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Increasing Women’s Participation in Business

by Beth on February 22nd, 2010

Training women in Peru

I spent last week in Lima, Peru working with the Thunderbird School of Global Management to design a training program for women.  The goal of the program, called Strengthening Women Entrepreneurship in Peru, is to help 100,000 women launch and grow their micro or small businesses through education.  The project is being funded by over $7 million in grants.

The girl effect

Investing so much money in women makes a lot of sense.  Check out girleffect.org!  When girls are educated they are more likely to obtain good jobs, earn higher wages, and to have fewer and healthier children.  Poor women who receive microfinance loans default on the loans less often than men and the credit they receive has a greater impact on household consumption and the quality of their children’s lives.

Increasing women’s participation in business in the developing world is good for business and good for society.  But what about in the developed world?  It turns out that women’s participation is good for business everywhere!  According to a Catalyst study, U.S. companies with the highest percentage of women on their top management teams significantly outperformed companies with the lowest percentage on women managers.

Rethinking work and careers

Unfortunately, women are not fully participating in business in the developing or the developed world.  In the U.S. women make up only 3 to 5 percent of the top executives among Fortune 500 firms.  Many women opt out before making it to the top of the corporate ladder.  This is due to a number of factors, but one of the main reasons is that outdated assumptions about the way work should be done and the way careers should be built make working in many organizations unattractive to women who also want to participate in other areas of their lives.

Companies interested in retaining talented women need to reward results, not face time.  It shouldn’t matter when, where or how the work gets done.  Performance should be measured based on results alone!  Companies also need to recognize that successful career paths don’t have to follow the traditional full-time model.  People should be able to adjust their employment situation to fit their changing life circumstances.  Working full-time or part-time or even take time off should all be viable options at different points in a person’s career.

I don’t believe any company can achieve organizational positivity unless women and men have equal opportunities.  Hopefully, training women entrepreneurs in Peru will increase their opportunities for success.  But we also need to direct our attention to our own backyard.  Do women and men truly have the same opportunities for career success in your organization?  Or are traditional work structures and career ladders keeping women at a disadvantage?  What do you think?

From → Working women

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