“Why Women Are More Effective Leaders Than Men”. That was the title of an article in Business Insider in January 2014, based on a study by the leadership consultancy group Zenger Folkman. The study evaluated leadership attributes of men and women, and found that women outscored men on most of them, but most significantly in the areas of taking initiative and driving results.
Additionally, other reports have found that women leaders, in comparison to men have superior communication skills, are better at fostering the development of a workplace community, have more patience and last but not least have a better work ethics. As corporate culture shifts from a top-down hierarchical system to a more collaborative leadership environment, women will likely continue to outperform their male counterparts.
In the business sector in Lebanon, how well are we promoting the professional growth of women at the workplace, and how well are women-led businesses supported? The answer is, not well enough it seems. Reports in 2013 showed that only around 3% of bank loans go to women entrepreneurs, and only one third of small businesses are owned by women. These figures highlighted an investment opportunity in a population that, according to studies, seems to fare well in running businesses. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), in collaboration with BLC bank in Lebanon, seized that opportunity and aimed to promote access to finance for women entrepreneurs in Lebanon.
The Women’s Empowerment Initiative is aimed at facilitating women’s access to funds to start and expand their businesses. It also offers various financial services, websites and forums to discuss business ideas, and opportunities for recognition, such as the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award given to honor successful businesswomen. Last but not least, this program aims to change attitudes about the role of women in society. The initiative was a success, with the results showing a significant increase in loans allocated to women for small and medium business and an increase in deposit accounts.
There are many more opportunities for banks in Lebanon to promote women in business, starting with their own employees. As a matter of fact, women make up 47% of the banking workforce. Women also make up the majority of bank employees under 40 years of age, around 10% more than their male counterparts.
The opportunity is there, then, within the banking system, to promote female employees to leadership positions, jobs where research has shown they could outclass their male counterparts. The rise of women to leadership positions within banks can also benefit women entrepreneurs all over the country through the implementation of more small business friendly financing programs and services.
The business world is experiencing a changing of the guard, with more and more women entrepreneurs emerging and accessing leadership positions. In Lebanon, the IFC and BLC experience has taught us that women entrepreneurship is an untapped market with great potential. Within the banking system, where women constitute the majority of the younger workforce, efforts to promote women in business have to continue, within the institutions and at the national level. If and when these efforts are successful in the banking system, other industries in the country will follow suit.
It is a commitment we owe to our women to allow them to grow professionally and prosper in our society.
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