The United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) initiative launched in 2010. The initiative has been at the forefront of transforming business policies, practices, and approaches to advance gender equality and create opportunities for women and girls, engaging more than 2,000 businesses globally to date.
The annual WEPs Forum is the premier event on gender equality for the private sector, held every March at the United Nations Headquarters. The forum is a global platform for sharing successful policies, approaches, and tools that accelerate gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in the workplace, marketplace, and community.
Mary Kay signed on to the WEPs, and Chief Operating Officer Deborah Gibbins addressed the forum on the impact and importance of fostering female entrepreneurship. Mary Kay is a global business that has been committed to enriching women’s lives and empowering women for more than 55 years. When Mary Kay founded her namesake brand in 1963, she wanted to create a company where “thinking like a woman” was an asset, not an insult. Today, over 3 million Independent Beauty Consultants have embraced her philosophy.
Female entrepreneurs are the key to economic growth and poverty reduction. The World Bank found that in the United States, women-owned firms are growing at more than double the rate of all other firms, contribute nearly $3 trillion to the economy, and are directly responsible for 23 million jobs. We’re seeing similar global trends in the rise of women entrepreneurs. In 2016, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor found that 163 million women were starting or running new businesses in 74 different countries, and that since 2014, female entrepreneurial activity around the globe increased by 10 percent.
While female entrepreneurs have made great strides, obstacles to success still exist. In Gibbons’ address, she identified three universal challenges that restrict businesswomen around the globe.
- Social Norms: Many women-owned businesses are small scale, operated from home, and focused on retail or services. They are often tasked with a disproportionate share of housework and childcare duties, and don’t have the option of running a business outside their home because of social pressures or the perceived dangers of leaving the home.
- Last in Access, Training, and Skills: A combination of disparities in access, experience, and education are preventing women from gaining the skills they need to start their own enterprises.
- Lack of Capital: Women from Silicon Valley to sub-Saharan Africa face the same issues of access to capital. The keepers of the keys in the finance world tend to be men, who tend to support entrepreneurs who remind them of themselves. As a result, women with innovative ideas often have to fight even harder to get the capital they need.
To make the future of work work for women, we need to:
- Create support systems for women to ensure access to health, childcare, and insurance
- Close the digital gender gap and increase women’s access to tech and education
- Connect women-owned SMEs to new sources of finance
Mary Kay was always a believer in women’s potential, and Gibbins challenged the audience at the WEPs to “Make ‘thinking like a woman’ something to be proud of.”
Photo: UN Global Compact / Chae Khin for Joel Sheakoski Photography