Redesign Business for a Robust Economic Future

We need more women in leadership roles This isn't a call for a feminist revolt; it's a call for a healthy, growing economy and leadership by women is needed to accomplish that.

If you don't buy that, check out some of the research: The more women in the board room, the greater return on sales, equity, and invested capital. Maybe because, as the Harvard Business Review reports, women also excel at leadership skills.

One place where women are falling behind is high-growth businesses, a failing that the Kauffman Foundation dubs a loss of potential economic drive.

Facts we need to change:
  • Women start businesses but don't grow them.
  • Women are under-represented among venture capitalists and angel investors.
  • Women get a high percentage of the degrees in biological sciences and physical sciences but are woefully behind in taking out patents and building businesses based on their research.
  • Women score higher in the competencies that make good leaders but are under-represented in higher-level corporate positions.

To paraphrase Lily Tomlin, we can sit around waiting for somebody to do something or we can realize that we are somebody. Let's make change happen.

Make women visible: Four years ago, venture capitalist Jorge Calderon realized that he couldn't find women- and minority-led enterprises to invest in. Not because they weren't there, but because they aren't visible. He started Springworks to show women and minority innovators how to catch the eye of venture capitalists.

Women are missing from the science advisory boards of corporations, which means they don't have the contacts they need when they do come up with a great idea, according to the Kauffman Foundation and "The Entrepreneurial Puzzle: Explaining the Gender Gap" from Georgia State University.

Redesign workplaces: Build businesses that can accommodate the differing lifestyles of employees, whether male or female. You can retain and grow talent by being flexible -- flexible about taking a year off for family without losing a rung on the career ladder; flexible in working hours; flexible about telecommuting. Flexibility also cuts costs and improves customer service. It's a smart business strategy, not a give-away.

If we don't restructure business culture, we're going to keep losing the talented people we've paid money to train. And we won't be able to serve customers in the 24/7 world of e-commerce and global customers.

Redesign informal networks: Either all women need to learn to love sports and play golf or informal gatherings where relationships are built and deals made must become more inclusive. Guys, this isn't about giving up your bonding moments. It's about finding the best business relationships. When you leave out half of those who might have the best deal, what does that do for you?

Redefine "tough" and "bitchy": Nice girls do fire people. If they don't do what's needed, they aren't helping the business or the employee. Being tough or, as it's called when men do it, assertive and strong, is good business if done right.

Network and mentor: Women need to support and mentor each other. Those few who have made it to the c-suite or own their own businesses must reach out to help those starting out, perhaps by forming angel investment groups, such as Pipeline Fellows do.

As Karen Barbour, founder and president of The Barbour Group says of her efforts to help women get a start in federal construction contracting, "Sometimes I feel like Tinkerbell. They never knew this existed. I say take my hand; we will go fly."

Or it could mean building the alumnae network at your school, going back to speak and inspire young women, as Deborah Sweeney CEO of MyCorporation does.

Better yet, start all if it younger. Girl Scouts of the USA has announced the launch of ToGetHerThere, a bold advocacy and fundraising cause, dedicated to girls' leadership. The multi-year effort will seek to create balanced leadership -- the equal representation of women in leadership positions in all sectors and levels of society -- within one generation.

Again, this isn't a feel-good effort; it's about facts. Research shows that Girl Scout alumnae are more confident, achieve higher levels of education, earn more money, give back to their communities, and vote more regularly than those who didn't participate in Girl Scouts. And the longer women were in Girl Scouts, the more advantages they have.

Volunteer to lead a troop, work on a project or otherwise help girls achieve the confidence, teamwork, and leadership skill they need to become the next Bill Gates.

Back to Lily Tomlin: You are somebody. So do something.