Are Women Entrepreneurs Game Changers?
They’re leaving corporate roles in larger numbers than previous decades. In the high tech industry, they exit en masse between ages 30 - 40. One well-known expert calls it The Brain Drain.
Most of these professional women don’t exit the workforce. Some change industries. Some, including myself and many of my professional colleagues, become entrepreneurs.
Are Successful Women Entrepreneurs Changing the Business Game?
The past decade has seen phenomenal growth in the number of women owned U.S. business. Large, successful, well-run corporations that focus on sources of their own future economic growth, including American Express, Deloitte, and Ernst and Young, have created business units and programs designed to sell into women’s growing economic power.
But are successful women entrepreneurs making a difference? Are we changing the business landscape, improving the culture and the business of business. I don’t think so.
It’s not for lack of desire or failure to adopt different values and practices. In fact it may be for these very reasons that women entrepreneurs have little affect on changing the nature of business, such that social good and widespread economic health, perhaps even environmentally sound practices, become the norm.
Many women start businesses because we want to contribute in accordance with our capabilities. We want to be and to feel valued. We also want to create something we value. For some, it’s about leaving behind the politics, power games, rules, lack of flexibility, or something else about corporate culture. (Of course we have our own politics, corporate cultures and negative ways, but they’re the ones WE create.) So women often create and run businesses in accordance with a different set of values, rules and politics.
According to one powerful male executive “Women entrepreneurs are developing an alternate economic system.” By way of example, watch Halla Tomasdottir describe her company’s values and operating principles. It was the only Icelandic investment firm that didn’t lose client monies during the countries devastating economic crisis. Tomasdottir is also credited with being a major force in rebuilding Iceland’s economy.
I once thought successful women entrepreneurs, such as Tomasdottir, and more women in corporate leadership roles, would bring much needed changes to business values, culture and practices, and more. I’ve always seen business, with it’s scoreboard, it’s sense of immediacy, and it’s resources, as a transformational force.
So what happened? Nothing, and this is the problem.
The Business Patriarchy is Alive, Well, and Thriving
Take a look at the image from Slate.com's article on the business patriarchy, which states: “Men are controlling all the big companies and the big pools of money in this country. If you look around at whose running the show in the American economy it's a bunch of men. And I find it hard to believe that doesn't matter.” (I agree completely, but do adore the lone woman's stand out red power suit.)
Power and success in business (in life as well?) is currently determined by the relative amounts of money and resources a person or firm controls, not by the creation of social good or widespread economic health for the many. Who determines this? Those in power. “Those” are not women.
While most women entrepreneurs begin with a vision that includes financial success, growing a multibillion dollar enterprise is not the main focus. It may not even be a sparkle in her eye. Women value community, relationships, and social good. We are not empire builders. And it is the successful empire builders who hold the money and therefore the power. Power defines culture. And so it is that women entrepreneurs will remain outliers to the power that money engenders and have less power to change the culture of business.
Patriarchy is alive, well and thriving in the corporate world.
Despite this reality, women entrepreneurs will carry on, because we are having fun, doing social good, living the life of our dreams and because we have always battled on.
(A version of this article was previously published in Switch and Shift)
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