Friday, February 11, 2011

Five Reasons Women Choose Entrepreneurship over The Glass Ceiling

Over the past week, several sources on my radar shed light on the ongoing debate behind the corporate glass ceiling. Collectively I believe they punctuate the reasons behind why I – and perhaps 10 Million other women in the US – have chosen to shed corporate confines in favor of the freedoms, risks and rewards of entrepreneurship:

  1. Bias is a natural behavior: Serial CEO Margaret Heffernan explains that corporate leaders act upon their natural biases by choosing others that are “like them” when hiring and promoting leaders.
  2. Gender discrimination is embedded in our cultural perceptions: A recent University of Utah study found that female-led firms with identical personal qualifications and company financials were perceived as less capable than male CEOs in those same roles.
  3. Behaving like men is counter-intuitive to our nature: Patricia Sellers points to the female power conundrum that happens when female CEOs try to behave and lead like men.
  4. To break the glass ceiling, we have to jump off the glass cliff: A study in this month’s Harvard Business Review suggests that women’s perceived leadership attributes are only embraced when a company is in crisis and needs a change of leadership.

While all of this is very interesting it makes you wonder why any woman would want to stay and fight the corporate battle. Perhaps this is why women in the U.S. are starting their own businesses at twice the rate of men. Research on women in development reveals that nearly 75% of women involved in early stage entrepreneurship are already employed. Are many of these new entrepreneurs frustrated ladder climbers?

I’m not suggesting we should abandon our efforts to support women as corporate leaders. After all that same Harvard Business Review article found that the glass cliff isn’t an issue in organizations with a history of female leaders. But it does suggest another reason that women choose a different path:

  • 5. Business is NOT just business anymore. By-and-large women entrepreneurs start businesses that are aligned with both their personal and business values. Riane Eisler suggests in her latest work, The Real Wealth of Nations, that there is a strong movement – a revolution if you will -- to create a genuine caring economy—one based on balance and a respect for the intricate relationships that keep our planet and society healthy.

It is these “caring” skills that the corporate world eschews until there is a crisis. And they are the very skills that The SmartGirls Way most values. It’s about time for women to stop trying to think and behave like men and start embracing our collective women’s wisdom. I’m willing to bet that’s an idea that any enterprising woman – corporate or otherwise -- can get behind.

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