Women, despite all of the advances that our society has made, are still forced to grapple with the glass ceiling. While some women have made a name for themselves as directors and board members of major corporations, only 17% of the over 5,000 board seats for S&P 500 companies were filled by women. Europe attempted to solve this problem by adopting legislation with the end goal of having at least 40% of board positions filled by the 'lesser-represented sex.' However, I doubt that a similar law would ever fly here in the states. And while it is all too easy to bemoan the patriarchal structure for continuing to keep us of the fairer sex down, I feel as though there is more at play than that. Now, don't get me wrong -- I know that a large part of the reason that women cannot get onto boards is simply because many corporations are still considered boys clubs. A report released in 2012 by Ernst & Young backs up that assertion, as the largest increase in gender diversity has been on boards that were diverse already, and change amongst corporate America's largest boards has been sluggish.
But compare those facts to the state of entrepreneurship amongst women. Women primarily found small businesses, and have done quite well as entrepreneurs. American City Business Journals discovered that women own nearly half of all companies with less than four employees. In addition to this, the Guardian Life Small Business Institute predicted that, by 2018, more than half of all small businesses founded would be founded by women.
Mom and pop shops have become more mom than pop, and while women are not making the same strides in the boardroom, this development is extremely interesting. It is dangerous to rely on personal anecdotes to back up any assertion, but when I graduated from Pepperdine, I was offered a position on a few boards. While these were not multi-billion dollar multinational corporations, they were making money and growing, so inviting someone fresh out of business school was a bit of a gamble.
After talking about it with my husband and figuring out what I wanted to do in terms of a family, I denied the offer and instead chose to follow a different path. A path that eventually led me to MyCorporation, a company I bought and became CEO of. And I chose that path because I wanted to be able to spend time with my sons and my family. While a career was important, my family was my life, and I wanted a position where I can spend time with them without sacrificing my standing in the eyes of my employer.
Board positions require an immense amount of dedication, more dedication than I was willing to give. They also typically require that you work within a strict set of standards. Not every woman wants a family, but I did, so I couldn't spend that much time in a boardroom. I like being able to be the mom who helps out in her son's classroom, and had I not bought MyCorp that would have been impossible to do. So maybe there is a reason beyond patriarchal constraint to explain why women are not more represented on boards -- though, admittedly, sexism is still a serious problem in corporate America.
In fact, that could very well be another reason why women are avoiding traditional business models. They are flawed, static, and often inflexible. Instead of having to deal with a room full of people that are put off every time you voice your opinion, or face being stuck in a rut because no one wants to risk changing anything, many women are simply forgoing the traditional corporate ascent and striking out on their own.
Of course, those of us who have found success in business have a duty to mentor the generations of women still trying to figure out what they are going to do when they leave business school. Women who have made a board position work should share how they did it, and what to expect, and those of us who run our own businesses need to do likewise. Hopefully, as time goes on and more women make it in business, corporate culture will change and the barriers to entry that currently block many women from joining corporate boards will be knocked down.
We do not live in a world without gender -- gender still defines how we view others, and ourselves, and often determines what expectations are placed on us. But there is something inspiring about the fact that, despite gender assumptions, many, many, many women are proving their mettle by striking out on their own and founding their own businesses. Not everyone will be an immediate success, but the fact that Main Street USA is becoming a bit more female is heartening.