Anita Roddick on the challenge of being a female entrepreneur

A pioneer herself, Roddick discusses the problems facing women in business

The Body Shop founder Dame Anita Roddick offers an interesting view of the prospects facing female entrepreneurs and managers, and how “paternalistic” management structures and language continue to hold women back in business.

“The majority of very successful, traditional companies are male oriented,” Roddick opines, describing their structure as akin to a “military” hierarchy. She says it is “fascinating” how, just a couple of decades ago, even the largest business schools in the US were still not dealing with women in management, and how the style and business structure might differ from a male-oriented company.

Roddick’s own company The Body Shop was well known for its inclusive approach and egalitarian management hierarchy, and Roddick feels this reflects her management style as a female entrepreneur – although she is quick to emphasise that “it’s not about one being better than the other, it’s about having a real partnership.”

In particular, Roddick points to the language of business as a key factor holding women back. “The language that has crept in is the language of finance,” she explains. She says business jargon’s focus on “measurements” and hard figures is tailored more to a male worldview: “We don’t have any language in traditional business that speaks of poetry, or philosophy… It has no other purpose apart from economics. And that’s where I think it’s getting harder for women.”

Explaining further, the Body Shop founder says that although there may be numerous high-profile female entrepreneurs and business leaders, they often assume a masculine “style” in order to fit in. “One of the things I used to say in The Body Shop was ‘let’s enjoy the sexuality of it – there are two different genders! We don’t have to behave in the same way.’”

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