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What the corporate world can learn from women-owned businesses

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However, according to Right Management, there is an overwhelming business case for greater levels of female leadership.

Despite businesses trying to address the issue, women still face significant barriers to fulfilling their career potential. But in its latest report, which will be revealed at the Women in Leadership event on the evening of 19 March, Right Management suggested that companies with female directors perform better on share price, show a higher return on equity, have higher income growth and tend to have less debt and higher valuations.

Ian Symes, general manager, Right Management UK & Ireland, explained that the recent financial crisis triggered significant societal and economic shifts which are still having an impact across the corporate world.

“Demographic changes are affecting the talent supply for businesses,” he said. “We have an ageing population and, for the first time in decades, are facing the reality of a shrinking workforce. In an era defined as ‘The Human Age’, it is more important than ever that organisations and economies maximise the talents and ambitions of their people.

“However, businesses are failing in at least one critical measure: women leaders. Attracting and retaining talented women and allowing them to reach their full potential is not just an HR issue; it is a real driver of business performance. Mixed gender boards outperform male-only counterparts. Women outperform men on virtually every business measure and yet, equality remains doggedly elusive.”

Essentially, much like Britain can learn from various nations that have done far better to settle the gender equality score, there is something we can learn from women-owned businesses much closer to home.

“We must understand what it is that allows thousands upon thousands of women to succeed over there, when we’re not enabling them to achieve over here, in established organisations,” said Symes. “Why is it that we so often fail to accommodate their evident creative and entrepreneurial zeal? Why are we denying ourselves the obvious leadership and commercial benefits women can bring? This is an issue we explore in this research report; to listen and learn and to start to codify some of these lessons. To build a blueprint so that we can build businesses that better accommodate women.

“One lesson is to recognise that the organisational environment must change. In the 200 years since the industrial revolution, companies have been built by men. They have evolved, of course, but with men shaping most of the evolution. As such, their constructs suit men. We should not be surprised that women will often find difficulties fulfilling their potential and reaching leadership positions in these organisations. We should also recognise that women might not aspire to lead them.

“Until women genuinely believe that businesses are committed to seeing them progress, and provide the support they need to do so and reward them for putting themselves forward, they will continue to leave for the more collaborative and meritocratic entrepreneurial world. As many of the women who participated in the study indicate, technology offers a practical means to deliver greater visibility and a voice to women that organisations could more readily harness.”

Read more about the struggles that women face in the workplace:

The statistics speak for themselves: female-led SMEs accounted for £50bn of UK economic output between 2006 and 2010, and a recent report from Delta Economics found that women-run businesses are more likely to have stayed in business during the recession than their male counterparts.

“The challenge of how to facilitate greater numbers of women in senior leadership in established companies is constant,” the report stated. “Many firms are taking steps to address it. But it is clear from our research that even the best equalities policy and most innovative programmes will fail to solve the problem unless they are being implemented in the right organisational environment.”

With this in mind, Right Management jotted down a few things that firms up and down the country could learn from women-owned businesses.

Women are clear that company culture is the principal barrier in their progression to a senior leadership role.

“Established businesses tend to have formal, competitive and transactional structures which are not conducive to the success of women who are generally more transformative and collaborative, valuing networks instead of hierarchy,” said Jacey Graham, director of Brook Graham. “Traditional ‘command and control’ styles of leadership are off-putting to women but unfortunately leaders tend to mimic past behaviour, meaning male-dominated companies remain unchanged.”

Liz Jackson, managing director at Great Guns Marketing, commented: “Women want different things and value things differently.”

Read on to find out how Grant Thornton and IBM are tackling the issue.

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