Leon Panetta just became a hero to American women by announcing that the U.S. ban on women in combat positions will be lifted. It’s hence an interesting moment to look at gender equality in business. In this short video Tory Burch talks about how women entrepreneurs should find their passion and be just as ambitious as men:
Let’s hope it doesn’t take too long for the Pentagon to live up to Panetta’s promise. For about half a century women and men have been equal by law in Sweden. But inequality between the sexes is still so bad the government is of the opinion that to achieve equality in the business world it will be essential to legislate.
Out of 100 start-ups in Sweden only 23 are started by women and they are less likely to get financing than a company started by a man. So much for me telling my Saudi girl friends that in Sweden we are equal.
Davos: Women are important to the world economy
In Davos this year the World Economic Forum, for the first time, had a discussion on getting more women into economic decision making. Prominent women such as Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust, European Commissioner Viviane Reding, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and Saudi business leader Lubna Olayan took part. They discussed how the gender gap at the highest levels of business can be closed.
Their conclusion was that ambitious women are often regarded as aggressive. The Harvard president pointed out that’s because women are judged according to the stereotypes we grow up with. It was also said on the panel that successful women are frequently disliked by both men and women. Why? According to them it’s again all to do with the stereotype of a woman. It’s hence essential that we move away from such old fashioned stereotypes.
Lubna Olayan pointed out that King Abdullah has now appointed women to 20 percent of the seats in the shura council. (that’s as close to a parliament they get in Saudi Arabia). Immediately the objection was that the women were not qualified but appointed just because they are women. Their CV’s were published and that clearly showed that they were indeed qualified, not only highly educated but experienced as well.
We need more female business owners
Tory Burch who you watched in the video, started her company in 2004 and nine years later her clothes are sold in more than 800 stores all over the world.
She also leads the Tory Burch Foundation that offer mentorship and provide micro loans to women entrepreneurs. Her advice to female entrepreneurs is “don’t give up. There are so many times it seems insurmountable but keep the hard work going. It’s worth it and you and your hard work can make a difference”.
There is a need to make more woman start up their own companies and succeed. And get more women to sit on boards. Tory is not alone in having a foundation that makes a contribution in this respect. There are an abundance of such programs and with the European Union making it clear they want to get more women into high level business it makes sense.
In the World Economic Forum panel discussion, Viviane Reding talked about how the EU first tried to persuade companies to get 40% women in leadership positions on a voluntary basis. Nothing happened. The EU hence legislated to get talented, educated women into top positions in companies. The law is intended to allow women to make a breakthrough into business, taking into account that 65% of university graduates in Europe are women. The first year saw 3% more women in senior positions in corporate Europe.
Do you believe it’s a good thing that Leon Panetta has lifted the ban on women in combat? Is it a good idea to close the gender gap at the highest levels of business? Should women be as ambitious as men not only in the military but in business as well? Do we need more female business leaders and entrepreneurs? Is it fair that successful women are regarded as aggressive? Would it be a good idea to have more qualified women on corporate boards? Should there be equality between the sexes when it comes to getting funding for a start-up? Has the time come for women to be proud of their accomplishments and be treated as equals in the corporate world?