While women have made great strides over recent decades in gaining access to and success in the business world, the numbers are still sobering. Only 21 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women ─ that’s less than 5%. And while 30% of small businesses are owned by women, businesses owned by men are 3.5 times more likely to break the $1 million mark. Clearly, we have a long way to go before the business world represents the general population.
However, the problem is much deeper than that. Today’s business world is a product of a centuries-old culture based on competition for scarce resources and a zero-sum game view of outcomes. During the Stone Age, being the biggest, fastest, and most competitive person increased your chances of your survival and that of your offspring. It was, indeed, a man’s world. Physical strength, size, and a winner-takes-all attitude won the day. This mentality has been perpetuated over time and is what drives the business world today. ‘Survival of the fittest’ and ‘to the victor go the spoils’ are major themes in modern corporate culture. Sure, companies create partnerships and joint ventures, but only on the basis of short-term, financial gain. It’s time to realize that the world has changed and we no longer live in conditions that require this type of thinking.
This old approach limits sophistication, creativity, and long-term focus of our organizations and initiatives. Consider how science and technology have radically changed the world and our standards of living. Basic life needs are met for a significant portion of western society, and most of us don’t fight each other over access to food, shelter and clothing. Our highly digital world is an environment wherein physical resources no longer limit our social and cultural development. Developing more media, applications, ideas, and knowledge is only limited by our creativity and collaboration, not by whether or not we can dig raw materials from the earth’s crust before our competition. The sooner we can shift our business culture from that of competition over limited resources to one of collaboration towards unlimited potential, the sooner we can accelerate the improvement of our society.
The first step in making this shift is to promote and support more female entrepreneurs and business leaders. Until minorities have a better representation at all levels of business leadership in all industries, we will continue to be hamstrung by our current ways of thinking and working. Having women in positions of influence and leadership is the beginning of this change.
That said, having more women among the upper echelon who have the same business mentality as men will not be enough to solve the problem. Ultimately, our goal needs to be to embrace new and different ways of thinking. Until businesses start thinking more about collaboration, networks of systems, and multi-generational strategies, we will continue to be stuck in our current problems. Women have the power to disrupt the current business world and allow these changes to begin. Once we have a more balanced and representative population of leaders, all of us, men and women, can begin to change the thinking and culture of our business world.
While the numbers show that we have a long way to go, change is underway and many people are working to accelerate this transition. As a man, I am encouraging and working actively to support these efforts, and I encourage other men to do the same. It’s not about men stepping down or stepping aside, it’s about making room. We need to abandon the fixed mindset and the zero-sum approach on these issues and realize that a rising tide elevates all boats.
One of the most ambitious initiatives driving this change is the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day (WED) organization. Founded by social entrepreneur and animal rights activist Wendy Diamond, it is designed to recognize and support female entrepreneurs on a global scale. It is celebrated in over 144 countries and featured by the United Nations in this year’s full-day conference on November 19th.
WED has also developed the infrastructure to celebrate and empower women at all stages of business growth at a local level throughout the year. WED World Ambassadors include Sophana Dahlan of Saudi Arabia, Sharifa Al Barami of Oman, Ingrid Stange of Norway and Mirlinda Kusari Purrini of Kosovo, just to name a few. These women represent not just leaders in entrepreneurship, but agents of change for the future of our business culture.
Founder Wendy Diamond sums it well, “I have dedicated my entire life to helping the “underdog” get a chance and thrive. Historically, women worldwide have been underpaid, undervalued, underrepresented, underfunded – and underestimated. We are dedicated, determined, and driven to change this status – the women entrepreneurs involved in WED are inspirational role models to women everywhere!”
For more information on Women’s Entrepreneurial Day and how you can get involved, please visit: http://womenseday.org/.
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Bruce Eckfeldt is a former Inc 500 CEO and long-time member of the New York City Chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. He provides executive and team coaching and management training to startups and high-growth companies. For more information on Bruce, visit http://www.eckfeldt.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.