On March 8 women around the world celebrated International Women’s Day and this year’s theme, #BeBoldForChange. In a year of political turmoil, this theme challenges all women (and men!) to think about how we can accelerate actions that will help close the gender parity gap around the world.
Entrepreneurs and executives are especially poised to lead the charge for their fellow women. Studies show that businesses with more women leaders (that is to say, more women in board director or C-suite positions) perform better financially and are more profitable.
Thus it is in every business owner’s interest to recruit and retain high-performing women into the company. Below are some tips and resources for supporting women leaders in business.
Show commitment to gender parity through action, not words
Successfully integrating women executives into your business is not simply a matter of hiring more females. Leadership expert Rebecca Shambaugh says that retaining good female leadership will require serious cultural changes within a company.
Tips for promoting female leadership within a company:
- Set clear, numerical goals for how much female leadership you want to have in your company.
- Broaden criteria to include skill sets and not just titles—asking for a CEO on your board seat already eliminates 90% of women in the market.
- Find out what women value and need in the workplace and offer solutions to accommodate; this could be anything from flexible work arrangements to childcare to mentoring.
- As a CEO or executive, make a point to ensure women’s voices are not overshadowed and their accomplishments acknowledged. Men and women play an equal role in this regard.
- Flip the script and think about how words can reinforce negative stereotypes. Focus on different approach to common workplace conversations using this cheat sheet.
Make your voice heard through mentors or fellow peers
Women often face an uphill challenge when it comes to voicing their opinions at the workplace. They may generally shy away from making criticisms or complaints, or even worse, fear retribution for speaking out. Having a supportive mentor or community of peers can help women get productive feedback, develop a more assertive voice, and help their concerns get heard.
Organizations to help women find mentors and peers:
- Women Presidents’ Organization - Specifically targeted at women presidents, CEOs, and managing directors of private multimillion-dollar companies
- National Association for Female Executives - For executives, professionals, and business owners committed to advancing women in business
- National Association of Women Business Owners - Targets women business owners of all industries; has a local New York chapter
- Ellevate New York Chapter - An online and local network for professional women in New York
Provide business guidance and funding for women entrepreneurs
According to Amex’s recent 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, women-owned small businesses grew by 45% over the last decade, compared to a 9% increase among all businesses—that’s five times the national average. However, only 3% of women-businesses generate more than $500,000 in revenue, compared to the 9% average.
Although the increase in female entrepreneurialism is highly encouraging, women still face challenges when it comes to forging success in business. It can be difficult for women to access the right network and resources, or secure initial funding and business loans. Small business lender Bond Street has pulled together an extensive compilation of NYC resources for female entrepreneurs; we’ve detailed below a few of our favorites.
NYC business resources targeted at women-run companies:
- WE NYC - The city’s official site for supporting women entrepreneurs
- Women’s Business Center - Training, counseling, and financial resources, specially targeted at underserved women minorities
- Tory Burch Foundation - Offers workshops, access to capital, grant opportunities, and networking, as well as their educational program in partnership with Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses
Funding resources for female-owned businesses:
- Golden Seeds - An early-stage investment firm focused on women-led businesses in tech, healthcare, and consumer products seeking first-round funding of $250,000 to $2 million
- Female Founders Fund - A firm that invest in women-founded startups in the industries of e-commerce, web products and services, marketplaces, and platforms.
- Women’s Venture Fund - A nonprofit helping women to establish businesses in urban communities with special small business loans.
For funding, we also recommend women to seek out some of the many grants available for female business owners. Here is a list of 11 grants specifically targeted for women entrepreneurs.
Get involved to influence public policy
Just as important as it is to have more women business leaders, it is likewise equally important to have more women in government. As professionals and entrepreneurs, we can get involved in business-oriented organizations that help champion women’s causes as they relate to public policy.
Women-oriented public policy organizations:
- Women Impacting Public Policy - WIPP advocates for women business owners on economic policy and current legislative initiatives such as affordable healthcare, tax policies, energy, telecom, and more.
- National Women’s Business Council - The NWBC is a non-partisan federal advisory council created to serve as an independent source of counsel on economic issues important to women business owners.
- League of Women Voters - A non-partisan organization protecting and educating women voters and encouraging them to become more active in politics
Women at work
In the United States, women now make up 46.8% of the total labor force, own 38% of all firms, and yet only make up 14.2% of senior executives of all S&P 500 businesses. As a group, we are making progress, but we still have a ways to go when it comes to closing the gender gap in leadership positions and in pay disparity. As business leaders, it is important for all of us to encourage women and provide them the support they need to succeed—everyone wins when women win.