"Women-led businesses," says entrepreneur and philanthropist Sheila C. Johnson, "can have a transformative impact on the market." Founding CEO of Salamander Hospitality and, formerly, cofounder of Black Entertainment Television, Johnson also has been a producer of such movies as 12 Years a Slave and The Butler.
How many products are going un-invented?
She has specific views on women's leadership: "Every day," Johnson points out, "women see market opportunities that others may overlook or miss. And that means that when women are underrepresented in business, everybody loses. Think of all the products that go un-invented, services that go unimagined, perspectives that go unconsidered, voices that go unheard--not to mention the diversity of management styles that women CEOs could bring to the table."
I couldn't agree more. So what really is keeping women from moving to full parity in the workplace? Why aren't women-led ventures securing more funding and why hasn't the gender pay gap narrowed? Actually, the pay gap is going in the wrong direction, having slipped to 79 cents for women on the male dollar compared to 80 cents a few years ago. In more backsliding, prestigious consultancy McKinsey & Co., teaming with LeanIn.org in a 2015 study called "Women in the Workplace," found its earlier estimates of the advance of women CEOs had been too rosy. Correcting its earlier prediction, McKinsey now calculates that women CEOs will not reach parity with men until - wait for it - 3015. Right, a century from now.
Women boost the bottom line
The glacial pace of women's progress continues despite evidence that when women hold senior decision-making positions, whether in startups or multinational corporations, they boost the bottom line. A just-released study from the International Monetary Fund that investigated data from 2 million companies and 34 European countries found that the more women in senior positions, the better the bottom line. In addition, a wide-ranging February 2016 study from Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY likewise found that companies with at least 30% female leaders had net profit margins of up to 6 percentage points higher than companies with no women in the upper echelons.
Yet business performance, venture funding and C-suite positions continue to default male. There's no question that unintentional gender bias is real and affects all of us. Nine out of 10 (89%) venture investing partners are male, most of whom are white. That means women and minorities are simply not in the rooms when the deals get done. Even when men and women make identical pitches, investors prefer male entrepreneurs compared with female entrepreneurs. More sadly, and disconcertingly, that holds true for women investors as well as male investors. Gender bias drives the lack of funding for women even while we see that when women are in positions of power, startups are more likely to thrive.
Advancing women's parity and prosperity
Consider starting your own business. The key to evaluating women's talents and strengths in business and entrepreneurship lies in looking at what women accomplish on their own terms and in their own time, instead of benchmarking performance by the sole known standards set by men. There's never been a better time for women to launch an enterprise.
A wealth of private and public institutions has eyed the billions of potential dollars women worldwide now represent as customers and employers. As a direct result, resources, business training, mentorships and, slowly, alternative funding options, including crowdfunding and angel investing, are more available than ever before.
Imagine the innovation!
The more male CEOs and corporate recruiters see women launching and leading thriving companies, the more change will accelerate. As Sheila Johnson has it, just imagine the innovation and new products and services that change will unleash.