By Mirela Sula
I have always been a big campaigner for women and for gender equality, and I believe that part of my personal mission in life is to help and encourage women to start taking their place on the world stage, by walking a path that has traditionally been dominated by men. Today, more and more women are starting to raise their voice to have a say in world affairs and to increase their visibility as global citizens.
Although a lot of men still want to cling to old and outmoded ways of thinking, an increasing number of men now recognise that the world’s problems cannot be solved by men alone. What is needed is a more balanced solution that incorporates the nurturing and more compassionate elements that women can bring to the table. A growing number of successful and entrepreneurial men now want to listen to women’s views and encourage them on their mission to bring balance to a troubled world. I believe that this balance of power is now shifting for the benefit of all and I was recently privileged to talk to some forward thinking men about this important topic.
I had the good fortune to be able to speak with five men that I met in China last week at the “World Entrepreneurial Forum” and I took this rare opportunity to ask them for their views about women entrepreneurs. I also asked them about how successful men could work with women to bring a new momentum to female entrepreneurship and how they might help in facilitating this process. They were all happy to share their opinions, emphasising that the involvement of women in business is going to change significantly over the next ten years. The five inspiring men I met in China are clearly willing to step up to this challenge and recognise the importance of creating the right environment for offering business opportunities to women and thus stimulating a lot more social good in the world.
This is what five male entrepreneurs from different countries of the world have shared with me – from China, Turkey, France, America and the UK.
“Women’s fight for gender equality has been in the news for a long period of time but today we are still far from true equality” – says Tugrul Atamer, the Director of “World Entrepreneurial Forum” whilst talking about the role of women in the business world. Others clearly agree.
“I’m particularly interested in influencing more entrepreneurs and business people in general to think “better” about what they do with their relative skills and wealth.”
Larry Sullivan quipped that he often describes one of his senior directors, a woman, as “the best bloke I have on my team”. He is also a firm believer in the old saying, “If you want something talked about, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman”. Speaking generically, Larry believes that the archetypal entrepreneur is inappropriately lauded today. A couple of generations ago entrepreneurs were regarded as little more than ‘spivs’. Maggie Thatcher thought entrepreneurs could solve pressing social problems but that’s clearly not always the case. According to Larry entrepreneurs are simply ‘wired differently’ from the rest of us. He is particularly interested in helping to influence more entrepreneurs and business people in general to think “better” about what they do with their relative skills and wealth. And he refers to Jack Sim as an example of someone who has definitely done that. “And I’m still trying to” he says with modesty.
“Women are regarded as more successful entrepreneurs in areas such as fashion design, marketing, communication and media. In fact, they are often expected by Society and their professional communities to be active in these sectors.”
Baybars Altuntas starts his argument with some interesting statistics; The Eurostat database states that more women ( 25.7 ) than men ( 23.8 ) in Europe faced the risk of poverty or social exclusion in 2012 with the global economic crisis continuing to put pressure on female employment in the EU and worldwide thus degrading women’s income indicators globally. This tells us that life has become more difficult for women in recent years and knowing this sector very well he believes that setting up a business became a good option to recover the economic losses of women because of the unstable economic situtation in the World. Baybars also suggests that the participation of women in business activities transforms the quality and the structure of the worksforce and thus Society as a whole. This helps to boost female career development, self-realisation and also job creation.
It can also benefit their households and communities, affecting the entrepreneurial mindset of future generations who may in turn consider self-employment as a natural career option following the example of their parents. From his experience Baybars has observed that in business, women tend to be more involved in establishing and leading small enterprises than in huge conglomerates.
“It’s time for women not to blame the world for this situation, but to take action to become entrepreneurs in their own right.”
Jack Sim defines an entrepreneur as someone who accomplishes their mission regardless of lack of skills, resources, knowledge, obstacles and challenges in order to always produce the desired outcome. And the positive perspective that he shares with us is that women are born natural entrepreneurs and this is the main reason why the Human Race did not go into extinction. The way he describes it is this: “When we were born, our mother suddenly became a multi-skilled person.
She became a nurse, a nutritionist, a nursery-rhyme and lullaby singer, a teacher, a body guard, a financial controller, a washer woman and a multitude of other roles all rolled into one. Women could see in this little fragile new born baby a vision of a healthy child growing, loving, learning, playing and laughing. She knew this child would grow up happy, educated, have a career, get married and give her grandchildren. If your mother had not succeeded in all these tasks then you wouldn’t even be literate enough to read this article. Did she write a Business Plan for this project? No. She has a far more advanced tool: A Non-Negotiable Vision of Success. Her success is guaranteed by the necessity of success. She had no option of giving you away to the neighbours or relatives if her business plan failed”.
Another interesting perspective that Jack shared was his belief that if every woman understood the entrepreneurial power that they inherently possess, and were able to transfer this power into business, then women would far exceed the performance of men in the marketplace. But Jack thinks that women everywhere seem to accept a lesser role than men in business. Perhaps it is because of women’s natural instinct to serve and facilitate the family or perhaps we’ve not yet discarded some long traditional and now outmoded views that women are not as determined as men.
“At the World Entrepreneurship Forum, we say that entrepreneurs are the ‘Creators of wealth and social justice.’ I think there is a very important role for women to play in that equation, especially the second part.”
Steve Strauss confirms that one of the best changes that he has seen in business in the past generation is the emergence of women who are not only succeeding in the workplace but who are becoming ever more entrepreneurial and starting their own businesses. He thinks that now is a great time for female entrepreneurs because attitudes are changing and new opportunities are emerging. And he shares his own experience of this: “My youngest daughter is at university now and I am encouraging her to become an entrepreneur when she graduates. Why? Because I think it is the best way I know for her to best utilise her numerous talents as well as a great way to make a difference in the world.” He strongly believes that we need more female entrepreneurs to foster increased social justice in the world.
“In Turkey both women and men are now enrolling at university in much greater numbers than ever before and women’s rate of enrollment is increasing the fastest.”
Tugrul Atamer believes that the involvement of women in the business world is strongly linked to the increase of gender inclusiveness across society. He confirms what the research studies say: women-led-businesses are one of the fastest growing group of entrepreneurial ventures in the world over the last 10-15 years. And according to Tugrul the promotion of gender equality, the participation of women in the labour force and better access to education are all beneficial factors underpinning the increase of women entrepreneurs.
Tugrul thinks that we still need to do much more to close the equality gap. For example, women represent 52% of the total European population but only 30% of start-up entrepreneurs. “In France only about one fourth of the entrepreneurs are women and in the UK only 5% of female early stage activity is in the technological sector compared to 12% of men.
“How do you see the power of women increasing over the next 10 years?”
I have no specific vision and I am wary of those who might claim to. I subscribe to an approach consisting of a series of logical steps based on core values. I visited Bangladesh eight years ago as I was interested in the work of Mohammed Younnis in relation to microfinance. It was interesting to see that micro-finance programmes were most successful when they were about loans to groups of women. They were more collegiate and less egotistical. Women, in the main, do the really awesome stuff whilst men “play” at business. I think good sustainable businesses are built over time with good / moral leadership that cares about the outcomes for all its stakeholders. I do not subscribe at all to the “listed” quarterly and annual approach in isolation. Short term goals like this can drive the wrong behaviours. In that sense a more traditional maternal, family thinking approach is better. Few mothers have a quarterly business approach to their children. So mothers who “play” at business should, time permitting, be hard-wired for business success.
Baybars Altuntas – Turkey
Founder of Deulcom International: http://www.deulcom.com.tr
The World Bank mantra that “empowering women is smart economics’’ illustrates the trend of the next ten years of the world economy. In general terms I can say that it will be equally important to adopt family-friendly policies that aim at reconciling work and family life. Things like flexible child care services, guaranteed maternity leave and other incentives promoting various forms of household support and helping both men and women to share parental responsibilities and combine them with entrepreneurial activities. Careful evaluation of the impact of individual policies and prioritisation are the key tasks of policy partnership aiming at fostering women’s entrepreneurship and supporting the contribution of women in terms of global competitiveness, growth and employment. World Entrepreneurship Forum’s vision of more wealth, more social justice and more jobs will be easier tasks to implement when we see the power of women in the World economy.
Jack Sim – China
Founder of World Toilet Organization: http://worldtoilet.org
I think the future belongs to the Feminine Philosophy of Lao Tzu where leaders facilitate rather than dictate. It is in women’s nature to see the success of their family without claiming credit for it. This is the same kind of leadership that corporations need to inspire and instill ownership and commitments in all their workers and stakeholders of the company. If we use the next ten years to unleash the potential of women in entrepreneurship across the four billion low income at the base of the pyramid population of the world, we could end global poverty and bring forward all seven billion customers to become middle class and above.
Women must not try to compare themselves with men. Instead they must compare themselves with their own potential. Once they are able to envisage an image of themselves doing great things successfully they can arrive at that vision the same way they brought success to their children. Personally I am inspired by my mother to become first a serial entrepreneur and later a serial social entrepreneur. I watched her create business opportunities with very frugal resources. I’ll tell you her great story on another day.
Steve Strauss – USA
President at The Self Employed: https://www.theselfemployed.com
The emergence of the female entrepreneur is a trend that is only going to accelerate. We have entered the age of the entrepreneur. Technology has made it such that it is easier and more affordable than ever to start a business. This is especially important for women. The cost of entry into the marketplace is only going to continue to get lower and this in turn is going to open up even more opportunities for would-be female entrepreneurs. It is a great and necessary trend.
Tugrul Atamer – France
Executive Chairman/ World Entrepreneurship Forum: http://www.em-lyon.com/fr
The mission of the World Entrepreneurship Forum is to shape the World of 2050 because we believe that human beings are now facing the most important challenges in its history across all domains. We are in transition from an old economic and social order toward a new order. Current transformations of our societies are more than just a ‘third industrial revolution.’ Instead, it is all about inventing and building a new type of humanity. This new type of humanism requires sustainable growth along with a ‘global citizenship’ mind-set and social inclusiveness. There can be no social inclusiveness without the equality of entrepreneurship across our societies. The next decade, I hope, will be the decade of closing the gap in gender equality and ending the male domination of human societies. An increasing rate of education rate, full participation of women in the labour force, better access to finance and ICT skills and changing family sociology are all factors that will contribute to the removal of barriers to female entrepreneurship. We need the full participation of women in social, in high-tech and in high growth ventures because we know that women value non-economic outcomes more than men. They are more concerned for others and they are more altruistic and this is the world balance we need.