Dealing with resistance to gender equality and 5 tips on how to respond

Below are five frequent comments heard by gender consultants followed by some tips, data and links to resources for addressing them:

  1. Women don’t want to work in male jobs
  2. There are enough women in politics
  3. In our country, women are equal…. It is their choice if they are in leadership positions or not
  4. There are no female experts on this issue
  5. Patriarchy is good for men (and gender equality only benefits women)

1. Women don’t want to work in male jobs

In reality, women are often not aware of the benefits, not visible as workers, not adequately protected  or simply not allowed to work in in male dominated sectors.

For example, in the US, a construction company[i] introduced gender neutral signs to mark construction sites for the first time in 2018.

In Kenya, a female auto mechanic[ii] notes a common challenge:  Men don’t believe that a woman can repair a vehicle. A man will think ten times before giving me a vehicle to repair.

The World Bank’s 2018 Women, Business and the Law report[iii] findings indicate that in 104 economies,  women are barred from working at night or in certain jobs in many areas, including manufacturing, construction, energy, agriculture, water and transportation. This negatively affects the choices of more than 2.7 billion women.

Even when legally allowed,  human resource practices in male dominated sectors such as utilities, construction, mining, waste management and recycling are often ill equipped to attract, recruit and retain women or protect them from workplace sexual harassment.

USAID’s 2018 Engendering Utilities Best Practices Framework[iv] provides a detailed guide to improving human resource practices in the man dominated utilities sector in order to not only attract but retain women as employees and in senior leadership positions.

  1. There are enough women in politics

A picture speaks a thousand words. Two images from the blog: What Politics Looks Like When You Delete Men From The Photos[v] are shown below. Even though these images are from 2015, they are still valid today.





Globally, Only 24.5 per cent of all national parliamentarians were women as of October 2019, a slow increase from 11.3 per cent in 1995. As of June 2019, only 11 women are serving as Head of State and 12 are serving as Head of Government[vi].



  1. In our country, women are equal…. It is their choice if they are in leadership positions or not

Perhaps, but successful women are often not advised to develop the most important traits needed for leadership (such as vision). Watch the TEDX talk by Susan Colantuono ‘The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get’[vii]  on how gendered differences in career advice given to women vs. men affects their leadership development.

  1. There are no female experts on this issue

Gender Avenger’s[viii] list  ‘How to Beat the Excuses: Responses to the Top 12 Excuses for a Lack of Women Speakers[ix] provides sample responses to common excuses such as:

EXCUSE #1: We know we have no women. We are always looking for ideas. Could you please send some names?

EXCUSE #2: I tried, but a lot of women were just too busy/unavailable.

EXCUSE #3: I can’t believe I didn’t notice. How embarrassing.

EXCUSE #4: You know how good we usually are and how hard we try. Look at last year…

EXCUSE #5: This is just the beginning. Stay tuned.

EXCUSE #6: 23% is good, because women make up less than 30% of the workforce or Studies show that 30% makes a big difference.

EXCUSE #7: They weren’t on the publicity list but there were a lot of women present.

EXCUSE #8: Our President is a woman and she opened and closed the event.

EXCUSE #9: Look how many of our moderators are women.

EXCUSE #10: The excuse given comes from a woman who was asked by a male organizer to respond.

EXCUSE #11: There just weren’t any women who met our criteria.

EXCUSE #12: Overall we have lots of special programming for women.


  1. Patriarchy is good for men (and gender equality only benefits women)

Patriarchy  is a social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line.

There’s a lot of data on the negative effects of patriarchal systems on women’s rights, health, education, livelihoods and well-being. But what are the effects on men?

In his book Homecoming[x], educator and author John Bradshaw describes the cost of patriarchy: Patriarchy is characterized by male dominance. But it doesn’t just mean men do it. Women who were raised by patriarchs can become patriarchs. It’s based on blind obedience without content: You do it because I say so. It’s based on the repression of all emotions except fear. It’s based on the crushing of the will at an early age: You obey me, you bind yourself to the will of authority.

A groundbreaking study by Promundo[xi] based on a random sample of young men aged 18 to 30 in the US, UK, and Mexico, reveals that most men still feel pushed to live in the ‘Man Box’ – a rigid construct of cultural ideas about male identity. This includes being self-sufficient, acting tough, looking physically attractive, sticking to rigid gender roles, being heterosexual, having sexual prowess, and using aggression to resolve conflicts

The study found that the majority of men who adhere to the rules of the Man Box are more likely to put their health and well-being at risk, to cut themselves off from intimate friendships, resist seeking help when they need it,  experience depression, and think frequently about ending their own life.

Young men inside the Man Box are more likely to have used violence against other young men – verbally, physically, and online – and to have sexually harassed women. They are more likely to have experienced violence themselves. They are more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as binge drinking, they are two to three times more likely to have been in traffic accidents, and they are less likely to have close relationships and friendships.

However, if conforming to the rigid norms of the Man Box were obviously disadvantageous to men, few men would do so. The picture is more complicated and navigating the rewards and punishments of manhood is a real dilemma in many settings.



Resources and links:

[i]Construction company rolls out first inclusive ‘at work’ signs

[ii]  From where I stand: “My dream is to own my own garage”

[iii]The World Bank’s 2018 Women, Business and the Law report – Press Release

[iv] USAID’s 2018 Engendering Utilities Best Practices Framework

[v] What Politics Looks Like When You Delete Men From The Photos

[vi] Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)

[vii] TEDX talk by Susan Colantuono ‘The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get’

[viii] Gender Avenger:

[ix]  How to Beat the Excuses: Responses to the Top 12 Excuses for a Lack of Women Speakers

[x]  Homecoming by John Bradshaw

[xi] Promundo Global:

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Gender equality in the technical workplace: Equipment matters!

space gloves-1Recently, many of us applauded Christina Koch and Jessica Meir  who made ‘herstory’ as the first all female crew to walk in space.

But this was not an intentional goal for NASA to achieve. The first female astronaut Kathryn Sullivan walked in space in 1984. Why the 35-year delay? It’s definitely not a pipeline problem. These days there are equal numbers of qualified female and male candidates vying for space missions.

It’s an equipment problem –  spacesuits only come in medium, large and extra-large sizes. Space suits are not being made that would fit women – and that’s the reason why women have less opportunities to  do space walks

The lack of intentionality to actively address the male norms for space flight limits diversity. It literally says, if you don’t fit the suit, you don’t fit in … when in fact body size and proportions have nothing to do with capabilities.

Another equally false assertion is that a large male body type is necessary since ‘there may be some heavy lifting during the mission’ but in zero gravity space conditions, this is nonsense.

NASA is finally catching on – a new one-size-fits-all  unisex spacesuit is currently under development. It’s still to be seen if the unisex option is adequate for space. It has not been the promising solution for the construction industry.

Traditionally In the construction industry, safety gear or PPE (personal protective equipment) was designed to fit average sized men. As more women started working on construction sites, large manufacturing companies introduced unisex  PPE options. More often than not, unisex gear is simply a smaller version of the existing PPE range.  While unisex safety gear may be appropriate for some limited situations, women are not just smaller-sized men, their body configurations and proportions are different. Correctly sized and fitted PPE is especially important for hazardous settings.

For example, if gloves are too big, you may be clumsy. If  your hard hat falls off every time you look up, you may need to use one hand to hold it on. If boots are too large, you may be prone to tripping or falling. Ill-fitting gear leads to both reduced safety and productivity.

But even when PPE gear is marketed for women, it does not mean that it has been tested on women. In some cases, fall protection harnesses have been adapted to fit women’s bodies more comfortably, but they have never actually been biomechanically tested on women. In deadly situations, there is no guarantee they will actually work.

Women workers, already highly visible in a male dominated industry, don’t want special attention or  treatment – they just want to get the job done like their male co-workers. Too often this means putting up with ill-fitting unisex gear their bosses bought in bulk on Amazon.

The right talent ‘fit’ for the job should not be limited by the lack of suitable equipment to adequately enable and protect different body types.

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Revolutionizing the workplace for new modern families through digital support

At work, starting a family is generally viewed as a personal issue – something that needs to be taken care of outside of the workplace. However, given the prevailing notions of traditional gender roles, this disproportionately affects new mothers. And the results have come with high economic costs as large numbers of mothers leave their career-track jobs to care for children. If these mothers reenter the workforce, they usually take part-time positions or work as consultants resulting in massive losses in human capital.

However, families, labor force demographics and businesses are rapidly changing. Most modern families are now based on dual income households and do not have a support system (such as extended family) nearby.  In the US, the majority of women with a young child are in the labor force, and more mothers are serving as their family’s sole or primary “breadwinner.” Businesses, both large and small, especially innovative companies working in highly competitive sectors are increasingly aware that if they want to attract and retain top talent, supporting new parents is no longer an option but a necessity.

In response, innovative solutions to support new parents are being introduced such as the Cleo app. The Cleo app uses technology-based solutions to provide easy connectivity, access and affordability with personal care to revolutionize the work-life balance for working parents. Founded in 2016 by Shannon Spanhake and Chitra Akileswaran, Cleo’s mission is to help women and men navigate through the stages of new parenthood: becoming a parent, being a new parent, and then finding success as a working parent.

Currently available in 35 countries, the Cleo app provides comprehensive prenatal and postpartum care connecting parents to trusted, vetted, experts in specialties ranging from lactation consultants, nutritionist and sleep coaches to parenting and family therapists and career strategists (to plan parental leave and return to work). Consultations can take place in-person, via skype and can be accessed via 24/7 text messaging. Cleo also provides support for diverse parenting needs ranging from LGBTQ parents and single parents to adoption and surrogacy options.

The Cleo app is currently being provided by large companies such as Ebay but also as a cost effective and affordable benefit offered by small and medium-sized companies. Some of  the Cleo app’s medium sized company clients including the social bookmarking tool Pinterest, the public accountancy firm BPM  and social publishing network Medium. Direct business benefits include health savings, retention and attraction of women and senior talent as well as staying connected to employees while they are on parental leave.

But perhaps one of the most revolutionary impact of the Cleo app is the increased engagement of fathers. Most Millennial fathers and mothers are comfortable using digital technology and with the Cleo app both can equally access information, text message and hop on joint consultations via skype increasing the options to stay informed and actively involved as working parents.

See also:

Marwan, S. (2018)  Parenthood Transition Startup Cleo Raises $10.5 Million Series A Round, Forbes, June 13, 2018

Spanhake, S. (2018) Parents Are the Future of Work: We raised $10.5M from Greylock Partners to continue supporting modern families to succeed at work and home, Medium, June 13, 2018

Welsh, J. (2018) Cleo Raises $10M Series A To Help Millennials Better Manage Their Money, Forbes, September 21, 2018

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Gender and Venture Capital Lead Investors: Why does it matter?

According to Crunchbase in 2017, only 8 percent of venture capital (VC) partners of the top 100 VC firms globally were women. According to a recent study conducted by Gender Metrics , an even smaller percentage of women act as lead VC investors. This gender disparity is impacting which entrepreneurs get funding as well as how funded companies develop and grow.

Why focus on lead VC investors? Lead VC investors tend to exert the greatest influence on investment deals: they set the price and terms of the investment, take a large part of the round, and usually represent the entire funding round on the funded company’s board.

Research data on lead VC investors for Early Stage investments made in the United States (2012 – 2016) was compiled using the Pitchbook database. The bubble graph provides a visual representation of the study’s results. Each bubble represents a VC partner lead investor. The size of the bubble indicates the overall number of deals per lead investor. Female lead VC investors are represented by green bubbles and male lead VC investors represented by blue bubbles.

The total sample of 283 VC partners includes 38 female VC partners (13 percent) and 245 male VC investors (87 percent). The highest number of deals by a single lead investor was 122. Two male VC partners reached this level of deals in 2012 – 2016. The highest number by a single female VC partner was much lower at 56 deals.

It is also critical to note that during this time period, the vast majority of female VC partners (63 percent) were not active as lead VC partners in any of the VC deals made. In comparison, a much smaller percentage (38%) of male VC partners were not active as lead VC partners.

These preliminary results indicate that in terms of VC deal impact, women are playing an even smaller role than would be expected when looking at the total numbers of female VC partners. In other words: Measurement matters –  VC headcount and VC deal impact are not the same.

Solution? Creating more VC firms founded, funded and focused on women is part of the solution. Increasing the numbers of women VC partners in existing VC firms is another part of the solution. Increasing the numbers of women VC partners active as lead investors in VC deals must also be an integral component for tipping the scales toward gender parity.

What else? Real change needs to incorporate tracking and benchmarking mechanisms: Tools, metrics and measurements that take into account the entire scope of VC firm activities.

For further information including later stage investment results click here.

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Over $1 billion funding for women entrepreneurs – Will it work?

The Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, also known as We-Fi is a $1 billion dollar fund and potential game changer in accelerating the further expansion of women’s entrepreneurship in developing countries beyond the micro level.

Launched at the G20’s leaders’ summit in July, the fund, administered by the World Bank and International Finance Corporation will be allocated to programs initiated by multilateral organizations such as the Inter- American Development Bank (IDB), Asian Development Bank (ADB), African Development Bank and others.

But will it work? Beyond the initial investment… will it be able to create more opportunities for women to start, grow and reap the benefits of successful entrepreneurship? Three issues are important to consider in the process before actual funding takes place: Ensuring longevity, Avoiding ghettoization, and Target group identification.

1.Ensuring longevity

$1 billion USD is substantial amount but not a limitless supply of money. Past experiences have shown that similar types of programs such as guaranteed loans for women entrepreneurs disappear once the project funding has been spent.

The issue is embedding a new gender aware mindset within the implementing institutions.

  • This approach should include gender training for all decision-making levels and departments, not only the directly affecting staff. Brainstorming how other services could also be offered, developed and integrated.
  • A timeline for the stages of integration should be developed prior to project approval so that only institutions that are committed to integrating and ensuring the continuation as well as expansion of services receive funding.
  • See also the next point below….

2. Women entrepreneurs are ‘ghettoized’ and only considered for funding earmarked for women entrepreneurs

An important sub-component of the We-Fi should be raising the visibility of women entrepreneurs through metrics and data collection:

  • Metrics need to be systematically integrated and increase the data on women entrepreneurs (who get funding and outcomes) what works and what doesn’t work.
  • There should be an individual skilled in data collection included in the project team and budget.
  • Before data collection, the needs of three key stakeholders must be incorporated: 1) What types of metrics do fund managers need? 2) What type of data helps in further project development and implementation? 3) What type of data would be useful for policy making at the regional/national level?
  • The collected data should be compiled and developed into analytics.
  • The resulting analytics are made available to other institutions (banks, funding agencies, multilaterals) as tools to screen/access potential candidates for funding (similar to the use of psychometrics for bank loans).

3. Maintaining a focus on high growth women entrepreneurs

Surprisingly, this may be the most difficult issue to address. Operationalizing ‘growth oriented’ entrepreneurship is especially tricky since existing definitions tend to be vague or difficult to measure. Yet it is of paramount importance that  the growth aspect not be lost in the administration of programs and initiatives. Clear definitions of growth-orientation need to be developed since traditional micro-finance programs are not able to meet the funding or capacity building needs of growing businesses.

Working definitions should be developed prior to project funding and incorporate elements of business track record (employees, revenue, profits), sector viability, innovativeness (current and potential) entrepreneur human and social capital (skills,  networks, experience, education, etc.) as well as aspirations for growth.  See earlier blog on Defining high growth/high impact entrepreneurship.

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Defining high growth/ high impact entrepreneurship

entrepreneurship-lighbulb(1)A widely accepted definition of high growth entrepreneurs identifies these enterprises as exhibiting an average annual growth (number of employees or by turnover) greater than 20% over a 3 year period[1]. Based on this definition, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that high growth firms constitute between 3% and 6% of all firms.

Another definition for high impact companies introduced in 2011 takes into account a firm’s sales and employment growth[2]. High-impact companies showed sales that at least double over a 4 year period and an employment growth quantifier (product of its absolute and percentage employment change) of at least two.

However, both these definitions require large amounts of firm level, longitudinal data that is difficult to operationalize across multiple countries and regions.  A 2011 Ernst and Young study of entrepreneurship in 60 countries found that only 3 out of every 1,000 respondents achieved high growth[3]. These high impact entrepreneurs were defined in terms of their growth aspirations: as those entrepreneurs who intend to increase their number of employees fivefold in the next 5 years. They also exhibited certain identifiable characteristics: They tended to be college educated and had internationally-oriented businesses. The study was based on Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) data.

In 2015 the Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders Scorecard adapted the parameters introduced by the 2011 Ernst and Young study to specifically identify high impact women entrepreneurs.  The Scorecard defined high impact women entrepreneurs as those who exhibit characteristics associated with high growth outcomes but which may currently be aspirational rather than already achieved[4]. The 3 criteria used included: college educated women entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurs that have a  market-expanding, innovative businesses and are intending to employ at least 10 people and plan to grow more than 50% in 5 years. Market expanding, innovative businesses are identified as the percentage of women entrepreneurs with more than 1% of customers outside of the home country.



[1]OECD (2007). Eurostat-OECD Manual on Business Demography Statistics, Paris: OECD.

[2] Tracy, S. (2011). Accelerating Job Creation in America: The Promise of High Impact Companies, Research report commissioned by the U.S. Small Business Administration, No. 381

[3] Morris, R. (2012). ‘The 2011 High-impact Entrepreneurship Global Report’, sponsored by Ernst and Young, Endeavor, and the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor

[4] Aidis, R., Weeks, J. and Anacker, K. (2015), The Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders Scorecard 2015: Data and Methodology


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How homophily hurts high-growth entrepreneurship


Homophily refers to the tendency for people to form connections with others like themselves. This tendency has been found to occur broadly across age, race and political inclination. Homophily has also been found to influence many types of relationships ranging from personal friendships and marriage to business-related work advice and support. No surprises then, that homophily also affects Venture Capitalists (VCs) in their hiring behaviors as well as in funding of high-growth entrepreneurs. In fact, recent research by Gompers & Wang (2017) identified patterns of homophily-based hiring by VCs and homophily-induced information flows. Both of which have resulted in fewer women choosing to be high-growth entrepreneurs or VCs.

The real issue is not blatant sexism, but rather a marginal preference for a male vs. female candidate which results in more male VC partners and more VC funding for male high growth entrepreneurs. At the VC firm level, a small bias towards hiring someone of the same gender may seem trivial but the cumulative effect results in persistently low representation of women in the VC industry. In other words, ‘individual’ preference in the ‘white’ male dominated VC industry translates into a continuing trend of ‘white’ male dominated VC firms in spite of the presence of suitable candidates that are women.

Ample evidence captures this trend: Of the top 100 VC firms in the US, only 7% of the VC partners are women and only 18% of funded companies were founded by women in 2016.

Why does it matter?

At the personal level homophily may feel like the right thing to do but in reality interferes with rational judgement of individual or business merits. Moreover, homophily can result in unintentional glass ceiling effect consequences for those individuals such as women, who are not already well-represented in the VC community.

The negative effects of gender homophily have been identified elsewhere including among US physicians in referring specialists to Medicare patients. In this case, since most referrals are still made by male physicians, biased referrals lower demand for female specialists. Since specialists tend to earn more than primary care physicians, this behavior significantly contributes to the average gendered earnings gap among physician specialists.

The simple solution in both cases, for VCs and physicians alike, would be to increase the numbers of women at the decision-making level. However, at a more fundamental level, in order to counter the persistent effects of homophily, increased exposure to diversity as well as increased availability and use of metrics and assessments would allow for ‘choices’ to develop based on a broader range of criteria that go beyond superficial similarities.

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