Ivanka Tackles The Pipeline Problem

Can a global fund for women’s entrepreneurship without more move women towards gender parity?

Co-Authored by Valerie Young, JD, Outreach Director for CPS’s Caring Economy Campaign

Ivanka Trump has embarked on a plan with the World Bank and others to create a fund supporting global women’s entrepreneurship. Efforts addressing women’s economic status are welcome, particularly from someone highly placed in GOP leadership.

But can a global fund for women’s entrepreneurship without more move women towards gender parity?

The Facts

About 1/3 of all privately-owned U.S. firms are owned by women, but 90% of them have no employees but the owner, according to 2015 data from the National Association of Women Business Owners and the US Census Bureau. And only 4% of women-owned firms generate revenue in excess of $1 million annually. So making more capital available for women to start and expand their businesses is certainly needed, as women have nowhere near the same access to capital that men have when launching a business.

However, if we aim to achieve equality of opportunity by opening up a pipeline of venture capital to women, we’d better be sure that women are in a position to make the most of it. If there are other forces at work, all the money in the world for women’s business may prove utterly ineffective.

Here’s why. The difference between genders is not only the size of their bank account. It’s that women spend more hours on unpaid domestic work and caring for others, while men spend more hours engaged in paid employment and leisure activities. Even in the US, when women are half the labor force and the vast majority of mothers of young children are employed outside the home, women continue to perform more housework and child care than their partners. They are also much more likely to adjust their paid work schedules to family needs, interrupt their employment, and reduce their hours than men.

A major factor behind this difference in the allocation of parental time is that attitudes about what is “ideal” for fathers and mothers in terms of work/family diverges widely. Few people believe a full-time working mother is ideal for young children, while most insist that full-time work is best for fathers.

In short, gender-normed behavior, even after decades of social change, exerts tremendous pressure and places men and women in very different positions both socially and economically. Opening up a pipeline of capital will not close the gender gap if women continue be the designated family caregiver.

Women, Men, And Work

While commendable, Ms. Trump’s plan is an example of attempting to close the gender gap by encouraging women to behave more like men. We’ve been down this road before, and so far the results are unimpressive. Women have pursued education in droves. In fact, women are better educated, as women graduate from college in greater numbers, and now earn more degrees at every level than men do. But earning degrees has not translated into earning more money – or even the same amount of money in the same occupation.

Behaving like men in labor force participation hasn’t worked either. The increase in women’s employment is the biggest economic development of the last 50 years, yet women make up just one third of the US Supreme Court, 20% of Congress, and a paltry 5% of Fortune 500 CEO’s. There are female astronauts, tech titans, Cabinet Secretaries, and Presidential candidates. Nonetheless, the vast majority of power players are male, even when mountains of evidence prove that diversity and inclusion yield a better thought product, bigger bottom lines, and robust workplace morale.

The Value of Care Work

It’s time for a truly innovative and outside-the-box approach. We’d make more progress if we encouraged men to behave more like women, specifically by doing more care work, including the unpaid care of children and/or other family members.

After all, in the words of Anne-Marie Slaughter, it’s that “women’s work” of unpaid domestic labor that “makes all other work possible.” Care work is what produces fully functional, educated and trained human beings, the most basic building block of any economy – and the most important ones, as we move into the postindustrial age when automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence are taking over so many old jobs.

Care work is ever more essential, both to produce the “high quality human capital” needed for our new technological age and to close the care gap for children, the elderly, and the sick or disabled. This is vital work for any nation, and men are just as capable of providing it as women.

So while we support Ms. Trump’s efforts to unleash the power of investment capital on to women’s entrepreneurial zeal, we suggest that more is required.

Economically empowering women requires policies such as gender-neutral paid family leave and high-quality affordable childcare and eldercare. These are essential so the women who do this work are adequately rewarded and men are motivated to do more care, more housework, more parenting. In short, what’s needed is a change in social attitudes and values so anything that has been labeled “women’s work” is no longer considered unfit for “real men” or accorded less value than activities we’ve been taught to associate with men.

Then, when the capital pipeline opens, women’s empowerment – and a healthy society and economy – will really flow.

Valerie Young, JD, is Outreach Director for CPS’s Caring Economy Campaign. Valerie’s work appears extensively in social media, @WomanInDC on Twitter, and Your (Wo)Man in Washington on Facebook. She also has written for The Shriver Report, Brain/Child Magazine, and SheKnows.com as well as the CPS and CEC blogs.

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