Have you ever wondered why women leave their cushy jobs and jump into the entrepreneurship wagon? Recent statistics indicate that these women are usually between 40-60 years old. They already have children and, as a consequence, a myriad of responsibilities. So, why on earth would they take the risk of starting their own business?
The reasons that many blogs as well as academic publications have stated are the ‘glass-ceiling’ at work and/ or a persistent search for work-life balance. As you probably know very well, the ‘glass-ceiling’ is none other than the inability of a female employee to reach the highest echelons of corporate hierarchy. On the other hand, the elusive work-life balance is the right to a healthy lifestyle that does not focus on work alone.
In both of the above cases the underlying factor that keeps women unhappy at work (and life in general) is sexual discrimination. In most professions women get paid less than men, despite the fact they produce the same quantity and quality of work. Also, despite consistent governmental efforts in western European countries and the United States of America to resolve the problem, the disparity remains substantial.
Working conditions worsen significantly, when the woman stays pregnant. Especially in the UK there is an underlying assumption that she will not be able to perform at the same standards as before. As a consequence, she is expected to go part-time, or she is demoted or her career becomes static. In that important turn of her life the glass-ceiling becomes very real!
Similarly, work-life balance is practically non existent. In an attempt to prove her worth at both home and work place, she needs to exceed the already low presumptions of her peers and family. Patriarchal (or paternalistic) values are firmly rooted in modern societies and it is very difficult to change them. So, the pressures are immense and the dissatisfaction constantly rises at equal proportions.
Some women, the ones who tend to be more submissive, scared or unable to react, put up with the situation hoping that magically things will change. In these cases, we observe the Cinderella Syndrome in action, where the woman expects the all-powerful man to come to her rescue. On the other hand, those women who realised how harmful these illusions can be take the road to entrepreneurship.
Current institutional setups seem to favour the transition from paid work to self-employment. In the UK there has been a 6.5 per cent growth from 1992 (899,000) to 2004 (962,000). Despite a noticeable rise in entrepreneurship, it is not all good news. More than 50 % of women work part time, while they work from home. (Small Business Service 2003).
The wish to go solo may be evident but the resources are not always forthcoming. The first problem may be the woman’s managerial experience, especially for those who hit the glass-ceiling before they became senior manager in a large corporation. The second one is the lack of funding. It seems to be more difficult for women (rather than for men) to raise human and social capital. And since women are usually poorer than men, even their bootstrapping abilities (credit cards, mortgages etc.) remain restricted.
I know that at this point I should give some kind of hope to women who are suffering from sexual discrimination at work and want to break free. I can smell change in the air, especially in the arena of tech startups. Accelerators seem to be looking for smart women who aim at becoming co-founders of new businesses. Startup conferences are sending out calls encouraging females to present their work in public. So, it cannot be all bad.
We, as women, should take advantage of this important change. Discrimination, reduced opportunities, skeptical men (and sometimes also women) will always be part of the picture. Nevertheless, we should take the risk of getting out there to build something substantial for us, for our families and for society at large. We have always been at the front of social change. It is time to get at the forefront of business change.
I would also like to note that academic scholarship is also following new directions on the subject of female entrepreneurship. A recent edited volume explores the phenomenon in detail and deserves to be mentioned.
Carter, N.M., Henry, C., O’ Cinneide, B. and Johnston, K. (eds.) Female Entrepreneurship: Implications for Education, Training and Policy, Routledge 2007.