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					                       Historical Perspective of Women in Business

                                An Interview with Dr. Mirjana Radovic Markovic

                                             by Lee Bender, Ph.D. 1

        In an interview with Dr. Mirjana Radovic Markovic 2 several questions were of particular

interest in capturing her well established knowledge on the history of women in business.

•       What are some highlights from your historical work on women in business?

According to Mirjana’s research, it has historically been a long struggle for women in their self-realization

as an exemplary mother and male companion, in addition to serving as a respected businessperson.

Traditionally, women did not receive much support from their families, which typically acknowledged and

rewarded only the traditional gender roles. Women in business were understandably lonely and

misunderstood, often receiving disapproval in their intentions to prove themselves equally qualified and

worthy among men.

        As established models of society slowly evolved from the male-centered paradigm in business

leadership, women established numerous global associations, whose mission it was to fight for women’s

right to work and share equally in the cultural benefits. Usually women in these movements were unjustly

characterized as “mannish” or with "excess male hormones." They were marked as deviant, not because

of their need to be different from their mothers, but because they wanted to replace the kitchen and apron

1Dr. Bender has lectured to women business owners and served on education committees. She is also senior editor
of the "for Mommies" line of books for women in United States. Dr Bender is also working as a co-host in popular
American radio program devoted to women.
  Dr Mirjana Radovic Markovic has spent over twenty years as a scientist. She has been a professor, a researcher,
and an author of ten books devoted to business management and entrepreneurship. Mirjana has written numerous
articles, reviews and essays in a number of professional journals and popular magazines. A native of Belgrade, she
holds a Bachelor's Degree in Economics from Belgrade University, Faculty of Economics. In 1982, Mirjana earned
her Master’s Degree in Theoretical Economy and eventually a Ph.D. in Economics from Belgrade University .She
was awarded two scholarships from the United Nations to study at Lomonosow University in Russia and Kerala
University in India. She is a president of Journal for Women’s Entrepreneurship and Education (JWE). Dr Mirjana
Radovic Markovic is a professor of Management and Entrepreneurship .Mirjana is Director of Master Studies in
Entrepreneurship for Women at Akamai University. Additionaly, she has worked five years with students and her
American colleagues on programs,”Global Challenge” on Farleigh Dickinson University (GVF) and program,
“Women as entrepreneurs” at the same Faculty. She is a professor at Pebble Hills University ,too . Mirjana is full
employed in Institute of Economic Sciences ,Belgrade,Serbia.
with the office, cellular telephone, and other modern gadgets of daily work. Women who managed to

struggle against the prevailing worldview, to successfully join the modern social flows in the new way,

were not fairly rewarded for their work, oftentimes being paid less for their work than their male

counterparts at the same job level. They were passed over in promotions and they were disrespected

within the employment hierarchy. Additionally, they were given undistinguished and lower status

functions, and for the most part, denied any real opportunity to show their talents. Instead, women’s role

in the business world was unjustly marginalized, which diminished their capabilities to creatively

participate in business decision-making within their companies.

        Those women who were most persistent in fighting for their rightful place in business and who

wished to cross the traditional gender boundaries often paid the greatest price. They were forced to

renounce their right to start a family, and because of the expectations of the upper levels of business, it

was most often impossible to balance both business and family responsibilities. Thus, because of

society’s slow response in providing social support mechanisms for working women, many who

committed to full time employment turned their backs on family and suffered in their private lives, or they

successfully adopted new, more popular forms of self-employment, the home business. With time, the

home business has become the most acceptable business model for women raising children who refused

to renounce their engagement with their profession.

        For the most part, women who select the home business option are more effective at coordinating

their roles as mother and realizing their dreams as successful businesspersons. The success of women in

home business has influenced their self-respect and self-confidence. Now these women not only

contribute to the family budget, they are also enabled to remain engaged with their responsibilities in

properly raising their children and functioning as a wife within the marital relationship.

        Although most home businesses remain small-scale ventures, many businesses started in the

home expand into the community, as children grow and require less hands-on care. In fact, some global

trends show that in the last decade of the 20th Century the numbers of female managers have increased

significantly. Women lead many of the world’s largest companies with great success, changing

dramatically the image of women in contributing effectively to the overall success of business.
With this proven success, women have altered the traditional perspective of the role of women in

business. With the increased participation of women in business leadership completely new ways of

business communication have been put in place and effective new business strategies and company

development models have been proven. As a result, women infiltrating fields of business that were

traditional men’s areas have used their advantages, durability, and persistence in work and, above all,

intuition in making business decisions, thus further contributing new business advantages.

            •    Where are the roots of women entrepreneurship?

Women were economically active since pre-history, although their part in the work force varied through

from those days until today depending on the structure of needs, cultural, social, and other forms of a

society. In Babylon in the year 2000 BC, women raised cattle alongside men. Besides that, they have

been engaged in raising children, cooking, making clothes, and other similar jobs in countryside

communities. Later, as cities developed, women started to work outside the home as market traders,

laundresses, courtesans, and nurses. In ancient Greece, women who belonged to the upper class did not

work, which was not the case with the poor, who usually worked as unqualified work force doing the

hardest job. Instead of receiving money, they were given food and accommodations. They were without

any protection or rights, which was the case in other ancient societies. Not before 14th century in England

and France women who knew some of the crafts like tailoring and weaving were acknowledged equally

as men who were in such roles as carpenters, tailors, and shoemakers. Only in the 18th and early 19th

century, during Industrial revolution, did manufacturing begin to yield to industrial production.

        With the development of factories, women began to compete with men for such jobs. However,

they mostly opted for traditionally female jobs, which are less paid and less valued. Factory owners

employed them in textile and similar industries because they are skilled workers, but they worked for 12

or more hours and for the lowest wages. This is the example of the ultimate exploitation of female work

force in the early capitalist system, which has not only been void of women’s rights, but also had no union

protection, as the unions represented only men. Many years later, in 1948, the International Labor

Organization (ILO) brought a Convention of the employment policy, in which various forms of

discrimination against women, including the opportunity for employment, were banned. Before this
Convention, women had no rights compared to men. In spite of this convention, which argued for equal

human rights, barriers still exist for women, and there is gender gap.

            •   Where is the biggest gender gap?

There is widespread belief that the old "glass ceiling" has been cracked, with large numbers of women in

business and middle management. In spite of advancements, this glass ceiling is still intact in many

instances. There are still many companies that do not acknowledge that women can work as effectively

as men and there are many limiting sexist and chauvinistic views pertaining to women running certain

types of businesses.

        According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), Women in Egypt are the furthest behind men in

terms of economic equality. No country has closed the "gender gap" entirely. A new survey conducted by

the WEF ranked nations on five criteria, including equal pay and access to jobs. Other factors were

representation of women in decision-making structures, equal access to education, and access to

reproductive healthcare. The WEF survey covered all 30 industrialized countries in the Paris-based

Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), plus 28 emerging market countries.

        Latin America has its share of poor performers, with Venezuela, Brazil, and Mexico all found to be

among the worst 10. The problem here appears to be not the lack of opportunity once women have

entered the workforce, but rather in giving them access to the educational training and basic rights, such

as healthcare and political empowerment that would enable them to join the workforce, according to the

WEF. The United States, the world's largest economy, came 17th in the WEF's equality table. In Europe,

non-EU Switzerland scored relatively badly at number 34. It got a good rating on health and political

empowerment, but fared less well on equal pay and women in the workforce. Italy and Greece have the

worst rankings in the EU, at 45 and 50 respectively, mainly because of women's lack of decision-making

power and poor career prospects.

        Topping the WEF tables were Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, and Finland, which provide a

"workable model" for the rest of the world, according to the WEF. It was really shocking to see how many

other countries don't give women opportunities or respect as bestowed upon men in this day in age,

concluded Mirjana. She also stressed that by overcoming recidivisms of still existing prejudices, customs,
and opinions, they have to fight not only to be recognized as women leaders, but in order to gain an equal

place in the “business game” with men.

               •   Are there specific historical figures that you feel have made significant inroads

                   into women's entrepreneurship?

           In spite of women’s great interest in business and career since ancient times, the advancement

in their abilities to think and decide for themselves, and most importantly to make their own decisions,

women were faced to a “boardroom barrier” and lack of opportunity for self-realization in their profession.

Agnothica, for instance, was the daughter of the wealthiest man and a man of the highest standing in

Athens. Accordingly, her father enabled her to study medicine and to become, according to historical

sources, the first female doctor in the world. However, since the laws of that time did not allow women to

study and to perform “men’s jobs,” she had to overcome many obstacles she faced from the time she

decided to study medicine to the moment when she started medical practice. In order to overcome unjust

law, she cut off her hair and put on men’s clothing. Disguised, she appeared as the famous doctors and

professors of that time. Hyeropulous, who did not suspect anything, liked his hard-working and clever


           After she finished her studies as the most talented student, Agnothica started to practice and

quickly gained many patients among women, whom she told under oath that she was a woman. Due to

her great popularity and numerous patients, other doctors accused Agnothica of deceiving patients. At the

court of law her secret was revealed, which only increased her guilt. The court sentenced her not only to

prison, but also to exile. When women from Athens learned about about Agnothicas treatment, they

besieged Athens’s Senate for three days, until the Senate changed its verdict. Due to their demands,

Agnothica was freed from any guilt and allowed to practice medicine legally. In addition, at the initiative of

some female organizations, women were allowed to study and to be educated, which greatly improved

their position at that time. In addition, Agnothica and her business formed the backbone of women’s

entrepreneurship development.
            •   How should be women’s entrepreneurship become empowered in the near future

                in developing countries?

        As women entrepreneurship plays an important role in the development and growth of developed

countries, the importance of promoting women in economic activities is being increasingly realized in all

developing countries, too. Empowering women by bringing them into the mainstream of development and

by improving their economic status and providing them with new employment opportunities for income

generation, self-employment, and entrepreneurship in different socio-economic sectors is noticeable.

Experience demonstrates that there are a large number of women in most developing countries, capable

of and willing to be involved in economic activities. “An important tool of women empowerment is micro

credit, which has been accepted as an effective tool for poverty alleviation and an approach to

development,” said Mirjana. For example, women in Africa today represent 52% of population that is 805

million. Therefore, they should be seriously considered and investment made towards their education as

well as in their employment in the formal sector of the economy. Micro credits are especially important for

starting their own businesses, considering the increasing interest among women who tend to become or

already are entrepreneurs.

        According to United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in 2004, it could be concluded that

Africa has only 6% of the global female work force on higher positions, like managers and executives in

larger companies. In addition, 23% of women in Africa work in service branches and 5% had employed in

industry. Namely, women in Africa, work in agriculture and in food production and much less in non-

agricultural branches. This is understandable, because there is on the one side the deficit of food in many

African countries and on the other side, there is woman’s need to support and to help family to survive.

Accordingly, women do very hard work without specified working hours on the estate, by doing household

work, selling on the market, and the like. Regardless, African women still have not gained respect in

society which they, by their work engagement, deserve. Beside difficult working conditions, African

women face another problem. According to statistical data from Addis Ababa-based Economic

Commission of Africa (ECA), around 58% of all African women are HIV infected. Despite this problem, a

number of women still manage to fight for greater rights and to take part in politics. These women have
demonstrated their abilities and showed that they should be seriously considered as important in the

political and economic spheres in their societies.

            •    What is the impact of Globalization on gender roles?

         In the book, “The Perspective of Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Age of Globalization,”

edited by Mirjana and published in 2007 by IAP, she concluded that globalization has had a major impact

on gender roles. Many critics fear that globalization, in the sense of integration of a country into world

society, will cause gender inequality. According to their opinion it may harm women in several ways:

    1. Economically, through discrimination in favor of male workers, marginalization of women in

        unpaid or informal labor, exploitation of women in low-wage sweatshop settings, and/or

        impoverishment though loss of traditional sources of income.

    2. Politically, through exclusion from the domestic political process and loss of control to global


    3. Culturally, through loss of identity and autonomy to a hegemonic global culture.

        Mirjana has quite a different opinion about the gender dimensions of globalization. She believes

that the new technology and Internet have helped globalization, and believes that it should help lessen

the gap between the rich and the poor, and between women and men. The internet has allowed

knowledge to spread much faster than it was possible before. The knowledge allows people to take

opportunities they could not have otherwise. There is now global interaction with groups of women talking

about everything from how to handle domestic violence to how to start small businesses. In other words,

it helps ideas spread through the world and allows ideas to be shared universally. Whereas it does allow

ideas to be shared across the globe, it allows rich countries to spread ideas among themselves, leading

to global knowledge furtherance, helping lower the gap between the rich and the poor and men and

women. Shortly, globalization will give poor women and low educated women a brighter future.

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