The FINANCIAL — While the business world might prove a more democratic venue for women in Georgia than other walks of life, several gender-related factors still prevent them from taking over the big business scene.
Instead, female entrepreneurs tend to remain confined to running small and medium enterprises (SMEs), exploiting certain advantages of gender stereotyping and relying on the market as an impartial measure of their abilities.
“In business, women feel more equal to men because here you have very objective criteria, a market, and the market does not have a perception about who is doing business, a woman or a man,” said Nana Adeishvili, director and founder of two private enterprises and a long-time SME consultant. “If you are good, you are good and if you are not good, then your business is going to fail.”
Adeishvili has been in business since 2005, at one point serving as General Director of the United Telecom of Georgia. She holds a PhD at Moscow State University, an MA from Columbia University and an MBA from the Bled School of Management in Slovenia.
Betsy Haskell, former owner of Betsy’s Hotel, said that ever since she has been in business in Georgia, starting in about 1992, her experience here has never unveiled any outwardly apparent gender discrimination. “I do not see any particular bias against women in business here,” she said.
However, even with the absence of outward inequality, some gender-related factors still prevent women from exercising their full business potential. “The only thing holding them [the women] back, I think, is the fear. The risk factor,” Haskell said.
Adeishvili also said that as a woman she is more risk averse. However, even this apparent weakness can bring positive results, especially when it comes to acquiring credit. “Because there is a perception that women are lesser risk-takers [than men] banks like them more,” Adeishvili said.
Certain traditionally imposed social constraints also inhibit women from making their way from the household into the business scene. “I do not think one could really say that across the board there is a problem for women, I think that much of the constraints on women are self-imposed,” Haskell said.
Women in Georgia often chose to run businesses that allow them to preserve their traditional roles of wives and mothers. Thus, many female entrepreneurs decide against expanding their businesses as long as the income they acquire satisfies their personal requirements and those of their families. In fact, after the collapse of the Soviet Union women became much more economically active than men; a desire to protect and provide for their children caused them to take hold of opportunities brought about by free and unregulated markets.
However, many say that women’s business activities often tend to stop at the start-up level. “Women have a very traditional role here and so I think they do not generally want to, unless really pressed, sacrifice that role of wife, mother and grandmother, so they do what they can do as long as they can manage everything,” Haskell said.
Georgia’s international ranking also shows that while women are more equal to men in the business world than in some other areas; they still trail in terms of gained benefits. According to the Global Gender Gap Index 2009 – which is a framework for capturing the magnitude and scope of gender-based disparities undertaken by the World Economic Forum – Georgia ranks 83rd out of 134 countries surveyed. According to the Index, the most favorable area of equality was in terms of Economic Participation and Opportunity, where Georgia ranked 57th in the world, but in both Health and Survival and Political Empowerment Georgia ranked 131st and 103rd respectively.
In terms of Economic Participation and Opportunity, Georgia was marked favorably in the sub-indexes of proportion of women in professional and technical roles (ranking joint 1st in the world), with women outranking men at a ratio of 1.62:1, and in terms of wage equality for similar work (ranked 3rd). The biggest negative factor in this area, however, was in terms of estimated earned income (ranked 119th), with Georgian men thought to have two thirds more purchasing power than women.
Even though gender plays a role in the business environment, it does not only affect businesswomen adversely. Female entrepreneurs interviewed by the FINANCIAL said that being a woman can also prove advantageous when doing business.
“I can say that we are on a much better ground than men because everybody does everything possible, and impossible, to help a woman,” said Maia Rcheulishvili, President of Center Point Group construction company and one of the most successful and influential businesswomen in Georgia.
Helpful attitudes aside, gender stereotypes often cause men to cultivate a spirit of superiority. “This is what Georgian men have always had and they always think that they are much smarter than women,” Rcheulishvili said.
Such practices, however, can make the business world a playground for women. With men underestimating women, “…. they make mistakes and these mistakes have a direct impact on their businesses,” Rcheulishvili said.
Business can thus prove a venue that turns gender biases upside down, making the one guilty of stereotyping pay for his negligence. “Because of the men’s perception that women are weaker during the negotiations, for example, they relax and do not estimate the opposite side as being an equal. Seeing a woman talking to them, they start to miss the point, they maybe do not take it seriously enough and start losing,” Adeishvili said.
While many women in Georgian feel comfortable owning SMEs, especially beauty salons and guest houses, which seem to be the favorite ventures for female entrepreneurs, big business remains fairly unreachable. According to research carried out by the FINANCIAL in February this year, only 100 companies (from 645 companies and organizations in Georgia) are headed by women, either in the position of Director or Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
The presence of female CEOs was the highest in the health care sector (37%), followed by the consumer service sector (23%) and non-governmental and consumer discretionary sectors (17%).
“When you are working for somebody then of course there is an inequality issue,” Adeishvili said. “For a woman to prove that she is equal she has to be at least three times better than a man.”
Rcheulishvili said that one of the reasons she became so successful in big business was that, prior to launching her own company, her husband “had given his agreement” for her to do so. Speaking about women as a whole, she said that in the area of big business “the men hold the women back, they do not encourage women to fly high.”