Will The Social Economy be Far More Feminine?

Last week I participated in a podcast by the Guardian in the UK.  One issue we debated was the idea of a women-run investment bank.  I was highly supportive and put my name forward to sit on its (mixed!) Board.  My thinking—an excess of testosterone and an absence of diversity has nearly destroyed the western economic system—our investment banks need more balance.

These are tricky issues to address in print; one feels on a cliff edge in doing so, but this issue seems important.  There is much research which suggests that women are better equipped at exhibiting balance—at being aware of and acting in accordance with a wide-range of conflicting objectives.  In a financial meltdown caused by a lack of balance, are these not sound arguments for a more feminine approach to the economy—or simply more women in more senior places.

Rwanda, in the aftermath of its 1994 genocide, has since seen women attain many senior positions and the majority in Parliament.  More recently, Iceland was bankrupted by a set of reckless “cowboys”—now women have been given the political and economic reins.  In both cases this was not a planned or decreed handover; the people merely turned to women to sort out their mess (see a ClearlySo blog post on this subject).  Do we need to do the same elsewhere?

In the social economy this has already begun.  Think of some of the prominent figures in social business, enterprise and investment.  Anita Roddick was co-founder, driving spirit and the face of The Body Shop, one of the sector’s first mega-success stories and a business which changed how we think about consumer products.  The co-heads of Justgiving, the leading charitable giving website, are both women (Zarine Kharas and Anne-Marie Huby), and the two leading UK fairtrade brands, Cafe Direct and Divine (chocolate) are run by Anne MacCaig and Sophi Tranchell.  There are some great men as well, but compared to the traditional business sector the extent of this female presence is unique.

Do we need to encourage this further?  If so, how?

Could we be going too far in this direction?  If so, what are the risks?

Although it is a bit weird feeling that history is making my gender somewhat useless—our position is much of our own making.  I look forward with enthusiasm to seeing a more feminine economy, in the social enterprise sector and elsewhere.  We have had our chance!

First published in The Social Edge in October 2009

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