Thursday, 1 August 2013

No news: GEM and Board Diversity report underwhelme

Yesterday, the annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Report  published in January, estimated that 126 million women entrepreneurs are active worldwide. Sounds a lot? Not really.

Key findings show that in most economies male entrepreneurs outnumber female and this imbalance is accentuated among mature, or sustained, enterprises.

The global picture is deeply fragmented and heterogeneous. While in Parkistan just one per cent of women is engaged in entrepreneurship, In Panama, Thailand, Ghana, Ecuador, Nigeria, Mexico and Uganda women entrepreneurs equal or outnumber men.

Sub-Saharan Africa (27 per cent) and Latin America and the Caribbean (15 per cent) lead the world in female entrepreneurship participation levels while the Middle East and North Africa (at 4-5 per cent) come bottom of the class.

This is a large-scale study - undertaken annually since 1999 and sponsored by Babson College. It synthesises significant amounts of data and presents intelligent analysis that should help inform national and international policy-making. Few would argue that encouraging rates of participation by women in entrepreneurship is a social good and an economic imperative. 

But there is little either new or unexpected in these data. The E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year programme - the gold standard of entrepreneurial success internationally - has only thrown up one overall female winner (Olivia Lum in 2011) in its 12-year history. National winners are overwhelmingly men. When I interviewed Lum for the FT, she said that women are "socially trapped".

This GEM report points to the same old barriers to progress: cultural expectations; lack of networking support and of course funding. For all the pro-diversity media hype, the picture on the ground is largely static.

No news too marked the recently published study into board performance by Thomson Reuters. Here the big news - roll of drums - was that mixed boards (where at least one board member is a woman) put in "marginally better or very similar performances" to all-male boards. 

The survey noted a gradual increase in female participation in corporate boards - up to 59 per cent from 56 per cent in 2008. But only 17 per cent of the companies analysed by Reuters comprised 20 per cent or more women. 

Here regional variations were as you might expect: EMEA companies have the highest proportion of gender-diverse boards, closely followed by the USA while Asia trails at the bottom of the diversity league.

The final piece of non-news in this report is that legislation has a bigger impact on increasing board diversity than media pressure. Well, there's a thing. 

The cause of gender diversity – the need to encourage women to be active in their national economies - has become mired. The issues have been so thoroughly debated and aired that we're all fed up with them. Women on boards, yawn. Women and entrepreneurship, yawn.

Please, someone, somewhere, show us something amazing; something out of left field; something counter-intuitive that is really working; something to wake us all up as the August heat threatens mortal torpor.

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