Entrepreneurship is a powerful avenue for economic empowerment and inclusion. Yet women continue to face more obstacles than men in starting and growing a business. They relate to gender bias and social norms, a lack of entrepreneurial skills and unequal access to funding, among others. As a result, women are less likely to embark on the entrepreneurial journey: globally, only 1 in 3 businesses are owned by women, according to World Bank data – a huge missed economic opportunity. Giving more visibility to women entrepreneurs could help younger generations break the glass ceiling.
However surprising it may sound in the 21st century, negative perceptions about women’s ability to succeed as business leaders are still commonplace. The latest Gender Social Norms Index (GSNI) released by the United Nations Development Programme shows that more than 40 percent of people worldwide – both women and men – still believe men make better business executives than women.
In Europe, although over 60% of women consider that starting a business is a good career choice, women are less confident about it than men.
Women are are less likely to consider that starting a business is easy, or that they have the skills to do it.
Addressing social norms and biases is a necessary long-haul journey, if we are to remove the barriers that prevent women from successfully embracing entrepreneurship, and playing a leadership role in the economy, at par with men. Amongst various effective ways to challenge gender norms, exposing girls and women to examples of women who have succeeded against the odds can be of great power to change perceptions and attitudes.
Showing the way
Research shows the power of female role models in shaping girls’ career choices. A recent experiment in French high-Schools invited women scientists to talk to students about their own careers. The interaction helped tackle gender stereotypes and encouraged more female students to consider enrolling in college in male-dominated sectors such as Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). When we know that in Europe only about 30% of jobs in the high-tech sector are held by women, this could make all the difference.
The eTrade for Women initiative led by the United Nations, provides for another powerful example of the positive impact of role models. The initiative supports women entrepreneurs operating in the digital economy – a sector heavily dominated by men – to bridge the gender digital divide. Very influential business leaders – Advocates – bring women’s voices to influence policymaking and help empower the next generation. They all report that being surrounded by strong women helped them succeed.
Having built thriving businesses, and positively impacted their ecosystems and communities, they aim to inspire other girls and women to do the same. Nina Angelovska, Founder of Grouper.mk and former minister of North Macedonia was the first eTrade for Women Advocate for the Balkans. She explains: “We are still living in a man’s world, and we need more women who will be brave and ambitious to make a difference and try to break the glass ceiling”. She adds: “To be an ambitious and inspiring woman…means to always be ready to fight prejudice, to prove yourself, to prove your competence, to make compromises, and to embrace opportunities as they present. It is not easy at all.”
A public commitment
The evidence is clear. We now need public commitment to scale up such initiatives to change the “rules of the game” and fight the deeply rooted stereotypes that hold too many women back. We need to see schools bringing role models to pupils and students in every class, from primary to secondary and tertiary education.
Public actors and institutions must promote success stories, far and wide, and raise awareness of gender stereotypes. The prize is a more equal future, but also a more prosperous one, in which women’s ideas, talent and energy are freed to drive us forward.
Viridiana Garcia-Quiles is a United Nations Officer working on socio-economic development and women’s economic empowerment. She services as the eTrade for Women Economic Affairs Officer at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Viridiana works with successful women leaders and women digital entrepreneurs in developing countries, providing them with opportunities to learn, network, and make their voices heard at the policy table, to advance gender equality & prosperity for all. Prior to joining UNCTAD, Viridiana held various positions in the United Nations and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in France, Lebanon and the USA. Viridiana graduated in Public Affairs from Sciences-Po Paris, France. She holds a master's degree in Development Economics from the Paris School of Economics (PSE), and a master's degree in Population and Development from the London School of Economics (LSE). She speaks French, English, Spanish and Portuguese.