I get very confused about Women’s Month. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in a family that was more towards the gender-neutral end of the spectrum and my self-perception has always been simply as an individual. I am me rather than the gender-specific version, I am female.
So, in business I have always just done what I felt to be right. Provided a service where it was needed, to the best of my ability. I don’t recall a single incident where I marketed my services on the female ticket. Perhaps, because I don’t want people to think I am using that as an excuse to be less than… when in reality my goal is always to be more than they expect.
For some while I have been quite critical of women in business, who if we look at the pure statistics, aren’t really great shakes in this department. Just look around you at the women founders and CEOs. There aren’t many that have made it to the top, are there? I can think of Carol Boyes, Naartjie, Pam Golding, Basetsana Kumalo and after that it takes some head scratching.
The big hitters, the businesses that are creating all the noise and sitting at the top of the pile – Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Paypal, Nike and closer to home Pick’n Pay, Discovery the list goes on – were all started by men. The evidence is there – men have a better track record in creating large, successful businesses. Men seem to have the stronger entrepreneurial, capitalist gene.
And my thinking stuck until quite recently when I read Melinda Gate’s book The Moment of Lift. This book changed my perception of the value of women in business and changed the lens through which I have been seeing women in development.
Simply put, in a world where gender discrepancy is the norm, where women are not in control of their own bodies and reproductive rights let alone their own finances and career choices, each time we empower a woman to start, run and succeed in business we create a seismic shift in not only her life, but that of her children and generations to come.
When I started Fetola back in 2006 one of the thoughts in my mind was that one isn’t empowered until you have control over the money coming into your pocket – and that empowering women through business was a great way to do this. I have come full circle back to that belief.
What I see is that women may not be driven by the capitalist model, but they make businesses that change lives. Their own lives, their children’s lives, their employees’ lives and the list goes on. Women are driven by the broader concept of wealth that includes well-being, relationships and love.
So, I am in favour of being the best in business. And I am in favour of men and women reaching their full potential in life, as human beings and expressions of their full talents. I am in awe of men who have created massive global businesses, but I am also in awe of the women in Africa that have overcome cultural, religious and gender-driven oppression to create even the smallest success.
I look forward to a future where slowly, one at a time and then perhaps a flood, women can rise against gender discrimination to find ways to express their best and empower themselves so that their children may have a future that is equal, and equally awesome.
So are men better at business than women? If we define success as the collective impact of business on profit, people and planet the answer is probably not. But wouldn’t we all like some more of that hard-nosed capitalist streak, especially at the end of the month?