Of Women and Business

WORKING WOMEN: From refugee camps in Iraq to industries in the West, women have been productive helping their respective communities and families.

Women bring virtues and skills of soft power to leadership in the workplace

BY: Randa Bessiso

It’s a new and emerging global economy which increasingly relies upon and values the virtues of ‘soft power’—the natural leadership style of women. As the world of business becomes friendlier to women, there is also a significant economic premium to be gained through greater gender equality at the highest level in business, by creating role models and inspiring others to pursue higher education, and through career development and executive education, to maintain and enhance their skills.

In the European Union, women will account for 40 percent of board seats in large companies by 2020, up from the current 13.7 percent. In the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is taking a strong initiative on the issue by not only encouraging women into the workplace but also into the boardroom. It is this kind of inspiring support that will help ensure that we see more ‘soft power’ in the region’s top firms.

But there is still much to be done to empower female entrepreneurs. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor reported that 126 million female-owned businesses and 98 million women were operating established businesses, running over three and a half years.

This number amounts to a total of 224 million women who are impacting the global economy — based on a survey of 67 of the 188 countries recognized by the World Bank.

And women are gaining confidence and beginning to fulfill their economic potential.

According to the National Association of Women Business Owners’, women are very optimistic about their business performance and the economic outlook going forward, and the association predicts that more women will be venturing into entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurial activity creates growth and prosperity — and solutions for social problems. And today’s trends show that women will be a driving force of entrepreneurial growth in the future.

Corporations are playing their part in ensuring greater female representation in the boardrooms. The recent announcement of GlaxoSmithKline’s new female CEO is one example. Emma Walmsley will be one of five women on a board of 13 members.

The question to be asked, however, is how can women increase their global economic impact?

Collectively, they will continue to have a greater impact based on their entrepreneurial skills.

Building a global company is a challenge for any entrepreneur. It requires scaling up an idea for a business model, developing business skills to ensure a transition from business owner to company leader and working with passion and energy, which can be challenging for anyone—man or woman.

One female entrepreneur who made the leap from start up to global business was Tory Burch, the fashion retailer, who said: “We already know that women are crucial to economic growth around the world. Based on our experiences, women entrepreneurs see the world through a different lens and, in turn, do things differently (not better).”

Yet, even when women are active business owners, they do not always reach their full potential.

According to several media reports, women own almost three in 10 American firms, yet employ only 6 percent of the country’s workforce and account for barely 4 percent of business revenues.

The challenges that women commonly face are access to capital, mentors and trusted advisers, as well as entrepreneurial education. Research shows women doubt their capabilities and fear failure more than men.

Thus, a training program can help women gain more confidence to see bold ideas through. But the benefits of empowering women are clear, with research suggesting that companies with greater gender balance at top management levels achieve 30 percent better results at IPO.

Arab women are renowned and respected for their strength, and are very prominent in family owned businesses in the region, as well as in the government sectors. The Middle East already has some great role models when it comes to female leadership.
According to Booz research, further involvement of women in the UAE’s economy would lead to a boost of 12 percent in the GDP.

Business is Moving Towards Women
Businesses are going global and more diverse than ever before, and companies are more dispersed and collaborative. They are using multiple communications channels and an increasing number of employees are working remotely and more flexibly in workplaces which can be anywhere. And there are increasing grounds for optimism with policymakers and thought leaders taking a stand for women in business across the world.

These developments play to the greater natural strengths of women in management and leadership positions—a more feminine style. It is a new and emerging world that increasingly relies upon and values the virtues of ‘soft power,’ which now sees many more women excelling in various industries and creating the role models that we need.

Randa Bessiso is Director-Middle East at the Manchester Business School


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