Do entrepreneurial women have the power to lead economic recovery?

30 Sep

I admit to being in awe of the women who make the power lists. Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business 2011 is full of smart women who made it to the top through their ambition, passion and ability to make tough decisions. They are ranked on the size and importance of their business in the global economy, the health and direction of their business, how quickly they moved up the career ladder and where they might  move to next, and their social and cultural influence.

No sign of a glass ceiling anywhere – though there are still just 15 women CEOs in the Fortune 500 company  a steady though modest increase on the two women on the list when it first started in 1998)

There are two things that strike me about this listing. One is on the Fortune Most Powerful Women Facebook page, which says: “Real power is personal power – what you use outside your job description and tenure.” As someone who has in the past felt defined by the work I do or the assumptions associated with my job title, I buy into the idea of ‘personal power’, which goes way beyond position, title or company and instead invokes a demeanour characterised by confidence, focus and fearlessness.

The second thing that strikes me is: if these women can do it, then why can’t many more others? In the US at least, there is an untapped potential for women starting new companies serving global markets to help boost economic growth. That’s according to research from the Ewing Marion Kauffmann Foundation on Overcoming the Gender Gap: Women Entrepreneurs as Economic Drivers, which says that high-growth startups are the key to economic recovery.

Women in the US account for just 35% of startup business owners, and their businesses tend not to be as prosperous as those started by men. The reasons for this are that women tend to encounter ‘glass walls’, according to Lesa Mitchell, Kauffman Foundation vice president, that keep them from venturing out of big companies to do their own thing. They may also be seeking work/life balance and may not want to establish a business on a global scale; and they typically find it harder to raise investment capital than men.

To overcome these hurdles, the steps to boosting female entrepreneurship in the US are: greater support, mentoring and funding between startup founders and big companies; more role models for women considering entrepreneurship; and more women being invited to join advisory boards of high-tech companies.

Mitchell adds: “It is essential to see women’s entrepreneurship as an economic issue, not a gender-equity issue. When new companies and industries flourish, everyone benefits. And the returns will increase when more women contribute to the process by bringing their ideas to market and building high-growth firms around them.”

I’m sure the women on the Fortune Most Powerful Women list would agree.

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