Ground Breaking Years for Women in Business

The economy affects everyone, no matter age, background or sex. It is still common though for economists to think of their discipline as being gender neutral. As a matter of fact, economists have looked and analysed the world through the eyes of men. Since its emergence as an independent field of study it has been dominated by men. However, the last years we have seen an upward spiral in gender equality in the business sector. According to Forbes it has been ground breaking years for women in business. We can see encouraging and refreshing examples of female entrepreneurs climbing the ladder of success, business women taking top positions in enterprises and an increase in female professors teaching economics and business administration at universities.

Let us start where some of the world’s biggest companies have evolved or have their head office– Northern America. For years, the most used and widely spread social network of our time, Facebook, was lead predominantly by men. Today, together with Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg is one of the two key people of the company as the Chief Operating Officer. Sandberg was appointed as the first ever female to sit in the board of the social network.

Working her way through Google and now helping leading Facebook’s future development, Sandberg encourages not only female business students but also female technology students to dare take their place in the business sector. In addition to her inspiring career, she is the founder of LeanIn.org, also known as Lean In Foundation and serves in the board of Women for Women International. The Lean In Foundation is a non-profit organisation with the desire to support and strengthen women in three main areas: education, community and societies where coordinated peer groups meet up to discuss and share experiences to learn together. Sandberg’s will and hard work has not only changed Google and Facebook through a perspective of economic revenue, but also a rst step into creating a more gender neutral workplace.

Sheryl Sandberg; technology executive, activist, and author.
Sheryl Sandberg; technology executive, activist,
and author.

In the competitive world of business, there is a wide range of companies where there has never been a woman in the top or to head the company. Virginia Rometty has revolutionised one of the biggest multinational IT-companies in the world while also becoming the first ever woman in the lead. With operations in over 170 countries, Rometty is now responsible for the future development of International Business Machines Corporation, IBM. She is the current Chairwoman, CEO and President. Before Rometty, IBM had never had a woman in the top. The predecessor as chairman, Sam Palmisano, stated “Ginni got it because she deserves it… It’s got zero to do with progressive social policies ”. In 2015 she was ranked #63 as one of the most powerful people in the world for her work at IBM. This change has been praised from many corners of the world.

At the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, CA.
At the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, CA.

Sandberg and Rometty stirs in long molded norms about leadership, innovations and creativity. According to Victoria Bateman, Lecturer and Fellow in Economics at University of Cambridge, in her call for a sexual revolution in economics in 2015: By neglecting gender, many economists are blind to the potential which female empowerment can o er (…) whether it is slow growth, deflation, poor productivity performance, stagnant wages, inequality or political battles about immigration (…) are rooted in what I would call a global sex problem . She says that the gender bias is a strongly contributory element to failing companies and economies. In other words, by including women, we do not only benefit the female population, but the wider economy and its growth – including men. Sandberg and Rometty are therefore changes which are needed in the American society as a whole.

Let us refocus on another geographical area – The Nordic. Azita Shariati has been announced the most powerful business woman in Sweden and she is one of the most in influential chief executives throughout the Nordic countries. She is head of the Swedish and Danish operations of the French- based multinational company Sodexo AB. Her impressive rise to the top of the company has been made under a relatively brief period of nine years. Shariati is passionate about gender balance and multiculturism and is famous for the goal she made for the company. She challenged Sodexo AB to employ female workers in 50% of senior management positions. This is a target that Sodexo later, through the perseverance and willingness of Shariati, achieved in 2015. The increased balance in the work force is already showing o improvements in the work atmosphere and in the business development. Even though her gender goal for Sodexo is noteworthy, this is something that should not be needed as an aim in one of the world’s leading countries regarding equality between men and women. Sadly, when it comes to women in top positions Sweden is not t for the word equal.

Lastly, I want to flag one entrepreneurial example. During the past years there has been a rise of women-owned businesses in Africa. These business women are breaking stereotypes and are inspiring countless of women through the continent. Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu is a leading example of a great entrepreneur.

She founded SoleRebels in 2004 in Ethiopia. In only a couple of years Tilahun Alemu has worked her way not only to run one of the largest footwear companies in Africa, but also a broad world class venture. Today, SolerRebels has flagship stores in the U.S, Japan, Austria, Spain, Switzerland, Singapore and more. Already in 2011, she had made her way into the World Economic Forum’s list of Young Global Leaders.

 

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu at the World Economic Forum on Africa held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 9-11 May, 2012.
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu at the World Economic Forum on Africa held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 9-11 May, 2012.

These are examples of women who are making big changes in the business sector – changes which are seldom noticed in the news and media. Women around the world are pioneering a way for us young female business and economics students. They are making a change; an admirable and well-earned change. However, there are still obstacles women need to overcome in a sector of men to be seen as equal and worthy of the top positions. The authority of change still lays predominantly on men in the business world, a factor which aggravates the evolvement of gender equality. Most of the companies in the world has a severe underrepresentation of women. According to The Economist there is only 26 women leading as CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies. Although this is a progress from the 0 women in 1995, one would think that the numbers should be higher in 2016. The lack of women in top positions is an economic loss for people and business generally. The Economist highlights a quote from Sandberg and Grant:

“Startups led by women are more likely to succeed; innovative rms with more women in top management are more pro table; and companies with more gender diversity have more revenue, customers, market share and pro ts.”.

Therefore, with this knowledge, let us – female and male business students of all backgrounds – together venture on the path to gender equality.

 

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