The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Each for Equal’.
Imagine a gender equal world where…
- Medicines would not be tested exclusively on men and prescribed for women
- Recruiting algorithms would not down-score resumes that use the words ‘women’ or ‘women’s college’
- Office temperatures would not be set for male metabolic rates
Except for those who inherit or marry it, wealth comes from the work we do. Often building assets is a slow and steady— or slow and unsteady— climb up the income ladder over a lifetime. Unless one is a highly paid CEO, rarely is working for others the surest way to fortune. Owning one’s own business is still the well-trod route to creating wealth—for ourselves, our families, and our communities.
But, when it comes to building businesses, there’s a gender gap. According to Boston Consulting Group (BCG), if more women started and sustained their own businesses global GDP could increase by $5 trillion. So, how come we don’t do it more?
In a global study, BCG found a number of disparities between entrepreneurial women and men:
- Working-age men start businesses 4-6 per cent more often than similar age women do.
- Women-owned businesses generate higher revenues (over the 5-year study period) yet attract less than half the funding that men-owned start-ups do.
- Women lag men in having access to support networks and social and start-up capital.
Creating a business takes a huge amount of energy. Founders are often involved in every facet—from product and business development to human resources and sales and marketing. Especially in the early years, when the survival of the enterprise is at stake, the business must come first, before family and friends. This is a tough position for men too except, traditionally, women have stepped up to manage the household and raise the children and maintain the social connections, in order to subsidize their partners’ dreams.
Anyone who has ever juggled two jobs knows how hard this can be. Now, imagine your second job is one that comes with these attributes: 1) a sense of urgency; 2) daily repetition; and, 3) highly important for basic survival. The tasks can never be crossed off the ‘to-do’ list—they are re-started from scratch each day for the rest of your life. Oh, and, by the way, the job is unpaid and therefore is not eligible for CPP or RRSP contributions. Oh, and also, everyone, including society at large, vastly underestimates how much time it takes to plan and perform the work.
Studies show that one of the main reasons that women step off the leadership track at work or avoid starting businesses is the mental and physical load of household management. Women are twice as likely as men to have primary responsibility for household chores—this applies even when the male spouse works part-time or not at all. Not surprisingly, this dynamic bleeds into the workplace as well. Notice how often women are herded into the role of ‘office wife’ in charge of loading the dishwasher, ordering paper clips, and organizing social events. These may contribute to a well-functioning office, but they rarely come with big promotions and bonuses.
Now, imagine a gender equal world where women would not have to choose between caring for their families and themselves and having awesome careers. Advancements in technology enable more jobs today to be done remotely which frees up women— and men— to be more productive and still have some flexibility to manage the household. Millennials are more likely to be egalitarian in the division of household responsibilities than previous generations. This, too, bodes well for women’s career prospects. Perhaps, in the near future, the cliché of men staying late at the office working on a big project or to impress the boss, networking during after-work drinks, or traveling while their wives keep the rest of their lives in-balance will seem as quaint as an episode of ‘Mad Men’?
The world is becoming more challenging. To meet these new and emerging hurdles we’ll need every bit of human ingenuity and talent. By enabling more women to participate in generating sustainable growth by starting new businesses and by taking leadership positions, the world will be a richer place—or at least a more interesting one. #Eachforequal is the pathway for a better balance between men and women— and between humans and our planet.