Policy Spark Plugs for Women’s Entrepreneurship

October 25th, 2013 marks the 25th anniversary of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988 in the United States – which is frequently referred to as the “big bang” of women’s enterprise. The law extended equal access to business credit to women business owners, directed the US Census Bureau to include all women-owned firms in its business census, established the women’s business center technical assistance program, and established the National Women’s Business Council – giving women business owners a seat at the federal policymaking table.sparkplug

What other spark plugs for women’s enterprise are out there? My fellow womenablers might want to check out the former Gender Law Library at the World Bank, now part of the Women, Business and the Law website. You can search by country or topic, and you may also wish to download the new 2014 Women, Business and the Law report. Regional fact sheets are also available.

Women’s enterprise development does not always have to be sparked by legislative action. In May 2003, a Strategic Framework for Women’s Enterprise was launched by the Labour government in the United Kingdom, which led to a number of positive programs for women’s enterprise development. Unfortunately, a party-launched initiative can fall by the wayside when leadership changes hands – as happened in the UK in 2010, when Conservative David Cameron became Prime Minister and promptly cut funding for women’s entrepreneurship, and indeed for small business development support in general.

This happened as well in Canada,  not too long after their Prime Minister’s Task Force on Women Entrepreneurs – Report and Recommendations was unveiled with great promise but unfulfilled potential. The report was launched in October 2003 – just two months before Prime Minister Jean Chretien left office. Even though his successor was of the same party, the initiative did not gain traction.

The UK’s Power Women

The Womenabler has long been a fan of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour – we download and listen to many a show on our long womenabling flights around the globe. Last year, Woman’s Hour followed the trials and tribulations of three women entrepreneurs, pairing them up with mentors and discussing their entrepreneurial growth pains at regular intervals during the year. It was fascinating, illuminating and – we would guess – very inspirational for listeners thinking of starting and growing their own businesses.

womenshourlistpicThis year, they’ve set a new high bar – announcing a Power List of the 100 most powerful women in the UK. The build-up to the announcement was interesting to listen to, as they highlighted the advancement – or lack thereof – of women in business, politics, education, science and sport. It was a thoughtful, open process and the list is an interesting mix of the elite and the street-smart. Of course, #1 on the list is Queen Elizabeth, and many of the others in the ranked top-twenty lists are Dames and Right Honorables (position defines clout, in the UK and elsewhere). However, the list also includes such built-it-not-born-into-it women as singer Adele, noted architect Zaha Hadid, author JK Rowling, and a variety of women in sport, business, politics and civil society.

It’s a wonderful mix of women from a variety of walks of life, and generations, but some have commented that it’s not a very ethnically diverse list and that there were political and face-saving motivations for embarking upon this quest. But then, the halls of power are still relatively homogenous. By our eye, this women’s power list is much more diverse on so many levels than a gender-blind power list would be. And, whatever the motivations may have been, it’s a wonderful window on the world of women’s influence in the United Kingdom, a good conversation-starter about who may be missing from the list, and a feather in the cap of a fine radio program that, in our view, deserves more than a moment in the spotlight.

Check out the Woman’s Hour Power List, the stories behind how the list was chosen, and some of the commentary following the announcement of the list – including the chagrin of some that the Duchess of Cambridge was not included in the list.

Well done, Woman’s Hour!

Ruminations on the Women’s Enterprise Movement

I’ve been traveling lately, participating in a panel on the value of mentors and role models for would-be women business owners, presenting a paper on what gets missed when business enabling environment assessments don’t include gender, speaking at the We Own It Summit in London – and meeting with a group of women’s business advocates in the UK about moving forward with new efforts in moving women’s enterprise development forward there in the wake of organizational and governmental change.

I’ve uploaded the presentation I delivered at this strategy session here:

While it’s a bit long for a quick review (just under 28 minutes), you might want to bookmark it and watch it some morning with your caffeinated beverage, or at the end of the day with a more relaxing beverage.

So, on the eve of Independence Day here in the USA, let freedom ring for enterprise creation and growth around the world. Perhaps these thoughts and lessons learned can help in that regard. Onward and upward, sisters and brothers in arms!

The Most Womenabling News of 2010

In our year-end e-newsletter, rather than summarizing the latest womenabling news and providing womenablers everywhere with insights to educate, enlighten and empower your efforts, we’re ending the year by compiling what we feel are the most interesting and relevant activities that have taken place in the field of women’s enterprise development in 2010. Repeated here, and in no particular order, are what we see as the ten most noteworthy trends and events of the year:

  1. The establishment of UN Women: It’s been talked about and touted for a number of years, and this year it finally happened: the merging of heretofore disparate UN activities for and about women into one “super agency” for women: the “UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women,”  otherwise known as UN Women. This entity will oversee efforts formerly under the purview of the UN’s Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women (OSAGI), and the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). Heading the new combined entity is former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet. What do you need to know about the new agency and how you can engage with it? Read this.
  2. Expansion of women’s empowerment measurements: Where does women’s economic empowerment stand? Some of the most well-known measurements of women’s empowerment include the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap reports, the UN’s GDI and GEM measurements, and the OECD’s Gender, Institutions and Development Data Base. However, all of these include several other measures (including health, education and political participation) as well as economic empowerment and, with respect to the latter, focus on women as workers rather than business owners. There are the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s reports on women and entrepreneurship but, sadly, one has not been published since 2007. This year, though, saw the addition of two new kids on the block, and both of these indicators focus entirely on economic empowerment, and specifically on entrepreneurship. They are the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Index, and a new GenderCLIR methodology for BEE assessment from USAID/Booz Allen Hamilton.
  3. A picture’s worth a thousand words: The International Museum of Women launched a powerful online exhibition this year, Economica: Women and the Global Economy. One project within the exhibition is Picturing Power & Potential, a juried photo exhibit which proves the adage and is well worth a look. Bookmark and return to the site as they add to it in the coming year.
  4. Recognition of “The Female Factor” in some media circles, but …: The International Herald Tribune has written a number of compelling articles about women’s empowerment issues this year as a part of their series, “The Female Factor.” And Canada’s Globe and Mail launched a national conversation about Women in Power during Women’s History Month in Canada (October). Despite this nice coverage, however, a recent study, Who Makes the News? The Global Media Monitoring Report 2010, finds that women’s voices and stories – especially about economic issues – are still largely untold in the news media.
  5. Second interval review for MDGs: In 2000, at the United Nations Millennium Summit, 189 world leaders planted an ambitious flag in the ground, agreeing on eight Millennium Development Goals aimed at eliminating world poverty by 2015. (Our favorite: #3, gender equity.) A “second interval” review of the progress being made on meeting those goals was held this year, including the publication of an MDG report and the convening of an MDG summit. The bottom line? Progress is indeed being made, but in many cases is uneven, affecting some populations and not others. Here’s a report card showing some of the details. While this review shows that much remains to be done to meet the 2015 deadline, “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.” (William Shakespeare)
  6. Progress stalled for WED in UK: Last year, in our year-end top trends E-newsletter, we noted the implosion of Prowess – the UK’s key advocacy organization for women’s economic empowerment. Well, things have gone from bad to worse in the UK for women’s enterprise development with the election of a   Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government. As  feared/expected, one of the new government’s first acts was declaring  that Business Link and Regional Development Agencies would be phased  out, in favor of Local Enterprise Partnerships. It remains to be seen how this will impact focused/tailored business support services such as the women’s business centre pilot programme, but our guess is that it won’t be positive.
  7. A new ED and Chair for NWBC: Another issue we followed with interest last year (though it did not make our top ten list) was stalled activity at the National Women’s Business Council in the wake of the 2008 US presidential election. Well, things are starting to move once again, with the hiring of a new executive director, Dana Lewis, and the appointment of a new chair, Donna James. Filling Council seats and revving up Council activities should commence in 2011. Women’s business advocates in the US are relieved.
  8. Quinquennial census of women-owned firms in the US: Say what you will about the growing hegemony of political and economic power worldwide, the United States still rocks when it comes to measuring the number and economic power of women-owned businesses. The  2007 quinquennial economic census of women-owned firms was published this year. Womenable summarizes the key trends for you in this blogpost.
  9. Progress in procurement: Doing business with the US government is getting easier for women-owned businesses. Finally, after a ten-year wait, a women-owned business procurement program is finally going to be launched by the SBA early next year. Not content to wait for this to happen, late in 2008 Women Impacting Public Policy, with the support of American Express OPEN, launched a “Give Me 5%” initiative (which refers to the gov’t-wide spending goal for women-owned firms) to educate women business owners on how to do business with the federal government. Where do things stand with respect to meeting that 5% goal? Federal spending with women-owned firms stands at 3.7% as of FY2009, up from 2.4% a decade earlier but still well short of the goal.
  10. Making market connections: There are two new initiatives poised to help women business owners globally make significant market connections with another important customer: large corporations. First is WEConnect International, an organization that was founded in 2009 but started to get its sea legs this year with the launch of WEConnect Europe and an event in London this October. WEConnect’s goal is to make it easier for large corporations to find women-owned business suppliers and for women-owned firms to learn how to do business with large corporations. And speaking of large corporations, one of them – Coca-Cola (ranked 404 on Fortune’s Global 500 largest companies) – announced a “reach for the stars” goal at this year’s Clinton Global Initiative conference. Coke’s “5 by 20” project aims to draw 5 million women into its Micro Distribution Center program in Africa and elsewhere by the year 2020.

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 Zunia.org, a wonderful development news aggregator, for highlighting this report.

“Lipstick Entrepreneurs”? That’s SO Last Century

The article in the UK’s Sunday Times on 3 January began in a promising manner, referring to recent reports that 2010 will usher in the decade of the woman entrepreneur:

“‘A tenfold increase in the number of female CEOs in FTSE 100 companies!’, ‘Double the number of female MPs!’, ‘100% growth in women-owned start-ups!’ — these predictions come from the trendspotter Jeremy Baker, of ECSP Europe Business School.”

But the article’s headline? “Meet the lipstick entrepreneurs” – ugh! And where is the article placed? In the paper’s “Life & Style” section – double ugh!!

OK, so maybe this cheeky headline is just a nod to the title of a recent report from The Future Laboratory sponsored by Avon Products, but Womenable prefers the sentiments and styling of this shout out to the UK’s women business owners, which we likewise came across on the same date:

While Womenable frequently admires the UK’s cheeky monikers, such as “mind the gap,” we know that words matter. This recent headline – and the placement of the article in the Style section rather than in Business – speak volumes about why, despite policy efforts, women’s entrepreneurship in the UK still lags that in the US and in many other developed economies. C’mon Sunday Times, treat women business owners as the economic engine that they are, and don’t belittle the message of the article by slapping on a demeaning headline and placing it in the Style section. That’s so last century.

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?