People & Human Resources

How networks of change can help female business owners

Fi Bendall /

 It might sometimes seem like slow progress, but measures across such categories as the increased participation of women in the workforce and the numbers of women opening their own businesses show that things are improving for women in the world of business.

Last week I wrote here about the rise of women in business in tandem with the burgeoning digital economy. This is not a totally unrelated phenomenon. The digital economy has allowed women – along with men – greater access to all sorts of resources in setting up a business, whether it is easier access to finance and credit or the ability to create their own powerful networking communities.

However, there is a tendency when talking about the subject of women in business to lump all women in to the one group. While this is understandable when we consider the common factors that almost all women share in staking a claim to a place at the table, it can subsume or obscure the battles that different groups or individuals can have in getting a fair go in the business world.

Older women may face quite different issues to their younger female colleagues; migrant women can face their own particular hurdles; and the owners of small businesses battle with a distinct set of problems that might be alien to women in a corporate environment.

I think it’s always important to remember we are individuals too, regardless of our gender.

The other thing we have to remember is that not all men are against women. In fact, most men are sensible enough to realise that the positive participation of women in business and in the general workforce is a good thing for our economy.

Of course, more women in the workforce means social changes to how we think about issues such as family life, work/life balance and income inequality, but women need to be able to partner with men in coming up with solutions to some of these problems. There needs to be some consensus on the part of both women and men because these are issues that affect us all.

In many cases in corporate culture, men are the driving force behind the push for change, changing the culture from the inside (sad, but true).

One of the male corporate leaders who has pinpointed one of the crucial pressure points for women business leaders is former Telstra CEO David Thodey, who said there was an element of “macho male dominance” in Australian culture that served to exclude women.

But it can sometimes be harder for the female owner or CEO of her own business. The bigger corporate structure that fosters cultural change over time is often not in place in smaller businesses, where it can be a day-to-day, all-hands-on-deck type of struggle just to get the essentials done, let alone build longer lasting cultural change into the workplace. That means initiatives to create more female-friendly workplaces are sometimes put on the backburner.

This is why it’s important that women who own their own  business also have access to support networks which can help them advance in business and talk about the type of changes they would like to see in their workplace.

Here are some places to get started for women in business interested in accessing some of these networks of change and influence:

Australian Businesswomen’s Network

Ausmumpreneurs

Dell: Women’s Entrepreneur Initiatives

Inkling Women

Women on Boards

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Fi Bendall

Fi Bendall is chief executive of The Bendalls Group and a Westpac/AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence, who was described by CEO Magazine as 'The CEO's Secret Weapon'. An expert and pioneer in digital strategy, she has over 23 years’ experience in the digital and tech sectors.

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