Purpose. This is what is driving a new generation of people to start their own businesses based on their personal values, which often correspond to the best interests of society. But when you take a closer look at this growing movement, you will see that women are at the forefront of the trend.
Women are creating brands, companies, startups, and projects that have a social and environmental transformative power in Brazil and worldwide.
The conservatism of traditional corporations limits the expression of women’s strengths. Undervalued, they have started founding their own businesses, following their own rules.
The figures explain the problem. Women hold the CEO position in only 4% of Forune’s top 500 companies list. Among the 500 largest companies in Brazil, only 11.5% of senior management positions are held by women. Even in industries composed mostly of women, such as the fashion industry, only 14% of the top 50 brands in the sector are led by women. There are also no women among the 10 highest-paid CEOs in the industry.
With limited chances to grow and reach leadership positions, women are turning to entrepreneurship as a way of combining purpose and a career. According to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM, 2007), Brazilian women are ranked 7th among the most entrepreneurial professionals in the world, with an entrepreneurial activity rate of 12.71%. Today, women are responsible for 38% of the country’s total business establishments.
The percentage of women at the forefront of business not only boosts the economy, but also fuels positive social and environmental changes. According to the U.S Trust Insights On Wealth And Worth, social responsibility is a priority for female entrepreneurs, and successful women are more likely than successful men to start a business with the aim of pursuing a personal passion and making a positive impact on the world. Studies show that 70% of women are committed to thinking about the sustainability of their business, compared to 62% of men.
It’s easy to find examples that demonstrate the reality of these figures in various market segments.
Social business gave Alice Freitas, co-founder of Rede Asta, a way to make a difference.
Rede Asta has been promoting social inclusion for over 10 years through the manufacture of waste-based products. Headquartered in Rio de Janeiro, the company provides training sessions and production networks, as well as creating physical sales channels to socially empower women. Its craftswomen are divided into 60 productive groups across 10 Brazilian cities.
“After traveling the world and getting to know some extraordinary social businesses, I realized that I couldn’t do anything other than this. I felt that my work had to be a source of personal enrichment and a contribution to society as a whole.” — Alice Asta
Mais Alma, another business from Rio de Janeiro, was founded in 2015 to connect producers with conscious and aware consumers. Ana Fracasso and Julia Bedolo came up with an e-commerce platform for products made by independent artists, designers, and stylists, produced ethically with social and environmental responsibility.
Mais Alma invites us to change our perspectives of consumption and value Brazilian design. Its means of production aim to recover the human values that have been lost amid mass production and unbridled consumerism.
Surya Brasil has been a pioneer in the production of natural, organic, and vegan cosmetics in Brazil since 1995. Founders Clelia Angelon and Wanda Malhotra go beyond the ethical production of cosmetics: the company supports the protection of animals, environmental preservation, personal development and human rights. With offices in Brazil and in the United States, Surya invests in social projects like Construindo Talentos, in partnership with the Marly Cury orphanage.
“Natural cosmetics are not our sole cause. We are in the business of making conscious decisions involving a healthier lifestyle that respects all creatures, the planet, and the future.” — Clelia Angelon
Banco de Tecido is an award-winning initiative by Lu Bueno, functioning as a bank whose currency is fabric, mainly used for fashion and decoration. The goal is to reuse fabrics that are left in studios and workshops, to reduce consumption and avoid waste.
In the technological field, InfoPreta was made by and for women. The company operates on several fronts, one of which is to provide easy access to safe computer maintenance for all women, especially those living on urban outskirts. Another goal is to encourage women to follow careers in Science and Technology, and to promote the training of women living on urban outskirts through the democratization of internet access.
Think Eva is the business branch of feminist NGO Think Olga. Led by five women, it aims to help large brands and companies to rethink the role of women in advertising, to reduce violent messages, objectification, and sexism in ad campaigns. As a strong supporter of the media’s transformative power on the market and society, Eva encourages brands to create a respectful, careful, and honest dialogue.
Entrepreneurship alone cannot change society as a whole. The resolution of social and environmental issues sought by these women cannot be left solely to entrepreneurship, and they are aware of this. A more equal society can only be achieved by the combined action of the people and the government, breaking free from the traditional structure imposed by businesses and the private sector.
Businesses usually have a sole purpose of generating profit by any means necessary, and it is interesting to see that women are the ones flying new flags in such a hostile environment. Maybe they care less about taking risks precisely because they are used to their power being underrated. The gender pay gap, male chauvinism in workplaces; these systematic and unfounded barriers are still real. And when the real world is no good, it’s easier to change; when you are losing the game, changing your strategy becomes a necessity rather than an option. And such boldness has shown itself to be worth it.
“Tiredness is followed by sleep, and then it is not uncommon for a dream to make up for the sadness and discouragement of the day—a dream that shows us in its realized form the simple but magnificent existence for which the energy is lacking in reality.” — Walter Benjamin