By Sofia Geraghty
When you hear the term ‘women in business’, it is likely that your mind will conjure up the image of a women with an inhumanly tight bun, wearing a pristine black suit and 8 inch stilettos, standing with her arms folded sassily across her chest. The sort of woman that can silence a room (and probably melt glass) with just one look. If your mind doesn’t conjure up this image, then Google certainly does (albeit not all the women have buns, some have perfectly sleek hair). The assumption of course being, that to be a ‘successful’ woman in business, you have to avoid all style and character traits traditionally seen as ‘feminine’ and ‘soft’ and (most importantly) never, ever, wear pink.
Yet the reality of the situation is that the majority of us, especially in London, are now ‘women in business’ and as such the face of ‘women in business’ is changing. This is especially true when it comes to entrepreneurship. According to a recent report by Coutts and the Centre for Entrepreneurs, whilst only 19% of serial entrepreneurs are women, 38% of serial entrepreneurs under 35 are female.
Interestingly, many women who have started their own business have found that ‘feminine’ traits, traditionally seen as at odds with business, can actually be beneficial. For example, women have been shown to be far more cautious when it comes to risk-taking, and find it much harder to fire staff. Both traditionally seen as bad points in the ‘cut throat’ world of business. Yet when Rachel Bell decided to leave her employer, and start a business based on encouraging employees to do their best and stay with the firm, the antithesis was true. Shine Communications, with an annual turnover of 10m, has been a massive success and was also named at the Sunday Times best small company to work for in 2012.
It is not just in the world of entrepreneurship that people are waking up to the benefits of perceived ‘feminine’ traits. In a post financial crisis world, risk aversion and focus on wellbeing and culture are no longer seen as weaknesses, but as potential strengths. In Iceland, the government turned to women like Halla Tomasdottir (founder of Audur Capital – a company dedicated to promote feminine values in finance) to help them reform the country’s banking culture. In France, a professor of CERAM Business School found that the more women a company had in management, the fewer losses they were likely to suffer, and in Norway legislation demanding that 40% of company board members be female has been introduced.
Whilst initially women in business were a breed of women charged with the task of navigating a man’s world, their presence has meant that the nature of that world is starting to change. It is no secret that a business able to diversify, is a business more likely to succeed – and more businesses are now waking up to the huge benefits that having a significant percentage of female staff can offer them. Femininity is no longer something to be hidden in business, it is something to be embraced – especially in uncertain times. It is about time therefore, that we (and Google) updated our pre-conceived ideas when it comes to how exactly a woman in business should look and behave.
Parliament Street’s upcoming Woman of Influence Conference, with speakers from across the media, technology, public affairs and more, aims to highlight both the diversity of women in business and highlight the massive value they add to our economy.
Sofia Geraghty is Head of Digital for Parliament Street