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Not Just About Business

Caring for children affects women's entrepreneurship--and, indeed, all their economic choices--around the world.

I have felt frustrated many times during the past year when planning the Power Shift Forum.  A frequent source was that folks at the Said School–consistent with B-School and corporate types in the West generally–want to view entrepreneurship for women as a matter of turning up the skills and turning on the financing.  They, along with most of those who research entrepreneurship in universities, want to think of the business world as a gender neutral place and the “underperformance” of female entrepreneurs as a consequence of poor individual choices or psychological  inferiority (the famous “lack of confidence”).

To people with this view, matters of religion, family, law, and custom are, at best, noise in the machine and, at worst, silly matters that serious women don’t think about.  And violence is a complete irrelevancy.

We know, though, that upticks in domestic violence have accompanied microfinance programs in the developing world.  And that religion tracks, with disturbing consistency, in an inverse relationship with women’s empowerment.  Finally, study after study points at the profound role that family plays in the reasons women become entrepreneurs, the decisions they make about their businesses, and their ultimate plans for how or whether to grow it.

So, at the Power Shift Forum, there will be only one session covering these issues, but it may very well be the most important session of all.  I have no doubt whatsoever that matters of family, law, and religion (as well as violence) will surface over and over in every other session–because they always do–so we will have at least one moment where we can focus on these core drivers.

We are lucky to have four extraordinary women leading the discussion.  Joanna Foster, who is currently Chair of the Crafts Council and formerly Chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission in the United Kingdom, will moderate, but I hope will jump into the discussion herself from time to time.  Alyse Nelson, CEO of Vital Voices, tells me she has plenty to say about these matters, especially violence, after all the work her organization has done in the developing world (her book has some very no-nonsense passages on the problem of violence, see the review here). Renée Giovarelli, executive director of Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights, is working on an issue that cannot be overemphasized–property rights reach out into every kind of economic right: to hold property, to earn money, to be economically autonomous.  Professor Qing Wang, Warwick University, has done research on the motivations of women in China becoming entrepreneurs.  In most countries, the main reason women choose entrepreneurship is that they think it will, one way or another, make it easier to care for children.

So you can see that these things are very important, indeed!

More details on the Power Shift Forum, including session descriptions and book reviews, can be found here.


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