‘Better the balance, better the world’. This is the message on International Women’s Day 2019 and beyond – and is particularly relevant for women in small business. Anyone who operates a small business understands the fine balance and dedication that’s required to succeed. The unique challenges of SMEs, though, often tip the scales. The uncertainties of fluctuating income, and the personal responsibility for everything – from staffing to stock control, and marketing to money matters – create enormous pressure. Add the long hours that intrude into personal time and family commitments and often it seems the stresses weigh heavily and rewards seem remote. It can feel overwhelming, especially when it is virtually impossible to ‘switch off’ from the demands made on time, energy and resources.
According to the latest Census data (2016), only 33% of owner-managers of SMEs are women. Their smaller numbers leave them susceptible to a number of additional pressures. This year’s International Women’s Day Balance for Better theme aims to underline these pressures and challenges as the first step to redressing the gender balance. In business, this has implications for businesswomen and for the business community as a whole and as a working mother to two young girls, I feel these pressures and tensions between work, family and personal success first hand. The major challenges to women are:
Balance will mean the end of discrimination on the basis of gender To achieve balance for a better business environment, something has to be done about it. Recognising the issue is a first step, but even that is not always easy. Bias exists in many forms – both conscious and unconscious.
Similar qualities are perceived quite differently, depending on whether they are displayed by women or by men. For example: assertiveness in men is valued, but can be seen as pushiness or abrasiveness in women; men freely adopt a confident or authoritative demeanour, which is often interpreted as bossiness in women. This bias is well depicted in a recent Nike Ad called Dream Crazier. I personally found it honest, realistic and inspiring. You may enjoy it as much as I did.
Wrong assumptions, often made unthinkingly, that women are less able, or less suited to certain business activities, lead to judgements about their performance. Their achievements are also less likely to be recognised, or attributed to them. One of my high achieving female friends recounted that she was asked how she would manage being a partner in the firm as a mother to three children. We suspected that men were likely excluded from this survey! It is a human trait to value and associate those who are most like ourselves. The over-representation of men in positions of power and authority leads them to notice, accept and promote what other men think, say and do, while women become less visible.
Balance will bring about the dismantling of barriers to full and equal participation of women in small business The WGEA/BCEC report, Gender Equity Insights 2019, released on 1 March, highlights the leadership prospects for women in business. In the past 5 years there has been only a 4.4% increase in the number of women in upper management positions. Progress towards redressing the gender imbalance among CEOs has been even slower, with a 1.1% increase. The report’s data suggest the number of male and female CEOs in Australia is expected to be equal by 2100 – that’s 80 years before we strike a balance. For parity in executive positions, the ETA (Estimated Time of Achievement) is 2047; for all other levels of management, it’s 2042. The imbalance sometimes goes unnoticed. Company X, for example, has 2 women on its senior management team. They are there by merit and the company is congratulated for its progressive approach to women in leadership positions. The team, however, comprises 15 members. At 13.3% female, it is neither balanced, nor genuinely representative.
Balance will involve supportive providers who provide equitable access to capital Entry into investor circles is one of the biggest challenges even Australia’s leading female entrepreneurs face. Attempts to raise finance – through grants, venture capital or loans – are often plagued by difficulties related to conscious or unconscious bias. Some women, conditioned to accept they must work harder to get the funds they need, lose confidence in the money marketplace. Women’s investment networks often provide information and practical support in accessing business funding. Other options are to explore P2P lending or to raise funds on public platforms. Women in business often approach non-traditional lenders, who offer simple online application processes, greater flexibility and personalised service.
Balance will result in equal pay for work of equal or comparable value Balance will result in equal pay for work of equal or comparable value Salary inequity is still a reality. According to the WGEA/BCEC report, at the highest-paid management levels, men are being paid $162,000 more than women in similar positions. At less senior levels, the gap is $31,000.
Owner-managers in SMEs tend to take fewer holidays and even fewer sick days and have complicated superannuation arrangements. They are usually unable to take advantage of other measures that are of particular benefit to women, such as:
Women in leadership positions encourage, mentor and support other women. Women who own and manage SMEs often work without the benefits of strong female role models to provide positive input and guidance. Time pressures often mean professional development and keeping up to date with industry initiatives are lower priorities.
It might mean better networks and better support structures so that women can exploit all opportunities open to them. It could mean better forums and platforms to share, with other women and men, their successes and fears, challenges and goals. ‘Balance for better’ is about moving, taking positive action, and encouraging others to do the same. The IWD website has excellent resources to give you some ideas.
Sharing stories is an ideal way to inspire others and promote action for change. We invite you to tell us what Balance means to you when running your small business. And to pass on this invitation to other women you know. You’ll have the chance to receive a prize to help further your business skills and networks. More importantly you’ll be part of what we’re all trying to do together – talking about the great things women are doing, and encouraging more women to tell their stories. When women share their successes, and the ways in which they have met their challenges, they are choosing a powerful way to recognise, inspire and support other women in small business. We would love to hear from you.