By Editor of SocialBusiness.org
The worlds of business and entrepreneurship, like most worlds or the world, are exclusionary for women. Women find it harder to advance in business and in entrepreneurship, harder to find resources and financial support. What do we make of programs like Young Female Entrepreneurs and Girls Who Code? What are the impacts of these types of support systems, programs and women-only incubators? One question I have, as someone who has been writing about social businesses for over two years is this: are there more women or men starting social businesses? SocialBusiness.org is working on an ebook about women who have started their own social businesses and certainly, there are many in a breadth of different industries. Some of them cite their gender as a problem and some do not. It’s possible also that some may not be able to discern any disadvantages they may have had as women, that is, the relationship may not be visible. I struggle with the desire to represent women and their efforts but not consider “women” as a genre in itself. In a similar vein, a New York City music artist, Le1F, recently gave an interview to the Toronto-based weekly newspaper, Now Magazine and said that “queer rap” isn’t a genre even if he is indeed a queer rapper. Women-only art shows are common as well. But more than that, are they necessary toward creating a more equal society? So while marginalized groups need exposure because of the dominance of men in a lot of industries, is there another way to group people, as critics and writers tend to do? A way that validates the work they do in and of itself? We seem to think it’s okay to target people in less-industrialized countries on the basis of their gender. Solar Sister, which works in sub-Saharan Africa, and Skateistan, which works in Kabul, Afghanistan are two examples of this. And of course, the dual hyper visibility and invisibility of women in the Third World means that there are a slew of studies on how improving the lives of girls and women is the panacea to “development.” Think of the Girl Effect. I’m in no means discrediting this type of research but I wonder what impact this has on women in the industrialized world. What kind of businesses do women start? How do they differ from men? What are the societal improvements that can occur with financially supporting women entrepreneurs over men? Allyson Hewitt wrote an opinion piece for SEE Change magazine on the role of women in social entrepreneurship. I’ll end with her words, which elucidates the challenges and also offers some sense of optimism:
Are women uniquely positioned to take on these complex leadership challenges? I believe we are, but it won’t be easy. As a student of women’s studies in the 1980s, I really thought so many of our battles had been won, and there is no contesting the fact that significant progress has been made, but every now and then we are struck by reports from journalists, police officers or the judiciary condemning women who are victims of rape or sexual assault. We are reminded that we can’t take anything for granted, that our positions as leaders must continually be earned, that there are many who would ascribe to us a certain role in society – not necessarily a role we see for ourselves. We need to name these and confront them. We need to take the power that will allow us to redefine success.
There are many tools and resources available to support social entrepreneurs but there is still a lot to do. We need to create an enabling and regulatory and legislative framework; we need to increase access to capital (from grants to loans and even equity); and we need to promote a world that understands sustainability as having embedded financial, social and environmental components.