To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’re looking at how women are impacting the world of business, exploring statistics, quotes from female entrepreneurs and resources for women.
The business landscape is changing, along with attitudes towards ‘traditional’ ways of doing business. What’s more, there’s evidence to suggest that women are playing a prominent role in shaping the future of business, so we thought this would make an interesting discussion for International Women’s day 2023.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the current business landscape, the history of women in business, and what we can expect to see in the future. As well as exploring some of the data and evidence around the subject, we’ve also spoken with some of our partners to get their expert insight.
A brief history of women in business
Many people are unfamiliar with the fact that the history of female entrepreneurship reaches far back into the past. The first well-documented businesswomen can be traced back as far as 1870 BC to the city of Assur in northern Iraq. Assyrian women at the time often contributed to vast trading networks that flourished in the region, showing that business was not exclusive to men.
There are many more recent examples of women in business too. Margaret Hardenbroeck, for example, arrived in what would become New York in 1659 and established herself as a debt collector before becoming a business agent. She traded between Holland and the colonies, eventually becoming the wealthiest woman in New York.
Such stories are not as uncommon as you might think. Throughout the 18th Century, businesswomen traded in the world’s major cities, and there are many examples of successful female entrepreneurs owning and running their own businesses.
Mary Katherine Goddard became the first woman publisher in America in 1766, Madam C.J. Walker owned a million-dollar haircare business in the 1890s, and Coco Chanel opened her first boutique in 1913.
However, during the mid-19th Century, there was a shift in the labour force that saw women focusing more on domestic tasks, while men became the sole wage earners. Until recently, such ‘traditional’ gender roles have persisted.
In 1973, for example, there was only one female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, Katharine Graham. During this time, only 38% of the workforce in the US was women. In 2019, that number had increased to 46.2%.
Now, for the first time ever, female CEOs run more than 10% of Fortune 500 companies – that’s 53 women in total. This progress is certainly a good thing, though one could argue that 53 out of 500 is still a shockingly small proportion.
University of Exeter Understanding Gender InequalityPolitics & Society
Royal Holloway, University of London Beyond the Ballot: Women’s Rights and Suffrage from 1866 to TodayHistory,Politics & Society
The University of Glasgow A Global History of Sex and Gender: Bodies and Power in the Modern WorldHistory,Politics & Society
The current landscape for women in business
Clearly, the last few decades have seen at least some positive changes in terms of opportunities for, and representations of, women in the world of business.
But what does the current landscape mean for the future? We’ve picked out some of the key statistics, including current progress and challenges, which might shape the decades to come.
Women in business – the statistics
How well-represented are women in the world of business? And how many female-owned businesses are there? As you might expect, there have been many studies about these questions. Here are some of the stand-out statistics about women in business:
Female business ownership
- All-female-led companies represented 20% of all businesses in the UK in 2022, up from 16% in 2018. (Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, HM Treasury 2023)
- One-third of high-growth businesses worldwide are now run by women (GEM’s 2021/2022 Women’s Entrepreneurship Report)
- In the US, the share of women-owned businesses representative of all businesses has skyrocketed from a mere 4.6% in 1972 to 42% in 2019. (State of Women-Owned Business Report, American Express 2019).
Representation of women in business
- Only 13 per cent of the most senior staff members working on investment teams in venture capital and private equity are women. (HM Treasury 2019)
- For every 100 men who are promoted from entry-level positions to management roles, only 87 women are promoted (McKinsey and LeanIn Women in the Workplace 2022 report)
- Only one in four C-suite leaders is a woman, and only one in 20 is a woman of colour (McKinsey and LeanIn Women in the Workplace 2022 report)
- The proportion of women in board roles in Britain’s biggest listed companies has risen above 40% for the first time (FTSE Women Leaders Review 2022)
- In a Mercer survey of over 1000 companies in 54 countries, 81% said it was important to have a plan for advancing gender equality, but only 42% actually had a plan in place (Mercer’s Let’s Get Real About Equality Global Report 2020).
- Since 2011, the amount of venture capital dollars granted to teams of only women in the US has ranged from 1.8% to 2.7%, and currently stands at 2.0% (PitchBook’s Female Founders Dashboard 2023)
- In UK bank financing, the average loan amount approved for female-led businesses was around £25,000, and for male-led businesses, it was about £33,000 (Investing in Women Code Annual Progress Report 2021)
- For UK angel groups, more all-female teams reached the next stage of investment (a 47% success rate) than their all-male counterparts (a 32% success rate) (Investing in Women Code Annual Progress Report 2021).
The gender pay gap
- In 2022, the gender pay gap in the UK among full-time employees increased to 8.3%, up from 7.7% in 2021. Among all employees, the gender pay gap decreased to 14.9%, from 15.1% in 2021 (Office for National Statistics 2022)
- In the US, in 2022, women earned an average of 82% of what men earned (Pew Research Centre’s The Enduring Grip of the Gender Pay Gap).
Female entrepreneurs on reasons to celebrate
As you can see from the statistics outlined above, both positives and negatives are apparent in the data. Although discrepancies still exist in terms of representation and equality, there has been a lot of progress made in recent years on these fronts.
What’s more, there are many examples of successful women in the workplace and female entrepreneurs making a difference. As Abadesi Osunsadem, founder and CEO of Hustle Crew, outlines:
Most female founders are solving problems that no one else was paying attention to. Think of Audrey Gelman and The Wing. Sharmadean Reid and Beautystack, Whitney Wolfe Herde and Bumble. Each of these entrepreneurs realised there was something unique to women’s experience of life that the patriarchy had yet to improve upon, fix or solve.
She goes on to explain some of the ground-breaking changes these women have made to their organisations:
Whether it’s creating workspaces for women (such as setting them at the right temperature and adding rooms for breastfeeding), creating a marketplace for beauty pros and an online community for ambitious women, or creating a safe, inclusive community to gain new authentic connections, none of these innovations would have happened without courageous women willing to challenge the status quo.
Through events such as International Women’s Day, and through the successful female entrepreneurs and businesswomen that are making a difference, there are many reasons to celebrate. Change is happening, and we’ll continue to make progress as we strive for greater inclusivity and diversity.
The challenges women in business still face
So what’s currently preventing greater gender equality in the world of business? As we saw in our statistics, the gender gap goes beyond just pay. We’ve picked out some of the current barriers that need addressing as we strive for greater equality and rights.
A lack of funding for female entrepreneurs
One of the most concerning aspects of the data around women in business is the lack of funding entrepreneurs often get. As we saw from the data, just 2 per cent of all UK venture funding goes to all-female teams.
As our partners at the global women’s network AllBright explain:
For women looking to set up their own businesses, the main challenges are often a lack of funding and investment. There is unfortunately still a huge gender disparity when it comes to funding within the UK and global startup ecosystem, with funding for female-founded business significantly dropping last year, which simply isn’t good enough – and shows that there is still significant progress to be made in this area.
More needs to be done to ensure that women are not only given equal opportunities to start their own businesses but that they also feel empowered enough to do so.
Underrepresentation in senior roles
Another significant challenge faced by women in business is that of representation in roles of authority. As we explored in our article on women in tech, there is a shortage of women in leadership positions across industries and countries.
In 2022, the proportion of women in senior management roles globally was 32%. Although this is the highest number ever recorded, and we are seeing positive changes year on year, it’s still far from equal.
Additionally, there are clearly issues when you look at the gender divide among different roles. Women are over-represented in support functions like administration, for example, while in positions that lead to senior leadership jobs, men have a much higher representation.
Again, AllBright helps to underline why this is such an important issue:
The more women own their confidence and abilities and continue to smash down the glass ceiling, the more we will see the rise of female representation in senior leadership positions. But women need access to support, as well as training and resources, in order to do this. Networks are vital for making this change. That’s why our main focus at AllBright is creating a global sisterhood where women can network in a safe and creative space, providing them with the tools they need for success.
A confidence gap
When you dig deeper into the reasons why women might not think about or pursue a career in a traditionally male-dominated space, there are several points that frequently arise. Confidence and self-belief often play a role.
Women are often less likely to self-promote or self-advocate at work, usually through fear of receiving a negative response. The research finds that this is the case even when there is no gap in ability of performance between men and women.
It’s worth noting that recognising this confidence gap is not a way of pinning the blame on women for not being confident enough to go after what they want. It’s a societal criticism – if women are treated differently and afforded less opportunities, they are likely to lose confidence, and this is a rational response.
Again, organisations like AllBright are helping to raise awareness of and tackle these issues:
There is a massive confidence gap between men and women in the workplace, most notably among those in their mid-20s and 30s. Upskilling is a great way to help women boost their confidence – we want to encourage them to own the space and their voice, and realise that what they have to say is worthy of being heard. Having a sisterhood is vital in helping women see they aren’t alone in feeling like this, and they can act as cheerleaders and supporters in helping women to grow their confidence and, ultimately, smash their goals.
A need for cultural changes
Ultimately, there needs to be a shift in how we think about and treat women in business roles. From organisations and executive boards right down to individuals, we all need to be willing and accountable to enact change. This means challenging stereotypes, championing diversity, and creating a working environment that allows everyone to thrive and progress.
Whether it’s changing stereotypes of women in the media or empowering people to negotiate for fair pay, these adjustments will help to balance the scales. And, although change is happening, more needs to come.
University of Bristol Unleash Your Potential: Innovation and EnterpriseBusiness & Management,Psychology & Mental Health
Founders Factory Build a Startup from Scratch: the Venture Design ProcessBusiness & Management
How women are shaping the future of business
Although there certainly are challenges women in business face, there are plenty of positives to focus on too. We can also find plenty of examples of businesswomen and entrepreneurs who are enacting significant changes, supercharging their careers, and helping to shape the future of business.
Here are just some of the ways in which women are helping to transform the business world for generations to come:
Bringing new innovation
As women gain more power and influence in the world of business, they bring with them fresh ideas and innovation. Across a wide range of industries, greater gender equality helps to create new products, services, and businesses.
Not only does this benefit organisations, but it’s also good for consumers, giving them more choices that are more relevant to them. There’s also evidence to suggest that companies are more profitable when women make up more than one in three executive roles.
Adding a new approach to leadership
Although the representation of women in leadership roles is still an issue, it has improved in recent years. Furthermore, women in these positions bring with them a unique set of skills and competencies that can help to enact change.
As well as the hard skills needed for c-suite and executive roles, it’s the soft skills that can make a difference. A 2016 study also found that women score higher than men on nearly all emotional intelligence competencies. These include qualities such as conflict management, adaptability, and teamwork, which are all essential for workplace leadership.
Helping with diversity and inclusion
Inclusion and diversity are still some of the broader issues in the world of business. However, as more women find routes into the corporate world and progress through it, the more representation there is. As a result, the more role models and inspirational women in business there are, the more appealing the industry becomes to others.
Research even shows that female leaders take more action to foster Diversity and Inclusion and employee wellbeing than their male counterparts. However, 40 percent of women leaders say their DEI work isn’t acknowledged at all in performance reviews, so this is something that needs to be valued more highly within businesses on the whole.
Changing social norms
Studies have shown that some of the major factors behind the persistent gender gap are harmful social norms and stereotypes about women and men. As more women enter and succeed in businesses and more female entrepreneurs create change, these social norms will shift.
Many women in business are helping to break down harmful stereotypes and challenging the status quo. Today’s pioneers are shaping the future of business for years to come for the benefit of everyone.
Resources for women in business
To round off our exploration into the current and future role of women in business, we’ve pulled together some resources that can help women in business drive change. As well as insights from our partners, AllBright and Hustle Crew, we’ve picked out some of the best courses and other resources that can provide further information:
- Believe, Build, Become: How to Supercharge your Career by Allbright
- Salary Negotiation for Women in the Workplace by Hustle Crew
- Women in Leadership by Federation University
- Understanding Gender Inequality by the University of Exeter
- A Global History of Sex and Gender: Bodies and Power in the Modern World by the University of Glasgow
- Beyond the Ballot: Women’s Rights and Suffrage from 1866 to Today by Royal Holloway
- Gender Representation in the Media by the University of Strathclyde
- Unleash Your Potential: Innovation and Enterprise by the University of Bristol
- Build a Startup from Scratch: the Venture Design Process by Founders Factory
- Women in Arts: From 1900 until today by Centre Pompidou
- Sisterhood Works: How to Build a More Meaningful Network by Allbright
- Powerful Women and the Principles of Feminist Transformational Leadership by the University of the West Indies
- Build a Growth Mindset & Career Success with Advice from Female Founders by Allbright
- Gender-Inclusive Approaches in Technology by UAL and Feminist Internet
- Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men – Caroline Criado Pérez
- More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say) – Elaine Welteroth
- Dream Big. Hustle Hard.: The Millennial Woman’s Guide to Success in Tech – Abadesi Osunsade
- Work Like a Woman: A Manifesto For Change – Mary Portas
- AllBright digital membership. Unlimited access to over 170 courses on demand from the world’s best and brightest business minds. Packed full of unique insights, each course is designed to equip women with the skills, confidence and knowledge they need to reach their goals.
- Hustle Crew membership. Access to tools and information to help you grow as an agent of change. A weekly newsletter and monthly virtual workshop can help guide you through a range of proven tactics for long-lasting change.
- Tips for women becoming successful entrepreneurs post-covid. Practical tips and advice on female entrepreneurship and new businesswomen starting out in a post-pandemic world.
- Inspirational women of 2020. We remember 12 women who have inspired us with their minds, words and actions.
- Exploring gender inequality: What is feminism? Learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about feminism, including why it’s so important and who has the right to call themselves a feminist.