In theory, men and women have equal opportunities – especially when it comes to starting their own businesses. If you have a good idea, and can find some funding for it, then the business should succeed or fail based on the quality of your idea, and your business skills.
However, it doesn’t always work out like that. When you’re running an online business, and you rely on a store front, ecommerce fulfilment solutions, and perhaps outsourced support, nobody knows your gender. Once you step into the public eye, the differences in the way men and women are treated become apparent.
One such example is the story of Susan Parker, who designed a set of prom dresses, and had them made by a factory in China. When she received the dresses, they looked gorgeous, but they fell apart as soon as they were put on. The problem with the dresses was “seam slippage” something that is difficult to fix, so no local company wanted to take on the task of repairing hundreds of poorly made dresses. It took several months of back-and-forth discussion with the Chinese company to come to any form of arrangement. As costs mounted, and negotiations became more fraught, the company turned on her – emailing and calling her constantly, to the point of harassment. She is now out of pocket, faces extra import charges, and will receive the dresses far later than originally intended. This isn’t the first factory that Parker has had problems with.
When Parker went public about her problems, she was told by others in the industry that it was unusual for the factories to behave in this manner. When dealing with men who stand up for their rights as buyers, the companies are perfectly professional. It seems that a woman saying “This isn’t what I ordered” receives a different response to a man saying the same thing.
Parker’s story could be one of cultural differences. I would certainly hope that a company in the USA or Europe would not behave in such a hostile fashion towards anyone, male or female, but the issue is still an important one. Modern ecommerce fulfilment options open up borders and options that previous generations did not have. If women feel unable to deal with certain countries or cultures because of differences in the way that those cultures treat each gender, then women will not be able to compete in an international market.
Some venture capitalists have noticed that women apply for aid less often than men. They are starting businesses, but they’re small scale ventures that don’t need a lot of money to get started. This could be a matter of preference, but it could be a matter of fear of discrimination. If we want to support equality in business, we need to figure out which it is, and do everything we can to support the choices that entrepreneurs, of both genders, make when starting their businesses.