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Gender Equality in Business: Some Progress but Not Enough

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Ms Z is a qualified bilingual proofreader and translator, and a part-time feminist.

Women in the business world still face many challenges that men do not.

Women in the business world still face many challenges that men do not.

I Recently Launched My Own Business

Since I am in the process of getting my first own business up and running, I am working all the hours God has sent me at the moment. And I am loving it—a lot of it is sociable work, Networking spelled with a capital N. So, during the last few weeks, I have met men and women of different backgrounds—established in business, starting up, or mentoring start-ups. And, not to sound like a broken record: women still get a tougher deal.

Two weeks ago, in a sudden burst of motivational madness, I booked into all upcoming available events that I thought were going to be interesting to me, my business or my friends’ enterprises. I signed up for a “Start Your Own Business” course on the same day I read about the EmpowerHer programme, and I learned that in the last year, only one-fifth of all new Irish businesses had been founded by women.

Working Moms and Family Obligations

On the day of the business course, therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the six participants were equally split—three entrepreneurial men, and three equally as enterprising women. On the first opportunity I had, I made a beeline for the ladies—I was excited about EmpowerHer and felt I had to share the information, in particular the fact that a female peer support networking afternoon was scheduled for the week after.

The two women, Grace and Hannah, reacted somewhat guardedly; the programme sounded great, but, as Grace said, she wasn’t sure she’d be able to organize a babysitter. Hannah agreed, saying it had been difficult enough to get someone to mind her children for that day. Later that morning she told us about her background in accounting, and she said she’d love to work in that field again. But her family was still quite young, and affordable childcare was a big issue, so she had decided to set up a creche herself instead, killing two birds with one stone. Hannah was called away before lunch because one of her kids was sick and was not able to complete the course on that day.

Would a Father Have the Same Experience?

That experience left me incredibly frustrated. I felt that a father in the same position would not face the same obstacles; I felt, and feel, that society’s expectation is still that we as women should look after our children first, and prioritize our family over any career choice or business venture—but the same is not true for men.

EmpowerHer Programme

Fast forward a week, and you find me sitting in the GMIT Castlebar at the EmpowerHer event, hosted as part of the Mayo Ideas Week. I am surrounded by women, but apart from the gender, the diversity range is fantastic: we are of all ages, all nationalities, all financial and educational backgrounds. Some are there in groups, others have travelled some distance and don’t know anybody else in the room, but everybody is mingling. The atmosphere is one of a shared spirit, a shared idea and a shared goal. We are all in this together, and we are going to help each other to move forward. Sitting beside me is Grace, who did make it; I’m delighted.

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The first panel of speakers consists of three renowned Irish businesswomen. One of them shares her story of taking over her husband’s already established business when he fell sick—her story of struggling to gain respect in a world dominated by men. Very quickly, my frustration returns. I wince when she says that she had to “beg and cry, but finally got a deal”, or that she used to be excluded from conversation with other business owners because she didn’t know about Gaelic sports, “but by God, do I now”. It was a story of manipulating the world around her just to find a space she could fit into, and I hated it.

What saved the evening for me, and what indeed changed my perspective on the subject entirely, was the appearance of the second panel. Here were three businesswomen of my generation, the next generation of entrepreneurs. They talked about their struggles and challenges, and none of those had anything to do with their gender. They talked about expansion in different time zones, about creating a healthy work/life balance, about avoiding burn-out, about expectations they had of investors, about employing and managing staff—but not about the fact that they were female, or that their gender in any way impeded on the way they were conducting their business.

We Must Strive for Gender Equality

Gender inequality is still an issue. Motherhood in a work environment, childcare and the balance act of having both a career and a family—those are still issues. What I took from the second set of three panellists at the EmpowerHer event was this: maybe we must change our own views. Maybe society’s expectations of us is not what’s holding us back, but rather our own expectations of us. Society may go on expecting whatever it likes, but if we ourselves still believe, deep down, that we really should be at home cooking instead of investing into our ideas, committing to our vision and living a fulfilling life that will set an example to our sons and daughters, we will never succeed changing perceptions. In practical terms, this will still mean a massively bigger effort from female entrepreneurs than a male in the same situation would have to make; but it will be worth it. For the next generation of empowered women, for the next generation of enlightened men, but most importantly, for yourself.

© 2018 Ms Z

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