It's no secret that women at work are one of the hallmarks of a successful economy.
“When women succeed economically, countries become more stable,” says Debra Iles, dean of executive education at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. “Their economic development is advanced.”
That's why it's so important for women who hail from emerging markets to enter the workforce. According to the International Finance Corporation, there's a global credit gap of around $285 billion for women entrepreneurs, meaning there's a $285 billion difference between the level of credit desired for women entrepreneurs and the level of credit that they actually get. Goldman Sachs research shows that closing this gap in the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China—and Next 11 countries—which include Turkey, South Korea, Mexico Indonesia and Nigeria—could increase income per capita by up to 12 percent by 2030.
But lack of access to education is one of the main impediments to women participating in the workforce in those emerging markets.
“In Europe, the education levels between women and men is almost in favor of women,” says Wem Naudé, dean professor at Maastricht School of Management (MSM) in the Netherlands. “That education inequality in Europe is not so much a factor anymore, while still in Africa that’s very much the case.”
That's why MSM and other schools around the world are offering executive education programs that target women business leaders and entrepreneurs from the developing world. MSM partners with 15 business schools in the developing world to offer its Women Entrepreneurship Program, a certificate program that explores how women's entrepreneurship leads to economic success, well as an MBA program in Egypt and entrepreneur courses in Tunisia and Morocco.
Harvard's Kennedy School, which offers executive education programs to business leaders working in the public and non-profit sectors, offers a course called Women in Power: Leadership in a New World that helps women from all over the world advance to leadership positions; the Kennedy School is also one of the partner institutions of Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Women program, an initiative to provide women from countries around the world with business education and mentoring.
And schools in BRIC markets such as the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad (IIM-A) and the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) are offering programs that specifically target women entrepreneurs in their countries. CEIBS regularly offers a program called Women in Leadership, a short program that's designed to teach leadership and managerial skills to women entrepreneurs by tackling topics such as the glass ceiling, the psychology of gender and women's role in the global economy, while IIM-A offers a program called Enhancing Leadership Capacities and Potential Among Professional Women, where women learn leadership skills and examine social constructs of gender that might constrain their potential.
The problems facing women entrepreneurs and business leaders in the developing world are many and varied, says Naudé. A large portion of women in developing countries are self-employed, far more than the number of self-employed men. Oftentimes these entrepreneurial ventures are essential to a family's well-being, and some women even run three or four enterprises at once.
“This is very important in Africa, where there is very little social security,” Naudé says. Women "will start their own enterprises and need to survive.” He adds, “It’s both a good thing that we know [about these challenges] and it’s also disconcerting that the obstacles that women entrepreneurs still face seem to be quite strong.”
But as much as women in the developing world and emerging markets face a particular set of issues, officials also say that they often face the same set of problems as women from Europe or the United States. Harvard's Women in Power program attracts women from all over the world, including the United States, Belize, Australia, the Congo, Egypt, Finland, Indonesia, Jordan and Kenya. Iles says every year when she runs the program, she witnesses the same social process on the first day of class.
“People from developed countries look around the room and say, ‘there are a bunch of people from developing countries here, I probably don't have much to learn from them,’” Iles says. “But they are amazed and astonished by how much we have to learn from each other, and that there are core issues that everyone has to deal with that are pretty much the same, even though the circumstances are quite different.”
She says that the issues her students often face include balancing work and family; receiving encouragement to take on difficult tasks and to assume work responsibilities that may distract from family responsibilities; and gaining respect from the established power structure.
Professor Neharika Vohra at IIM-A says she started the Enhancing Leadership Capacities and Potential Among Professional Women program 10 years ago because companies were not nominating women to attend her school's Leadership and Change Management executive education program.
“We would make requests to companies saying, don’t you have senior women leaders that you want to send? But unfortunately there were very few women coming into the program,” Vohra says.
Enhancing Leadership Capacities and Potential Among Professional Women teaches the same skills as the Leadership and Change Management program, but is targeted specifically at women. Vohra says she now teaches civil servants, entrepreneurs, doctors and bureaucrats about management, leadership skills, delegating and other foundations of the business world.
Most importantly, according to Vohra, the program gives students the courage and self-confidence to push ahead in their chosen fields.
“Several of them write back to say they have either changed jobs because they have realized in their current organization they will not grow, so they must join another organization, or some have been given higher responsibilities,” Vohra says.
Vohra says legally, companies in India must pay a fine if they do not have at least one woman on their board, but even so, many companies don't comply because they say they simply can't find a woman to assume a leadership position. That inequity is reflected in her classes. Although her women-specific program has become popular, she says of the 50 slots in her Leadership and Change Management program, only about four are occupied by women.
“I really think there’s a very strong bias, even in who gets trained, who gets opportunities for training,” Vohra says. “This bias is possibly not even conscious.”