“We need to ensure that at every stage of a woman’s career she has the opportunity to learn skills, develop and contribute in a dynamic business environment.”
That’s the verdict of Ruby McGregor-Smith, chair of the Women’s Business Council, in the foreword to a new report “Maximising women’s contribution to economic growth” – commissioned by the government and published this week. McGregor-Smith adds that: “If we can achieve this, we will unblock the talent pipeline that for so long has restricted women from reaching the most senior levels in business – and we will deliver economic growth.”
There’s plenty of work to be done. While government ministers and campaigners continue to put pressure on top businesses to appoint more women to their boards, a recent report the Cranfield International Centre for Women Leaders revealed that: “Women hold more than one in five (21.8%) of non-executive FTSE 100 posts but still only account for little over one in 17 (5.8%) executive roles. That means there are just 18 women executive directors in Britain’s top boardrooms, against 292 men.”
On this topic, there’s plenty of bluster and over-optimism in the UK social enterprise sector, but representation of women in leadership roles is one area where the sector genuinely is doing well (or, at least, far less badly than the private sector).
Social Enterprise UK’s 2011 State of Social Enterprise Survey, Fightback Britain, – reported that: “Women in social enterprise leadership teams are challenging the glass ceiling, with 86% of leadership teams boasting at least one female director…” while in contrast: “Only13% of the Institute of Directors’ membership is female and only 1% of its members are 29 years or under. Further, 41% of small businesses have all male directors.”
The Survey’s authors noted that: “The survey arguably describes a cohort of social enterprise leaders that much more closely reflects the communities they serve than their equivalents in mainstream business. If this pattern continues over time, social entrepreneurship may be the key for challenging – or at least starting to challenge – the abiding social stereotype of business leadership as the preserve of the older, white male.”
Part of the reason why women are more likely to end up in leadership roles in social enterprise is that there are a bigger proportion of women working in social enterprise (and the wider third sector) than in other sectors. However, Women’s leadership, employment and participation in the
third sector and social enterprises – a report from researchers at the Third Sector Research Centre, noted that: “Overall, women represented 50 per cent of higher managers/professionals in the third sector (although 67 per cent of the workforce). This compares with 46 per cent in the public sector (64% in the workforce), and only 24 per cent among those working in the private sector (40% on the workforce).”
They conclude that: “If we take the proportion of women working in a sector to attain higher managerial or professional positions as an indicator of vertical segregation by gender… women working in the third sector are less likely to face gender inequality than those working in the private sector.”
Is the situation a result of social enterprise actively challenging ‘the abiding social stereotype of business leadership’ or is there another explanation? In a feature on ‘The secret algorithm of women social innovators’ for The Guardian’s Social Enterprise Network – , Servane Mouazan of Ogunte, – a consultancy supporting female social innovators, suggests that, in her experience, women are often well suited to finding commercial models for achieving social change. She explains that many of the women she works with have: “cracked commercial dilemmas that a lot of social entrepreneurs face: they are able to attract buyers’ inner drivers and pulsion to buy services/products that have an impact on their emotions and lives, now or in a very near future, and by doing so, they can trigger and fund strategies to support long term social and environmental impacts.”
Whatever the explanation, women’s leadership is one area where social enterprise is leading the way.