This Foreign Competition Could Do Us In

If you thought the Chinese Tiger Mom was ferocious, you haven't seen anything yet. A new wave of women entrepreneurs in developing markets around the globe could set new standards for fierce, determined achievement -- and leave U.S. companies hard-pressed to keep up.

America's in the wrong time zone
The Economist recently discussed the flood of females into emerging-market corporations, whose attitudes toward women in the workforce make the United States look positively behind the times.

Female presence on senior management teams reaches 32% in China, versus 23% in the U.S. and 19% in Britain. India boasts that 11% of its largest corporations' chief executives are female, compared to just 3% of Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 CEOs. Brazil's senior executives are 30% female, and 11% of its chief executive officers are women.

Since many U.S. CEOs also serve on their companies' boards, it's no surprise that our country's boardrooms score poorly in female participation. Last spring, The Atlanticreported GMIRatings' lament that women held a mere 12% of the board seats at major U.S. companies. The article called out 23 American companies with zero females on their boards, including Crocs (NAS: CROX) , Zale (NYS: ZLC) , and Urban Outfitters (NAS: URBN) . Ironically, women represent a significant chunk of each of these companies' customers.

A much-needed shot of girl power
If emerging markets' entrepreneurs are already hungry for success, their female citizens might be even more so. Some of these cultures force women to battle the kind of gender stereotypes and outright oppression that many American women can't even imagine. Yet despite this burden, many women in developing nations manage to achieve extraordinary business success.

Companies like Whole Foods Market (NAS: WFM) and organizations like the Calvert Foundation have engaged in and supported microfinancing, a form of small-scale investment that overwhelming tends to involve and benefit women entrepreneurs in developing countries. According to The Calvert Foundation's site, female borrowers are more likely to repay their loans on time than men.

In addition, such female-focused loans help the communities in which they're made, since the investments boost their beneficiaries' health, education, and nutrition, and those of the family members and neighbors around them. From this small but stable foundation, tomorrow's economy-expanding businesspeople -- and the future's big winners -- have a far better chance of rising.

The Economist notably praised role models like PepsiCo's (NYS: PEP) CEO Indra Nooyi. Nooyi, who was born in India, has dreamed up many innovative approaches to running the old-school soda giant, including creating a workforce that makes a culture of diversity and inclusion a real and measurable goal.

Let's not get left in the dust
Though it often provokes fear, healthy competition can actually be good for companies and markets alike. It forces change when change is needed, and helps guard against complacency, mediocrity, and old-fashioned attitudes. I'd argue that the "boys' clubs" that too often permeate American corporate culture exemplify all three of those ills.

The aforementioned Atlantic piece cited biologist Ronald Ericsson's turnabout on his previous theory of innate male superiority:

Women live longer than men. They do better in this economy. More of 'em graduate from college. They go into space and do everything men do, and sometimes they do it a whole lot better. I mean, hell, get out of the way -- these females are going to leave us males in the dust.

So come on, America. Step into the future and let the ladies do their thing in the corporate setting. Their unique talents can help create well-balanced corporate management teams and boardrooms. Tiger businesswomen of all types are on the march. Who wants to be left in the dust?

Check back atFool.comevery Wednesday and Friday for Alyce Lomax's columns on environmental, social, and governance issues.

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