Unlocking innovation and talent doesn't require a lot of financial or human resources. Throughout our travels we met people who challenge convention, solve big problems and start successful businesses and organizations using only their personal energy. What did they have in common? They all utilized skills and approaches traditionally seen as feminine, traits which are undervalued in the corporate world.
When SEWA, which stands for Self Employed Women's Association, first started in Ahmedabad, India in 1971, they were part of a larger trade union catering to textile laborers. Relationships with the trade union deteriorated over the next decade because of SEWA's outspoken support for women from lower castes and self-employed workers. Today, SEWA organizes microfinance loans to help poor workers avoid debt and establishes secure markets for craft workers. They offer education, health care, savings and loan programs, insurance and housing to members around the country. SEWA's president Kapila Vankar knows first hand what these women have been through. She made the transformation from a dispirited and isolated woman into a leader.
Eriko Yamaguchi faced an uphill battle when she decided to start a fashion design business. A Japanese native who had been bullied throughout her childhood, she moved to Bangladesh after university to get a graduate degree. While there, she coffee bags made out of coarse jute fabric inspired her to make expensive handbags to sell in Tokyo. Eriko partnered with a local factory that had been making sacks for potatos, but had a difficult time teaching them to produce expensive bags. To make matters more difficult, she explained, "I was a young woman in an Islamic country who had to be the boss." Eventually, by making her workers feel like partners and raising their pay, she was able to produce top quality handbags. By working hard to make a profit and a difference, Eriko was able to build a company, called Motherhouse, that today had eight retail stores in Japan and hour in Taiwan.
Feminine traits can be a great advantage in the world of start-ups. Adelaide Lancaster, who advises female entrepreneurs in New York City, believes that women have a more calculated approach to rish and better multitasking abilities that make them perfect to today's business environment. In our study, we found that 57% of all adults and 63% of millennials agreed that women led businesses are more likely to be successful today. Given the importance of feminine traits such as patience, empathy and collaboration, one wonders why the start up space remains a boy club?