumination, of creating a spark that can grow from a small light to a mighty flame. Indeed, Womenable’s mission is to create those sparks of action for women’s enterprise development, by shining the light of knowledge on the characteristics, contributions and challenges of women business owners and by ensuring that the systems that support women’s enterprise development – laws, policies and programs – are as effective as possible.

That’s what has taken me to Rwanda three times over the past 18 months; to investigate the state of women’s enterprise development there, make recommendations for action on a number of fronts (download and read this report to learn what we found and what was recommended), and to light a small fire by delivering women’s leadership development workshops in four cities there: Huye, Musanze, Rwamagana, and the capital city of Kigali.

I’m just back from three weeks helping to deliver these workshops, and I’m pleased to say that our small spark is already catching fire. Our team effort – led by Booz Allen Hamilton, funded by USAID, and with contributions from trainers from the Private Sector Federation’s Business Development Services team, Duterimbere trainers and training materials, and the participation of local government and banking officials – helped over 200 women business owners expand their personal business vision and, more importantly, to see that by working together they can help other women start their own businesses and raise their voices to improve conditions for business development in general in their communities.

Our keynote speaker was Rehmah Kasule, a woman entrepreneur from Uganda, who not only shared her story of personal will and triumph, but of the need for business vision and branding and the value and reward of mentoring. She has started women’s mentoring clubs in Uganda, led a mentoring walk there (read her blog about that here) and is involved in youth mentorship as well. Her message about the value of mentoring, saying that “if you let others light a candle from your flame, it will add light without diminishing your own glow,” resonated well everywhere we went. What a woman!

We also heard from successful women business owners in Rwanda, who agreed to travel to cities to share their personal stories and give inspiration to others. Several of the women were graduates of the Oklahoma-based Institute for the Economic Empowerment of Women‘s Peace Through Business program, now heading into its 3rd year in Rwanda. They have taken the program’s “pay it forward” message to heart. What a great group of women. Way to go, Terry Neese!

I made a small contribution, by sharing news on international trends in women’s enterprise development – so they would know how much they share in common with women business owners around the world – and on the principles and missions of women’s business associations in comparison with mentoring groups.

But, lest you think it was all work and no play (well, truthfully, it was nearly all work), here’s a sampling of what we delivered at these workshops, and how the women responded. At the beginning of the first day in each city, there was some apprehension and the women were quiet. Simultaneous translation and the equipment that it requires was new and a little daunting to them at first. But by the middle of that day, and certainly by day two, the women were chatting with one another, enjoying asking questions and hearing translation from English to Kinyarwanda and back again, and singing songs of praise. And – in two of the cities – they have already taken steps to form business associations, even opening a bank account for the group in one city. It was a very rewarding experience for all of us.

So, think about where you might help to light a candle. What knowledge do you have that others would benefit from? Because, as the old song goes, “if everyone lit just one little candle, what a bright world this would be.”

Assessing Business Enabling Environments: How Gender Changes the Equation

There’s been growing interest over the past few years – both within countries and in the international economic development community – in moving beyond “one-off” business assistance programs and taking a step back to assess environmental factors influencing the start-up and growth of small businesses. Reducing legal and regulatory barriers can then make it easier for start-ups to grow, and will strengthen the impact of business assistance programs.

However, nearly all assessments of the business enabling environment (BEE for short) do not take gender constraints into consideration.

I recently presented a paper at the Diana research conference (focused on women’s entrepreneurship research, education and practice) focusing on this very issue. Entitled, “Assessing Business Enabling Environments: How Gender Changes the Equation,” the paper reviews the items contained in four well-known business environment rankings : the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, USAID’s BizCLIR, the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Reports, and the World Bank’s Doing Business indicators. Perhaps not surprisingly, none of these assessments and tools considers the gender implications of policy and program development, nor the cultural constraints faced by women more than men as they start and grow their enterprises.

There have been some efforts in recent years to assess how women business owners are faring in particular. Efforts by the IFC, ILO and USAID – most particularly the new GenderCLIR assessment tool developed for USAID – are discussed in the paper.

What’s different for women business owners? Some key internal and external constraints include:

  • Lesser access to assets and property, which can lead to challenges in accessing business financing,
  • Less access to networks, both formal and informal,
  • Greater difficulty with obtaining licenses and permits (related not only to mobility and time constraints, but discrimination), and
  • Social and cultural constraints than can lead both to lower start-up rates and growth rates for women-owned firms.

What’s the way forward? Certainly, this examination points out the need for more integration of gender constraints and socio-cultural issues into general BEE assessments. It also points out the value of looking from the outside in as well as from the top down, and of extending purely quantitative measures into qualitative territory. The paper also points out that assessments are but the first step in a process, and that more work is needed to understand what policy change and program implementation brings about the greatest entrepreneurial boosts. Finally, while there are now gender-aware BEE methodologies being employed, we are a long way from having enough statistical and experiential data to rank countries in a similar manner as the Doing Business Indicators. May that day come soon!

To download the paper, and to learn more about Womenable’s other research publications, visit Womenable’s Publications Page.

AGOA Ten Years On; How are Women Faring?

Ten years ago the US Congress passed the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), designed to provide economic development assistance to lesser developed economies in sub-Saharan Africa and open up trade opportunities.

While the act has been criticized by some as not in keeping with WTO provisions, it has benefited trade between the US and Africa, and has helped with export and product quality standards, and SME development.

An AGOA forum has been held annually, rotating between an African and a US location. This year’s forum is being held August 2-3 in Washington DC, and is expected to attract trade leaders and experts from 38 African nations.

The Brookings Institution has published a report reviewing the state of AGOA in advance of this meeting, which is available at this site. However, a review of the report shows that women rate only one sentence in the 25-page document: “In addition, AGOA has also helped tackle inequality in African countries by creating more employment opportunities, especially for women.”

Hmm, chances are that AGOA has done more than that for women’s economic empowerment. But, as we well know, what does not get measured does not get managed – nor discussed at fora. C’mon folks! Here’s hoping that women’s economic empowerment will rate more than one sentence at this upcoming discussion.

There’s a good change that it will, though, thanks to the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program, which is bringing women business leaders from Africa to Washington, to attend the AGOA Forum and to meet with government and business leaders in Washington, DC and in Kansas City. Three cheers to the State Department and USAID for making this happen.

Shine a Light on Your Favorite Womenabling Nonprofit Organizations

Calling all womenablers! You have one week left to shine a light on a favorite non-profit organization that’s making the world a better place for women.

GreatNonprofits and GuideStar have launched the 2010 Women’s Empowerment Campaign, in partnership with a whole host of women-focused groups, including: Kiva, the National Organization for Women, the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, MADRE, Wider Opportunities for Women, Dress for Success, Women’s Media Center, Women News Network, Women’s Philanthropy — Women’s Issues, World Pulse, and Vivanista. The goal – to identify and shine a spotlight on top-rated nonprofits focusing on women’s issues.

The contest ends on May 31, so – sometime in the next week, click on this link to nominate your favorite NGO and/or add a comment to reviews that have already been posted. Thus far, there are nearly 1,000 reviews of over 200 organizations.

What are the benefits of spending a few moments sharing your thoughts?

  • Recognition: Every organization that gathers 10 or more positive reviews during the month of May will make the GreatNonprofits Top-Rated Women’s Empowerment Nonprofits list;
  • Community engagement: It’s a wonderful opportunity for nonprofits and their community members to interact and engage directly via providing their comments; and
  • First-person stories: Clients, volunteers, donors and others can share with the public, in their own words, how this nonprofit serves its community.

So, take a few moments to add your voice to the others applauding virtually for all of the hard-working non-profit organizations that are making a difference for the world’s women!

Assessing the State of Women’s Entrepreneurship in Europe

A newly-discovered report from the European Microfinance Network takes a comparative look at the environment for women’s enterprise development in eight countries – assessing relative levels of gender equality on six dimensions – and highlighting good practices in support for women’s entrepreneurship. It’s definitely worth a read, and worth a spot on your womenabling reference shelf.

The report, “Fostering gender equality: Meeting the entrepreneurship and microfinance challenge,” takes a look at the state of affairs for women’s enterprise development in eight countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Slovakia, Spain and the UK), and finds only average progress on these six dimensions:

  • general national context for entrepreneurship,
  • gender equality in society,
  • gender equality in labor market inclusion,
  • gender equality in entrepreneurship,
  • gender equality in support structures for entrepreneurship, and
  • gender equality in access to finance.

The countries are rated most highly on general gender equality in society, and lowest on support structures for women’s enterprise development. There was the most variability in ranking among the eight countries on the access to finance dimension. Scores are calibrated on a 1-5 scale. In no country and on no dimension did any country garner a 4 or higher.

One of the best features of the 76-page report is its reference to good practices in the countries studied. Some of the policies and practices that are highlighted include:

The report also contains a number of very useful policy and practice recommendations, targeted to policy makers, practitioners, finance providers, and researchers.

For more information on the European Microfinance Network, and to download the report, click on the links above. Thanks go to, a wonderful development news aggregator, for highlighting this report.

Catalyst discovers a “broken pipeline”

Catalyst, a leading voice for women’s advancement in corporations since 1962, is starting to lose their patience. A report recently issued by them, entitled “Pipeline’s Broken Promise,” finds that – regardless of well-intentioned efforts within major corporations – women start out their corporate careers one step behind men and maintain that gap throughout their careers.

More specifically, the study finds that:

  • women lag their male counterparts from the first job onward, scoring lower positions and lower salaries in their first corporate jobs out of the starting gate;
  • these salary differences persist as women and men progress up the career ladder; and
  • these differences exist regardless of aspirational goals or parental status.

The study is based on interviews with over 4,000 women and men receiving MBAs from 26 leading business schools on three continents between 1996 and 2007, who are still working full-time in corporations. (Makes one wonder what the results would have been if they had interviewed some of the graduates who are no longer working in these large firms. Maybe some of them would be women who had grown fed up with this very situation?)

Click on this link to learn more about the research and to download the free report and a statistical appendix.

Womenable, for one, is happy to see that Catalyst is finally taking their gloves off a bit. Despite their best efforts – which have been invaluable in bringing attention and good research to the lack of advancement of women in the corporate world – only 14% of top executives in the world’s publicly-traded corporations are women, and only 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Yes, one could certainly say that “inequality remains entrenched” in these halls of corporate power. A mild understatement to say the least. While not exactly biting the hand that feeds them, at least Catalyst is speaking truth to power with a bit more urgency and a tad more exasperation.