International Women’s Day, 8 March, marks its 100th Anniversary this year. Celebrating women’s ever increasing influence in the business world, Suzy Ogé, Director of the Women’s Business Initiative International looks at four trends that will help women leap ahead in the coming years.
One of the persistent problems in European based companies is the lack of successful women role models. Less than 10 percent of board members are women and only three percent of companies in Europe are led by a women CEO. In countries like Italy, the few women at the top are often running their family’s empire. Sadly the highest ranking Italian on the Forbes List of most powerful women is Marina Berlusconi; not exactly inspiring legions of bright young women to see themselves as the potential future business leaders of Italy.
Unlike Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, the top two “Power Women” Irene Rosenfeld, CEO Kraft Foods, and Indra Nooyo, CEO Pepsico are not exactly household names, even though the companies they lead sold over USD 42 Billion and USD 48 Billion in sales last year respectively.
The good news is that some young dynamic and successful business woman are emerging as role models. The even better news is that these women hold key positions in technology companies that attract not only the attention of the mainstream media, but of younger women too.  Two fine examples are Google’s Marissa Mayer and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. Marissa Mayer, 35, was one of the first 20 employees of Google and the first woman hired as an engineer.She is now the head of consumer products and most often represents Google’s Strategy and vision in public communications.  Sheryl Sandberg is the Chief Financial Officer at Facebook. Although Sandberg made the switch from Yahoo to Facebook later than the point where the movie, “The Social Network” left off, Mark Zuckerburg sought out Sheryl Sandberg for her strengths and experience to run the business aspects of Facebook. Increased visibility of women in the technology sector is crucial to influence younger women’s educational choices. These new role models succeeding in such high profile companies are sure to sway a number of women to consider career choices away from the traditional care and service sectors.

New ways of working

While men traditionally rank the prestige and financial compensation of their work as being most important, women value the content, fulfilment, camaraderie, and flexibility. The next trend underway is the big shift away from ‘nine to five’, or ‘seven to seven’ shifts in corporate cubicles, to more flexible work, both in relation to time and place.
The widespread acceptance by corporations of this new way of working, gives women new possibilities in their quest to manage work and life. Time shifting and work from home are two popular options, but a Blackberry and flexible work options alone are not enough for companies to ensure that women will rise through the ranks. For example, if a majority of women choose part-time work, the result could be similar to the widespread problem in the Netherlands, which has the highest percentage of women working part-time in Europe. The number of women participating in the workforce is high, but the number of women who advance to senior management is extremely low.
Women who choose to take advantage of flexi work options and work away from the office more often, could also be impacting career advancement by potentially missing out on face time, which is still valued by traditional companies, as well as informal networking and relationship-building opportunities. Finding the right company that is both performance- and results-driven is important. Utilizing the right combination of flexible work options is an important decision for every woman to make in managing her own career
Another way for women to make it to the board room is to build their own business. More women than ever are opting to start a business.  One third of starters are women.  Some seek the flexibility of being their own boss; some are making a dramatic career shift, while others have an overwhelming desire to take a shot at launching their big idea. Approximately  one in three new companies are started by women in Europe, while in developing countries, such as Peru and Brazil, the percentage of women-owned businesses is much higher and driven by economic need.
There is ever growing support and resources for women both online and offline to help start and grow a business. In addition, co-working centres and incubators, like the Women’s Business Initiative in the Netherlands bring women together to share a professional workspace as well as their experience, tips and networks.  These types of Business network groups can help women build their confidence and fill in gaps in their business knowledge; enabling them to go out and flourish in their own business community or sector.
In addition to the success stories and mentors women encounter through business network groups, a new role model for entrepreneurial women has also recently emerged: Arianna Huffington. Her star is rising as a new media darling and savvy business woman.  Born in Greece and educated in the U.K., Arianna started the Huffington Post in 2005 with one million dollars and grew the site to attract 25 million visitors every month. AOL bought The Huffington Post last month for USD 315 million and named Arianna Huffington the head of the new combined media group.
When Forbes first published a list of most-influential women in media in 2009, Arianna Huffington debuted at number 42. You can bet when the list comes out this year that she will be perched much closer to the top, and not only on the women’s list.
Connecting through technology
The same connectivity that gives women more flexibility in their corporate jobs can also facilitate the start up of a new business. The same BlackBerry or Smartphone that keeps you connected to your boss or departmental employees can also keep you connected to your clients or employees of your own business. New technologies also enable women to create professional identity for their business to compete against larger more established companies without spending a fortune.  Creating a corporate identity, web presence, fulfilment process and payment handling can all be done for a fraction of the cost in past years and with virtual suppliers anywhere in the world.
Social media and online marketing are great low cost options to promote business and attract customers. Social networking is an effective tool to build a professional network, find complimentary businesses and potential partners. In fact a higher percentage of women than men are using social media. The internet opens doors to women who would otherwise have limited access to the business world, due to geography or not working outside the home.
Women more often than men have gaps in their employment, for family reasons. Effectively utilizing an existing professional network is a key to start up success. Luckily, sites like LinkedIn can help women keep their professional network intact and thriving. The ‘old boys’ networks will be less of a barrier in the future due to the transparency created by social media and the ever diminishing layers of privacy.
These trends and the speed of change in the world around us bring opportunities for women.  As you watch these trends unfold; new female role models, the proliferation of flexible work, increase in entrepreneurship, and the technology-driven connectivity, you’ll see that the women who grab these tools and go for it will succeed.
By Suzy Oge,
Originally published on