Why the Development of Strong Women is Good Business: A Business case or women’s leadership

I was recently asked to make a speech in front of AWiB partners on why supporting the development of strong women is good business. While writing the speech I felt I should share my thoughts with a wider audience on the AWiB blog, not just for representatives of organizations interested in working with AWiB, in the Business of Developing Strong Women Leaders since 2012, but also for every woman and man that will chance upon this piece. Yes, you.

To start with, I am thoroughly opposed to making a business case to supporting women’s leadership development or gender equality for that matter. Mostly because I believe we should not need to justify women’s God given right to be all that they can be. It is simply the right thing to do all in our power to right social injustices of any kind, including but not limited to the skewed gender participation rates in leadership. Do you not agree? Maybe you need a bit more? Fine. Here goes.

Women are missing from every single decision making table you can think of. When I say missing, I mean, it is bare, deserted of women folk out there! To start with, think of the traditional ‘Shimagle’ for wedding ceremonies and move up to leadership in local Kebeles, the boards of corporations, the parliament, ministerial cabinets. Think decision making and start counting!  When we talk about women in leadership, we are again focused on the lack of at each turn. When there are women in leadership positions, many will be the first to lament our collective ineptitude, our collective lack of leadership skills and collaboration.

But Why?

Women have been historically disadvantaged in the realms of education, experience and exposure yet they are expected to thrive in a system made for men by men. With added burdens of sexual harassment, stereotyping, sexism as well as social and child care responsibilities, women inevitably struggle to take on the mantle of leadership. Add to that a lack of networks or visible mentors, women simply do not feel at home sitting on the tables where decisions are made or executed.

Call it Glass Ceiling or not, nothing about leadership as it has been practiced so far shouts out women. Not yet anyway. Leadership is lacking in role models for women and in the sphere of leadership, examples matter, exposure matters and networking matters. In order for women to overcome the systemic bottlenecks that stand in the way of our success, we need access to role models, exposure and networking.

Why AWiB?

My experience in AWiB has been my enabler, helping me blossom into the strong woman I am continually evolving into. Experiencing AWiB has enabled me find myself anew, to augment my voice and celebrate my audacity. Creating a space that enables women’s leadership development is crucial for our community and AWiB is just that space. You only have to look at our members to see the transformative effect AWiB has for those that are committing to transform in her midst.

When I talk about leadership in this context, I am not talking about positional leadership.  I am talking about that ‘title less leadership’ that makes a change agent of each one of us. It does not just transform the individual; it transforms families, corporations and communities. Every one of my fellow board members and my husband tactfully asked me to share my ‘sweet side’ as I speak about AWiB.  My husband’s assertion, as well as the others I assume, is that I come across as sweet but I am actually not. He, along with the others, thinks it is best that the world sees Sweet Sewit before they meet ‘the other one’ who is a force to be reckoned with. Insert wink face for sweetness, I would not want to scare you off.

The contradiction is that AWiB herself is a hotbed for women that are forces to be reckoned with and we want that! Scratch that, we as a community needs that. Crave that. Long gone should be the days where the powerful woman (note I am saying powerful not empowered) is feared or ostracized. She should be the change agent, the spokesperson, proudly at the helm of decision making. See, simply by living contrary to the societal expectation of the simple sweet femininity, she embraces the complexities of her personality, soft and hard all at the same time.  This comes with being a force to be reckoned with and I love it, so does AWiB. In fact she embraces and celebrates it.

What is in it for you?

You the individual have a lot to gain from the outpouring of strong women from AWiB. The corporation, community and nation have millions to gain ($$$). Simply put, it does not make business sense to ignore half of the existing talent pool simply because they are women and visible role models in leadership attract other women to your organization, you want that. Research indicates that corporations with women in leadership positions fare better than those without and companies with women in their boards outperform their competitors financially, not to mention the benefits in employee retention.  The research is crystal clear; the higher the number of women in leadership positions in your organization, the better off your business is. So it is with pride, mixed in with a touch of pleasure and a dash of feistiness that I welcome you to join AWiB as we drive a cultural revolution that celebrates the extraordinary, odd and bold change makers that are Ethiopian women leaders.