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Are women transforming organisations?

  Primitive descriptions of the "manager of the future" uncannily match those of female leadership, writes futurist Ivana Milojević from Brisbane.

"Consultants try to teach male managers to relinquish the command-and-control mode. For women that came naturally many of the attributes for which women's leadership is praised are rooted in women's socialised roles. The traditional female value of caring for others balanced with sufficient objectivity is the basis of the management skill of supporting and encouraging people and bringing out their best, a skill now highly valued by management experts."

Working at the University of Queensland, Ivana Milojevic has a special interest in feminist futures, which she has been researching with data from Australian as well as global sources.    She argues that while women have come a long way toward taking their place on an equal footing with men at work, there is still a long way to go.   However much of this ground may be covered by organisations moving forward to meet feminine values, rather than women fighting for recognition in organisations.  

Another key factor is the strong role of women in developing small business, and creating job opportunities in small enterprises for themselves and others.

"In the future, institutions will be organised according to the networking model (as opposed to the pyramid structure)," she said.  "The top responsibility of managers will be creating a nourishing environment for personal growth, providing holistic development and motivation.   The management style of women is ideally suited to these people priorities."

More than half of women business owners (53%) emphasize intuitive or "right-brain" thinking. This style stresses creativity, sensitivity and values-based decision making. Seven out of ten (71 per cent) male business owners emphasize logical or "left-brain" thinking. This style stresses analysis, processing information methodically and developing procedures.

Women business owners' decision-making style is more "whole-brained" than their male counterparts, that is, more evenly distributed between right and left brain thinking.

According to the National Foundation for Women Business Owners, women business owners are more likely than all businesses to offer flextime, tuition reimbursement and job sharing.  Women business owners tend to share their business' profit with employees at a much earlier stage than other businesses:  nearly twice as many woman-owned firms employing fewer than 25 employees (14%) have set up such programs compared to all small firms with 20 or less employees (8%).

"Forty per cent of women-owned businesses offer flexitime, while only 30 per cent of all small firms do, which suggests that women business owners are more likely than all business owners to accommodate the special work needs of their employees.

"This gap widens as business size increases, with 40 per cent of women-owned firms with 25 or more employees offering flexitime, compared with only 19 per cent of all firms of approximately the same size."

Involvement in the professional development of employees is another area where women-owned businesses differ in the benefits opportunities provided. Twenty-one percent of women-owned businesses offer tuition reimbursement programs, compared with only 8 per cent of all small businesses.

"The employee benefits offered by women-owned businesses make it evident that these firms are not only a powerful economic force, but are also an important and influential social force," says Ivana Milojevic.

"At every stage in their businesses, even when the organisations are young or small, women business owners provide their employees with a comprehensive package of benefits which set the standard for the rest of society."

Patricia Aburdene and John Naisbitt, authors of Megatrends for Women (1992), agree that the trend is toward a women's leadership style, based on openness, trust, ongoing education, compassion and understanding. Women are more likely to succeed because women admit they need help and surround themselves with good people: they are cautions, strategic risk takers, whose resourcefulness and resolve increase as circumstance become more difficult (this from a study by Avon Corporation and an American based research firm).

Qualities usually mentioned include attitudes towards team building and consensus.   For example, a study of 550 city managers in the US showed that women were more likely than their male counterparts to incorporate citizen input, facilitate communication and encourage citizen involvement in their decision-making.
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panel - WOMEN AT WORK

Women-owned businesses are now employing more people in the United States than the Fortune 500 companies worldwide.

The number of women-owned firms in the United States has jumped 103 percent from 1987 to 1999. Today there are 9.1 million, representing 38 percent of all businesses and employing more than 27.5 million people.

In 1987 two million female-owned businesses had $US25bn in sales.   One year later, five million female-owned businesses had $US83bn in sales.

Top growth industries for women-owned businesses between 1987 and 1999 were construction, wholesale trade, transportation/ communications, agribusiness, and manufacturing.

Women-owned businesses are as financially sound and creditworthy as the typical firm in the U.S. economy, and are more likely to remain in business than the average US firm.

Around the world,  women-owned firms comprise between one-quarter and one-third of the businesses in the formal economy, and are likely to play an even greater role in informal sectors.

In Japan, the number of women managers is still small (around 300,000), but it has more than doubled over the past 10 years.

In Australia, the proportion of women working in their own business is also growing. Women working in their own business in Australia numbered 216,300 in 1983-84 and 272,400 in 1989-90, an increase of approximately 26 per cent.

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