Management · April 22, 2021

Boosting the Role of Women in Business in the 2020s

The role of women in business has been evolving to reach higher-level and higher-visibility positions for decades, and the progress has been slow but steady. According to a recent study, women occupied 7.8% of the Fortune 500's CEO positions at the end of 2020, which is a historic high.

However, when you consider that women make up approximately 50% of the population, it's clear there's still plenty of work to be done in the 2020s to support women rising in the corporate ranks. Here's a closer look at some of the challenges women in business still face—and what they and their organizations are doing to creatively address these issues.

Supporting board membership

Women still lag behind in representation on corporate boards. At the current rate, the nation won't hit gender equality on boards until 2032. These roles can be critical, as they place members in key decision-making roles that impact business strategy and company culture. Having more women in these roles can help companies expand their perspectives and welcome a greater diversity of voices. Board positions also give those who fill them the opportunity to expand their networks, increase their visibility and become better leaders.

To accelerate the slow uptick in women's representation on corporate boards, Nasdaq's CEO Adena Friedman filed a proposal with the Securities and Exchange Commission that would require publicly traded companies to have at least one woman on their board and one member from an underrepresented group. Because most of these companies' boards are overwhelmingly white and male, this change would have a huge impact on women in business.

Securing venture funding

Women entrepreneurs also face serious inequities in access to venture capital. According to the Harvard Business Review, women-led startups received only 2.3% of venture funding in 2020—a reduction from an already low 2.8% in 2019.

To counter this, more businesswomen are founding their own venture firms. New venture founders include successful founders and entrepreneurs, former CEOs, and government specialists. One example is Theresa Gouw, who co-founded a smaller, early-stage capital firm, Aspect Ventures, that was highly successful. Her new firm, Acrew Capital, raised $250 million for a new fund. Another example is Inspired Capital, which raised $200 million. This firm was co-founded by Alexa von Tobel, creator of LearnVest, and Penny Pritzker, who is a former US Secretary of Commerce.

Spurring entrepreneurship

One of the major struggles in promoting equity in business is encouraging entrepreneurial-minded women to pursue their dreams and overcome the obstacles in their way. Luckily, online platforms are making resources more widely available to prospective owners of women-led businesses.

Two women, Carolyn Rodz and Elizabeth Gore, co-founded HelloAlice, which helps women and minorities access funding, source opportunities, and tap experts to help them start and scale their companies quicker. The site is highly automated, using machine learning to match business owners to personalized opportunities and resources. And on Instagram, the hashtag #WomenHelpingWomenInBusiness is supporting female business leaders in finding one another, so they can work together to achieve their business objectives or connect for guidance and mentorship.

Federal and local governments are also helping support this effort. The US Small Business Administration recently announced the biggest expansion of its Women's Business Centers in three decades, with 20 new centers opening their doors in 2021. Meanwhile, the Women's Entrepreneurship Initiative, backed by the city of Atlanta, also provides guidance and support to women in business on a more local level.

The changes in women's roles in business are picking up speed, and it seems women themselves are significant drivers of this acceleration. To continue to reduce the gender disparity in business throughout the 2020s, successful women will need to play a key role in supporting and encouraging aspiring female business leaders to pursue their vision.


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