Why I Don’t Support The Framework Of Women-Only Businesses
My business partner at Muse Capital Rachel and I have recurring discussions around whether to support businesses that only hire women. Whether we believe in Venture Capital firms that only cater to female run businesses. Work spaces that only allow women. Or even business programs run by women for women only.
There are some to whom the idea will sound extremely radical, but to most of my associates it is actually quite intuitive. Women, after all, have not only had less opportunities, but also have often not been taken seriously when they do fill important roles.
Leveling the playing field will take a fair amount of coercion, to the point that we may have to pull to the other extreme. So, I understand why a women-only businesses can be a good initiative.
My partner, Rachel, definitely feels that way. She strongly believes that you “can’t be what you can’t see.” And I agree. Young women will never feel empowered to go after the big opportunities, until they can see examples of others who have gone before them.
That said, an all-female approach is fundamentally missing something: diversity. The playing field is not level, but we cannot change that by marginalizing the genders even further. Because the fundamental truth is, it is diversity that breeds access and success.
Let’s not undermine ourselves
It is indisputable that young women need role models to help them believe in their own capacities. But I don’t believe that a boardroom full of women provides the type of role models we are pursuing. A female board member is much more striking in a heterogenous business than in a team full of only women. The latter does not prove that women are capable at success except in circumstances where they are given preference.
This is also why I hate condescending terms like girlboss, SHE-EO, or momtrepreneur. They put a qualifier on the concept of a successful female. As if she succeeded in spite of being female. Similarly, female-only businesses make it appear as if women can only succeed when the playing field is tilted towards them.
It is for this reason that I’m incredibly proud to have been the first female (and youngest) member on the board of the legendary Juventus Football Club. I joined a board that was already made up of extremely qualified men, and which has only gotten better with diversity. There are now 4 females on the 12 person board, and the fact that we have resolutely taken those positions, and not just been handed them, is incredibly powerful.
But the optics of women in a traditionally male-dominated space is only the tip of the iceberg when considering diversity.
Equality goes beyond homogeneity
Often when we speak of equality, our minds start thinking of homogeneity. Men and women can do the same jobs at the same levels. We all have the potential to be as capable and competent as each other, and our genders have nothing to do with that simple fact.
While that is undoubtedly true and important to acknowledge, equality means much more to me. I prefer to think in terms of equal opportunity. In an ideal world, both women and men whose characteristics span the entire spectrum of human experience will be given the chance to thrive in high-powered positions. They will not do exactly the same job, or bring exactly the same skills to the role, as the next person. Rather, they will adapt the role to suit their personalities.
In other words, instead of boardrooms filled with a very particular subset of men and women, we can create teams of contrasting personalities. Big thinkers, troubleshooters, dreamers, and creative wanderers, many of whom might look out of place in a typical executive position.
If we place our focus on that sort of diversity, we will naturally end up with equal opportunity teams. Because it is impossible to find diversity amongst one homogenous group, no matter their gender, ethnicity, or age.
The evidence has proven that it is diverse teams that ultimately do better. Gender diverse companies outperform their homogenous peers by 15%, according to McKinsey’s 2015 study. That number jumps to 35% when looking at ethnically diverse companies.
Let’s strive for transformation
What I’m suggesting is that, instead of levelling the playing field, we recreate it. We begin transforming our workforce from the ground up, focusing on diversity — diversity of thought, skill, as well as gender and demographics.
When we seek merely to level the playing field, we all too often end up buying into outdated definitions of what a successful businessperson should be. Boardrooms are full of men who fit what is seen as the masculine ideal.
Female-only businesses can end up unwittingly do the same thing. They all too often exclude others who would not usually have a place on a board or management team. Gender neutral or transgender individuals are left out. So are sensitive men, and those who simply cannot play by corporate rules and can never look the part.
Building on past success
It’s also important to note that the issue of equality is getting better by the year. Between 2007 to 2016, the number of female run businesses increased by 5 times the national average. More than 35 million female owned companies were started during that time. Yes, young women need role models. But we must not forget that there are already female trailblazers out there. We need to bring these women, and their stories, into the forefront.
An equal opportunity workforce
Realistically, we need to get to a point where women are no longer overshadowed by men in the workplace. We need more women in high positions, doing jobs traditionally done by men. We need to create a world in which a high-powered businesswoman is not unusual.
Part of the process requires us to demand that women are given more consideration. When we get into positions of power, we need to give women, along with others who have faced discrimination, the same opportunities that other candidates are given. Equality is in the opportunity.
However, forcing equality by promoting female-only ventures will only exacerbate a more fundamental problem: a systemic lack of diversity. Diversity of not only gender, ethnicity, and age, but diversity of the actual roles being fulfilled. By promoting diversity we can eliminate the homogeneity that has too long denied us of creativity.
Takeaway for leaders of today & tomorrow
Diverse management teams and gender equality are KEY to a healthy business. All the companies I work with, the leaders I support, know this full well. From the top down, talent acquisition is a challenge that demands companies hire a workforce that mirror a diverse population.
What I have been privy to see is leaders who identify the qualities needed to achieve a successful team and then select the candidates who have those qualities. So by default, if gender and race are non-issues, it will ensure that boards and management teams are representative of the world we live in today.
So when you become a leader, and are creating your team, do so with courage. A diverse group of people with different skills and different points of view won’t always see eye to eye, they may rub up against each other, there may be friction — but ultimately this will lead to stronger, more innovative results.
With my business partner and co-founder of Muse Capital , Rachel Springate