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Published 05 March 2013 07:01, Updated 10 April 2013 07:40
Former ABC journalist Jacqueline Arias started Republica Coffee after visiting Colombia. Photo: Louise Kennerley
I have a problem with analysis that purports to show that women lack ambition when it comes to business.
It is often said that the reason women do not put themselves forward for promotion – or are under-represented at executive levels – is that they really don’t want the top jobs.
Yet what could be more ambitious than to start your own business?
We know there is a diaspora of women from corporate life into small business, an enterprise that has a 40 per cent failure rate. These are talented, entrepreneurial women who are prepared to give up the comfort of a wage to pursue the dream of being their own boss.
And even though, to start with, their dreams may have to be folded around caring for a family, there are many who have created something big from nothing.
In the Australian Businesswomen’s Network Hall of Fame, there is, for instance:
None of these women lack ambition or are afraid to take risks – and there are plenty more where they came from.
Over the past five years, the number of women running a business has grown by 8.9 per cent, according to a Bankwest Business Trends Report from 2012.
And, according to the publication Australian Small Business Key Statistics and Analysis, put out by the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education last December, women are almost as likely to start a small business as men are.
“Overall, Australian women are marginally under-represented as firm founders, and there are important gender differences regarding what type of firms are created,” the report says (my italics).
“Female representation is particularly low in the construction industry, while manufacturing is largely male-dominated. Conversely, retailing, health, education and social services are largely female-dominated industries.”
Women were slightly more likely to be driven by necessity (14 per cent, compared with 9 per cent for men).
Women were also slightly more likely to be trying to keep the business “small and manageable” rather than aiming for maximum growth, but keeping it small was also the overwhelming preference of men.
“Twenty seven per cent of male-only ventures go for maximum growth, compared with 13 per cent of female-only start-ups.”
The CEO of the Australian Businesswomen’s Network, Suzi Dafnis, says the picture we get of women in business is often clouded by the presumption that big is better.
“You have to look beyond the corporate model,” she says. “We need more [female] role models than just the head of Westpac because that misses the richness of the community of entrepreneurs.
“I think loads of us grew up with the idea that we had to get a good job and retire with a pension. We’re still encouraging people at school to get a good job. Entrepreneurialism is not being taught.”
Dafnis says women are more likely to be using new technology to create a business than to be developing that technology.
“They’re not developing the latest app or Google, but what they are doing is using the technology to do e-commerce, working out of the home offices and telecommuting.
“Some of the things that used to be barriers are now no longer there.”