Lawrence Nicholson | Demanding business equity for women
“Each time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women,” the late American poet, Maya Angelou, once said.
This and other similar quotes abound each year when most of the world celebrates International Women’s Day, or IWD for short. Such quotes seem to remain relevant because of the real or perceived societal inequity women face.
In this regard, IWD seems to come and go each year, leaving behind many of the challenges that several women continue to face in the business space. Motivated by the feedback from interacting with women in family-owned businesses, FOBs, especially since the article in this space in June 2022, I have decided to revisit the role of women in businesses, with the appeal for FOBs to respond to the call for more opportunities for women.
The literature on FOBs is replete with the role of women with respect to opportunities, challenges and their anchoring role in keeping the family unit intact. While there is convergence with areas of the literature and what obtains in Jamaica, using data from 2004 and 2012, there is the view by many that, with respect to opportunities and challenges, Jamaica is on an upward trajectory.
But is this really the case? My own assessment, measuring from my interpretation from conversations with several women in business and corporate Jamaica, is that while there is evidence of forward movement since 2004 and 2012, there is some way to go. This conclusion prompted the following edited IWD message sent to few of the women I have come to admire, as they navigate the Jamaican landscape:
Morning to you on this IWD. Thank you for your value-added input as a team member. Thanks for ignoring the societal imposed glass ceiling and choosing to focus on your God’s unbounded capacity. A day is not enough time to observe or celebrate your value. But pause and celebrate and stay blessed.
But could the inferences that prompted this shout-out be wrong? To partially answer this question, I tapped a convenience sample of both men and women, representing current and former CEOs/GMs and others who occupied leadership in businesses and corporate Jamaica, asking them to respond to the following:
o I am satisfied with the business opportunities available for women. Yes[ ] No[ ]
o There is equity in the business opportunities available to women versus men. Yes[ ] No[ ]
o What are your general thoughts on the opportunities/challenges facing women in the business landscape?
The responses varied, with most (80 per cent) expressing satisfaction that opportunities for women abound, with little difference in views between men and women. However, only 20 per cent agreed that there is equity in the availability of business opportunities to women.
There was a wide range of views in the general thoughts on the opportunities and challenges. A sample of these views (edited, while retaining the voice of the respondent) are listed below:
1. While we have recently seen increased opportunities for women to access special windows of financing/funding, women business owners continue to face major challenges and issues in business that impact their economic empowerment and development.
2. Not enough advancement of women at the upper levels of organisations – corporate boards and CEOs.
3. Women in businesses dominated by males are not taken seriously enough, especially at the board level.
4. Financial institutions don’t seem to take us seriously – wanting exorbitant amount for security, leaving the feeling that there is more risk in doing business with women.
5. The challenges in accessing capital remain a concern for women entrepreneurs and business owners. Lack of information and knowledge about lending requirements and practices hinder women business owners’ ability to obtain capital, because lenders need to see adequate research and business planning, financial record keeping and reporting.
6. There are also the challenges of too few role models, mentors and sponsors, and the exclusion from informal networks … women tend to have smaller social and professional networks, which limit their awareness of business development opportunities, and information on how to handle challenges in operating their businesses.
7. While opportunities are satisfactory, there is not always equity in the selection process – for certain positions, men are still chosen over women due to assumptions of perceived female limitations, especially when they are mothers or at a child-bearing stage of life.
The solution-oriented approaches proposed by the respondents include:
• There is need for more transparency in the selection of directors and consciously widening the pool from which directors are selected;
• Encouraging more women to prepare for leadership, by offering specific training courses in corporate governance and network skills;
• Encourage women entrepreneurs to surround themselves with a trusted set of advisers in finance, law, marketing and other industry-specific skillsets;
• Women must take the initiative to form interest groups among themselves, where experiences and lessons learnt can be shared;
• Women need to create opportunities for other women, while not discriminating against men; and
• Families need to be more deliberate in validating their girls to take their rightful place in what can be a male-dominated society.
The voices of the academics can be heard, as they debate the validity and reliability of the ‘findings’ from this convenience sampling. But such debate will not negate the reality of what obtains; further, such debate is hardly relevant in this space.
However, peer-reviewed research shows that the family and FOBs represent the seat of entrepreneurship in the Caribbean. Taken this to be true, the ball is in the courts of FOBs to address the aforementioned areas of opportunities and challenges facing women. Let’s start now, as we look forward for another reason to observe and celebrate IWD.
Lawrence Nicholson, PhD, is a senior lecturer at the Mona School of Business & Management, University of the West Indies, author of Understanding the Caribbean Enterprise: Insights from MSMEs and Family-Owned Businesses and a director of the RJRGLEANER Communications Group. Email: email@example.com