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Encouraging more women in business

07 March 2011

40 years ago, it would have been rare to find women running, much less owning their own businesses in Australia. In fact, if we look at my career choice, to be a Trade Commissioner for Australia, it would actually have been impossible!

Fortunately times have changed, at least in Australia with women currently running about 1/3rd of Australia's 1.9 million small businesses, and almost 50% of the home-based businesses (which is also one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy). And again, if we look at my career choice in the public service, women hold around 36% of senior executive positions.

But we still have much to do when compared to some other countries like Norway, USA and the UK . In the US surveys show that 89% of companies on the S&P 500 have at least 1 woman on the board and 64% have more than one. In the UK the figures are closer to 77% of FTSE 100 companies having at least 1 woman.

Yet similar figures for Australia show only about 29% of boards have at least one female (top 500 companies). And worse, for our top 200 listed companies women represent 8% of Board members, 6% of CEO's and only 2% of Chairpersons.

This despite the fact that surveys abound that show a businesses financial performance is usually greater with female management, than without. Specifically, a Catalyst report used by Barclay's shows that companies with the highest female representation on their senior management teams enjoyed a 34% higher return on equity than those with the lowest representation.

34% higher return on investment

There is no better business case for us to encourage more women into business.

But we are often our own worst enemies. Surveys, prior to the global financial crisis, from people like the Women's Enterprise Task Force in the UK noted that women frequently cite a lack of confidence as reasons for lower risk appetites, lower debt and slower, more consultative decision-making processes.

Well in the post GFC period, lower risk profiles, more collaborative working styles and lower debt all seem like strengths to me, not weaknesses.

Yet that lack of confidence thing is something only we, ourselves can address. it holds us back and holds back our economic future. We need to be aware of it and how it translates on our ability to do business. I recently read a quote by Dr Rebecca Harding of the London School of Economics where she said: \"Women cannot always sell their business ideas well to male investors. Women have a lower expectation of how their business is going to grow, even when they are very high powered. Women are far more risk aware, frightened that things will go wrong and frightened of flying too close to the sun\".

I don't know if that ever rings true for you, but for me, in the times when I doubt myself I try to remember the fact that I can make a difference - at least a 34% difference.