There is a difference between a businesswoman and a working woman. The latter can be considered as any woman in employment, while the businesswoman occupies a higher-level rank, also known as an executive position. The problems that women in business face are somewhat different from those experienced by general female workforce, as factors like corporate structure, legislation, boardroom quotas and discrimination come into play. Although there is global tendency of more women taking leading positions in businesses, the overall levels are still low.
As of 2011, women accounted for 10 percent of directors and 3 percent of chief executive officers in the European Union's largest companies, with the number of women on corporate boards rising by around half a percentage point annually. In 2010, only 21 members of the board of directors and governors at German companies registered on the stock exchange were women. That means that only 3 percent of top level managers were female. Data from Forbes's first annual review of America's top businesswomen (2001) revealed less than 5 percent of top 500 executives in the United States were women.
One way to address this problem is the introduction of quotas for female presence on corporate boards. Norway introduced a law that imposed a 40 percent quota in 2004. Viviane Reding, the E.U.'s Gender Equality Commissioner, is set to review the corporate efforts towards appointing more women on their boards. She has warned that insufficient steps in that direction will result in a legislation that will make the quotas compulsory. Reding is hoping for a quota of 30 percent by 2015 and of 40 percent by 2020. France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy have adopted national rules on the representation of women in business. In the U.K., Lord Davies' report (2011) has set a voluntary target of 25 percent of boardroom posts to be filled by women. He also warned that lack of action from businesses will lead to compulsory quotas. Germany is relying on voluntary efforts from organizations to bolster gender diversification but proposals for tougher regulatory measures are being considered.
The Norwegian experience with the female board quotas has been described as remarkable. As of 2002, two years before the introduction of the compulsory quota, women accounted for mere 6 percent of board positions. In 2009, the 40 percent quota was exceeded. According to a study by Aagoth Storvik and Mari Teigen the main reasons for the success of the Norway campaign were the compulsory nature of the quotas and the tough sanctions for non-compliance. The regulations for female board presence in Norway have had an additional positive impact for women. There has been an increase in women in other management positions both in businesses which were targeted by the reform but also in other firms. In Norway, women have not only been advancing in corporate hierarchies, they have also set up their own businesses and have made valuable contributions to the national economy.
Critics of the obligatory quotas argue that these moves will force companies to appoint lower-qualified people to their boards due to their gender and that male staff will object to such moves. The research of Storvik and Teigen refutes these claims, arguing that women on corporate boards are generally more qualified than their colleagues. In addition, there were no complaints from employer groups or non-governmental associations over the new requirements.
The Economic Impact of Women-Owned Businesses In the United States (2009), a study by the Center for Women's Business Research, has assessed the impact on economy from the estimated eight million businesses in which women held at least a 51 percent stake in 2002. The study estimated that companies owned by women had an overall economic impact of $2.8 trillion per year. If the businesses owned by American women formed a separate country, it would have the fifth biggest gross domestic product in the world. The research found that from 1997 to 2002, women-owned firms were expanding at twice the rate of other businesses. Of all businesses in 2002, 28.2 percent were owned by women but only 4.2 percent of all revenues were generated by them. One explanation is that the majority of these businesses are small firms in operation for a only short time.