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Recent advances and current challenges of women in business

For most of the past years, the most significant advances regard women as successful entrepreneurs. Considering current challenges, what is needed is a way of changing people´s evaluations and attitudes in reconciliation policies as well as how women should react to prove that they can be at the top of any management position.

Regarding recent advances, women have continued to increase their representation in the paid workforce which, in Spain began in the 70s. This, together with access to higher education, have led to outstanding achievements. One of the most relevant is the success of women as entrepreneurs:

–         Nine out of ten entrepreneurs who closed their businesses in 2010 in Spain were men (since may 2008, we have lost 308.529 entrepreneurs, 252.920 men and only 55.609 women, source: Asociación de Trabajadores Autónomos)

–         Women have proved to be smart enough to start up their business in sectors  less hit by the crisis. Most of female entrepreneurs are dedicated to commerce (>30%) while men are dedicated to the construction sector (20% against 1% in women)

–         Furthermore, women have been able to adapt easily to changes and crisis, demonstrating skills in business that should not be overlooked (accepting a different post position in the same company or a reduction of the salary, for example)

In addition, considering the challenges ahead, there is an increasing participation of women holding chairs  at the Boards of Directors, not only in small and medium firms but also in listed companies compared with ten or twenty years ago. The problem is that, so far, the number of women in Boards of Directors remains very low. The long working hours associated with management positions, the notably competitive nature of management careers, and companies’ lack of sensitivity to work-family reconciliation issues are the main reasons why women are still a minority among managers.

Therefore, to tackle the challenges ahead, I would propose two different ways of action:

1) A conciliation of woman managers at three levels is needed: public, domestic (friends and family) and personal development (as an individual).  To achieve this goal a mindset change about the relationship between work and personal life is strongly needed.  I dare say we need more flexibility: managing by objectives and incentives, flexible scheduling, telecommuting and so on.

2) Women also need a mindset change: more visibility, both internal and external. Best practices should be known by everyone. Until now, men are much more active in participating in associations, groups and conferences. Women need to tell the world how special they can be as top managers.

In any event, the next years will determine the role of women: although recent advances have been made, notably regarding entrepreneurs, there is much to be done, specially gaining gender equality at Board of Directors level. It is in this light that I expect all the key participating agents to take the far-sighted measures necessary to attain this goal: a completely mindset change

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