global growth of women in business
Women are at the centre of
relationships that include family, community and business
By Susanne E. Jalbert
Jun 19 - 25, 2000
Nurturing an individual's natural spirit of entrepreneurship is a
powerful key to economic development. Small and medium-sized enterprises provide the bulk
of employment for most economies, advanced or not. Supporting businesses with strong
associations can strengthen the structural adjustment reforms that are part of the current
international wave of decentralization, which is grounded in the belief that promoting
private businesses is key to growth.
Capital-generating businesses provide a satisfactory living for their
owners and are even creating new jobs in their communities throughout the world. How? New
businesses in developed, developing, and transition economies are passing the survival
phase, moving toward the thriving stage, and growing big enough to hire more employees,
expand products and services and venture into the international arena. Contributing
significantly to global economic growth through generation of new enterprises are
women-owned businesses. This article explores assets and characteristics that women bring
to the international marketplace along with specific barriers they face. It examines how
women's business associations can better prepare and support members for international
trade, and it attempts to recognize what's missing in understanding and identifying the
status of women in international trade.
Assets that women bring to the global market are varied and multiple. A
considerable body of research has explored how women are at the centre of relationships
that include family, community and business. In other words, when a woman starts or
acquires her own business, in her view she is not creating a separate economic entity.
Rather she is "integrating" a new global system of business-related
relationships by bringing the assets of intuition, instinct, sensitivity and values
together simultaneously. Research conducted by Moore and Buttner (1997), Helgesen (1990,
1995) and the OCED (1998) indicates that the global market responds well to qualities
women entrepreneurs bring to the international playing field. These characteristics
include their proficiency in building and maintaining long-term relationships and
networks, effective communication skills, sensitivity to cultural differences and to the
importance of appropriate behaviour, organizational abilities, and non-threatening,
Barriers, some real, some perceived and some self-imposed, confront
women entrepreneurs. In the area of international business obstacles include limited
international business experience, inadequate business education and lack of access to
international networks. Societal, cultural and religious attitudes also impede women in
business. Other challenges faced by all enterprises are: financing, globalization of
social and economic environments, marketing, and management. Transition economies can pose
difficult hurdles such as banking, legal aspects, political contacts, customs tariffs,
bureaucracy that daily invents new mechanisms for the simplest procedures, and extortion.
Characteristics reflected in research of women entrepreneurs show a
woman who is highly motivated, initiates action and activity without direction, has a high
internal locus of control, and propensity toward achievement. Women's decision processes
indicate a highly personal, subjective process. Studies reveal that there are multiple
general individual characteristics of women business owners that promote their creativity
and generate new ideas and ways of doing things.
Associations: help or hindrance?
Whether women should or should not join a male-dominated organization
such as a trade association or a chamber of commerce has long been a point of controversy.
Billie Lee, an international writer on workplace issues based in Colorado Springs,
Colorado, wrote persuasively in the San Diego Business Journal that women should join only
mainstream chamber or business groups. Lee feels one would be most likely to meet those
who can demonstrate and coach powerful business techniques only in male-dominated
organizations. Lee asks, "Why splinter off and declare that you are women first,
business people second?" This may be a logical question, but it ignores a fundamental
point. In nearly every society, women's access to mainstream organizations and influential
leaders is limited. Creating and growing women's nonprofit organizations is a declaration
of freedom and a pragmatic course of action to help women break through economic,
political and cultural barriers. Women's business associations offer a form of leadership
that women often need it their entrepreneurial ventures are to survive and thrive. In
surveys conducted throughout the world, women repeatedly state that they want and need
women's business associations, and will participate in them. Associations can play an
enormously supportive role by providing access to:
International trade training v
Industry information trends, niches
Contacts for sources of credit
Mentoring, counseling and advice
Skill development in operations,
Management and marketing
Advocacy and legislative pressure
Communities wanting to foster entrepreneurial growth do not leave women
business owners detached and isolated. Rather, they put mechanisms in place to support,
encourage, explain, and train. What are entrepreneurial support systems? The primary
mechanisms are business associations, but support can also be available in other forms.
Some of the most effective schemes are incubators like the Starya Russa, a Russian
start-up training operation, loans such as those provided by the Women Entrepreneurs
Association of Nepal (WEAN), or equity assistance such as is offered by the Small
Enterprise Equity Fund in Novgorod-the-Great, Russia. Associations can help their members
by providing a technology network, training members on how easily accessible information
can be and providing convenient and consistent access to the technology. Associations can
be the vital link between entrepreneurs and crucial resources. Innovation centers,
enterprise centers, training centers, business development assistance, and guidance
through government regulatory agencies can also be offered. Associations can provide
critical connection members need to the international marketplace. For associations to
identify the best path for women entrepreneurs to follow in order to succeed in
international trade, they need accurate data worldwide about women in business. That
sounds like a straightforward matter, but in fact little such data exists. Trying to
obtain gender-specific statistics on a worldwide basis seems an effort in fruitlessness.
The frameworks adopted in assessing women's roles and contributions in international trade
appear too limited to deal with the realities of daily crisis circumstances, new market
attempts, and constant economical, political, and social instability that many women
business owners experience.
Women entrepreneurs would benefit from research in the following five
broad categories (1) gathering and reporting statistical data, (2) investigating how
educational institutions can provide adequate business and technical training, (3)
studying the legal infrastructure to advocate progressive steps, (4) examining business
technology to recommend low-cost systems that link women to the world and (5) questioning
public resistance to the concept of female business ownership.
Little data exists to indicate what real impact women entrepreneurs may
be having on their emerging economies. The lack of analytic data and the national lack of
interest in the problems of female businesses make it impossible to confirm the actual
growth of women-owned companies. Lack of statistical information and research on female
entrepreneurship limits analysis. Further, constraints on statistical data often lead to
the use of anecdotal evidence, estimates, or ready-made but inaccurate hypothesis.
Accurate research on neglected women entrepreneurs and their enterprises is especially
critical so that entrepreneurs themselves can get a clearer picture of the challenges they
face. The task, then, is to gather information about women who own and operate their own
businesses with specific attention paid to the attributes that compel them to compete
Education and training
Gaining access to the technical and business training that women need
to succeed is another key research topic. How can needed skills be more fully integrated
into formal and informal educational processes? As women's technical strength competence
grows their businesses will flourish. Women's business associations are especially well
poised to meet the training demands of their members by surveying their membership and
following up with appropriate training programmes.
Legal infrastructure for free enterprise to take root, it is vital that
government protects private property rights. Unless each citizen has the irrefutable
legally enforceable right to own, buy, sell, trade, mortgage and invest in private
property, a normal, healthy, stable market economy cannot exist. Thus, laws promoting,
protecting and facilitating business creation must be in place before entrepreneurship can
become a reality. To achieve a robust market, a clear, decisive programme for economic
reform with specific attention to property rights and business taxes needs
to be created. Women's business associations can play a vital role initiating analysis,
advocacy and policy development.
Russian political leader Grigory Yavlinsky confidently boasted that
technological advances such as the Internet, fax machines and mobile phones will make it
impossible for any one source ever to monopolize information in Russia again. Yavlinsky's
statement is true only if technology reaches a community level. Connecting with peers
inside and outside one's own country is imperative in order to stimulate innovation, jobs
and business growth. Examining business technology to find the best low cost systems,
perhaps collaborative systems, that link women entrepreneurs to the world is crucial for
businesses competing in a globalized market.
Acceptance of business ownership
Throughout history, acceptance of women's business ownership has been
influenced by public opinion and by the specific views of individual societies toward what
are considered appropriate roles for women. In countries where "blending in" is
a high priority, women business owners will stand out. In traditional patriarchal
societies, women business owners often are not accepted. Media campaigns can ease societal
integration of women business owners. As a positive perception of them and of
entrepreneurship in general becomes more internalized, the emerging phenomenon of women
entrepreneurs will open up new possibilities for economic stability and global business
Women's business associations are well positioned to prepare and
support their members. Here are a few direct steps an association can embrace: First,
provide leadership to develop new legal, tax, accounting, banking and legislative
structures to encourage business development and international access.
Second, develop a media campaign that includes all forms of public
relations through television, radio, newspapers, and magazines that report facts on woman
owned businesses and how they contribute to economic development.
Third, associations can offer solutions and infrastructures that help
women carry out business and personal responsibilities in tandem; for example, by
providing or advocating for quality nursery schools and childcare facilities.
Fourth, simplify! Business owners worldwide severely criticize over
regulation. Keep this in mind when advocating for new legislation and regulation.
A clear, decisive programme for economic improvement and reform must be
continually changed, developed and implemented. Many initial steps have already been
taken, but more are needed. An association can play a critical role in this process and
emerge not only as a leader championing women-owned businesses, but also become a model
for other organizations in other cities and countries.
Business women's impact
Data about women-owned businesses in the United States abounds. It
indicates that the number of women in the US workforce continues to rise annually, and
that women business owners have significantly affected the US economy. Women are not just
entering the workforce; in fact, they are creating it.
Women as business owners are contributing to the economic health and
competitiveness of many countries. Although the presence of women in international trade
has grown significantly, we don't have the data to quantify their impact. Only by
originating, disseminating, and reporting undistorted statistics on women-owned businesses
in each country will we ever have a true picture of what women are contributing
economically to the global marketplace. Perhaps women's business associations will lead us
to collecting precise, accurate data. Women owned businesses can hold the mighty power of
economic development in their hands. After all, businesses and the associations
supporting them are the heartbeat of a strong economic community anywhere.