Women and girls represent 50.42% of the total population, but their contribution to the world is often underestimated. Did you know that a woman was the mind behind the invention of WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth? Or that companies with more women in top leadership and board positions enjoy higher financial returns?
That’s why women’s empowerment is such an urgent issue. When women are empowered, they can become effective changemakers for a better future for all. Furthermore, without women’s empowerment, there is no chance to achieve gender equality, the 5th sustainable development goal for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable life.
Women’s empowerment might seem like an abstract concept, but with a bit of imagination, it will appear clear. Imagine a world in which all women and girls can decide for themselves, can exercise their right to influence social change and actively contribute to economic growth and you will live in a society in which women’s empowerment is a reality.
Several factors can help the empowerment of women and girls. At BEBS, we believe that three above all are fundamental: education, leadership & political participation, and entrepreneurship. Keep on reading Education and entrepreneurship for women’s empowerment to discover why.
Education and entrepreneurship for women’s empowerment
Education as a tool for women’s empowerment
Women and girls like Malala Yousafzai – a Pakistani activist for female education and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate – are fighting for their right to education. But why?
Because when girls and women receive education, they are more likely to be empowered. Education has been linked to better outcomes in women’s lives like poverty reduction, better health choices, higher levels of political participation and better working opportunities. Let’s see in further detail the correlation between education and women’s performance in the job market.
Education is crucial to breaking the glass ceiling. A study conducted by the OECD shows that women with low levels of education generally earn less than both highly-educated women and less-educated men. Furthermore, already in 2015, Asif Islam discovered that education helps women reach the top of the career ladder.
However, not all types of education are the same when it comes to empowering women and girls. As highlighted by Hoong Eng Khoo, acting Vice-Chancellor and Provost of the Asian University for Women, primary and secondary education are fundamental to achieving women’s empowerment. Nevertheless, they are not enough. It’s only with higher education that women will acquire the necessary skills to become the managers and innovators society needs.
We have also shown in the e-book “Breaking the glass ceiling: women in the workplace in 2020” that women are overrepresented in low-paying sectors such as care and education. Only this factor accounts for 30% of the total gender pay gap. On the other hand, men represent 80% of the workforce in better-paid sectors like STEM. Therefore, to reduce the gender pay gap, it is essential to open paths to women in high-paying industries.
Leadership & political participation for women’s empowerment
Over the last decade, there have been considerable improvements regarding the presence of women in the political sphere. This is mainly because women have had more access to education. It is always been a major goal of the women’s rights movement and sustainable development goals because it is in the political sphere that important decisions on topics like health, education, or employment are taken.
Furthermore, seeing women in a position of power benefits society as a whole as it shows that there are different types of effective leadership. For example, Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand, has been praised for her leadership style, focused on empathy, clear and down-to-earth communication. She often uses “we”, instead of “I”, and she constantly highlights the outstanding work her team does.
Ardern is vocal about the need of adopting an empathetic leadership style. As she told The Guardian in an interview: “We need our leaders to be able to empathize with the circumstances of others; to empathize with the next generation that we’re making decisions on behalf of. And if we focus only on being seen to be the strongest, most powerful person in the room, then I think we lose what we’re meant to be here for. So I’m proudly focused on empathy, because you can be both empathetic and strong.”
Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel and Dilma Rousseff are just a few names of women in positions of political power. But, despite the stark improvements, there is yet much more to be done. As highlighted by UN Women: “As of 1 September 2021, there are 26 women serving as Heads of State and/or Government in 24 countries. At the current rate, gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years.”
Entrepreneurship and women’s empowerment
Women’s economic empowerment is central to achieving gender equality. Without it, women would lack the financial independence to make their own choice and be in a position of power. Luckily, there is some good news on this front. The number of women in senior management globally has constantly risen, passing from less than 20% to almost 30% in the last sixteen years. A similar trend can be observed regarding female entrepreneurship.
Over the last few years, women have increasingly chosen to become entrepreneurs. Since 2014, more than 163 million women worldwide have started a business. According to the Visa’s State of Female Entrepreneurship Report, they do it for different reasons, especially for pursuing their passion (48%), obtaining financial independence (43%), and having more flexibility (41%). Owning a business has a positive impact on women’s lives. Of 650 female small business owners interviewed for the report, 79% of them are feeling more empowered now than they did five years ago.
Female entrepreneurship is also the key to inclusive and sustainable industrial growth as women make more sustainable decisions for their households and businesses than men. Additionally, already in 2014, The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) identified women entrepreneurs as “the rising stars of economies in developing countries.”
At BEBS, we have seen first-hand that when women start their entrepreneurial projects, society and the economy benefit. In June, we interviewed Yara Lopes, one of our students of the Master in International Business Innovation. Back in 2019, she founded Pakito Angola to radically change the tourism and hospitality industry and align it with sustainable development goals. Her main focus is on protecting the environment by reducing plastic pollution. But she also has a program to support women entrepreneurs.
Removing barriers to women’s empowerment
Achieving women’s empowerment could be a reality if society acts to remove barriers to education and economic empowerment. Currently, it is imperative to reverse the dramatic effects of COVID-19, which is already threatening women’s education and work opportunities. UNESCO estimates that 11 million girls may not return to school, and different studies have shown that while millions of people have lost their jobs, women have been affected more than men.
According to a study by McKinsey & Company, “one of every four women in senior-level positions are now thinking about dialing back their job responsibilities (reducing work hours, moving to a part-time role, or switching to a less-demanding job), taking a leave of absence, or leaving the workforce altogether”. This is because women often do the majority of unpaid work like child and elderly care. Companies could play a positive role in a post-COVID-19 scenario by following the experts’ recommendations. It would be an opportunity to rethink workplace norms by granting work-life flexibility and implementing actions to support their employees.
On a general level, more has to be done to remove barriers to women’s economic empowerment. It can be by encouraging women to gain specific training and education to help them become the leaders of tomorrow. At BEBS, we strive to make this happen, starting from today. We provide practical education to help our students achieve the top of the career ladder and leadership positions. We believe that women’s empowerment benefits society as a whole, and we can rely on our own experience and the entrepreneurial projects of our international students to prove it. At BEBS, we are working to build a future in which women and men can have the same opportunities to excel in their careers and lives. And you, what kind of future do you envision?