What women need to succeed — and how to make it happen in one word

Women in Madhya Pradesh, India work to build a pond to better meet their farming and water storage needs. Photo by: Gaganjit Singh/UN Women / CC BY-NC-ND

Informed development policymakers and practitioners already know that increasing women’s participation in the formal economy benefits not only women but also their families, communities and countries.

How can the development community help women contribute to — and benefit from — economic growth?  Your “to-do” list requires only one word: access.

Women’s access to the following is an essential ingredient for success:


• Women typically account for a minority of bank staff, with most in junior positions.

• Banks send few women to training courses to advance professional skills.

• Women need access to more equitable hiring practices and career pathways to demystify the banking sector.

Business development services

• Women need good and consistent access to accurate and timely information as well as capacity building and learning opportunities.

• Women need access to information about business registration, business planning, financial analysis, market demand, technical advances, packaging and customer service, to name just a few.


• Other than microcredit, women are unable to obtain loans without collateral.

• Women lack ownership and control of financial and real assets required for collateral.

• Loan officers are often male, which may discourage women from applying.

• Some loans are only issued to businesses that have already been operating for a period of time.

• Loan officers cite women’s lack of financial literacy and property ownership as reasons for denying women loans.  

• Financial services and credit programs should be designed to enable women to start and expand small, medium and large enterprises by lowering requirements and increasing women’s knowledge and skills.

Education and Training

• During secondary school, girls need access to information about career options and the qualifications required to pursue them. The options should not be limited to traditional occupations.

• Textbooks and other materials at all levels should not reflect women serving only in domestic or traditional roles.

• Teacher training should include gender awareness to minimize gender stereotyping.

• Outside of formal schooling, technical and vocational training institutes that recruit female instructors and students, encourage a technical focus not based on sex, and provide placement services would greatly promote women’s employment success.

• Prior to applying for positions, women need training in preparing a resume, interview skills, how to dress and other job-seeking skills.


• The overwhelming challenge for young women is landing their first job.

• Employers want people with experience.

• In the absence of experience, employers should be encouraged (or subsidized) to send women with interest and aptitude for training and provide ongoing professional development in essential skills.


• This includes transport, clean women’s bathrooms, a working space not too near men, other female employees and an office (or factory, etc.) in a secure location.

• Some provision for daycare would be invaluable.


• Women need access to internships or apprenticeships to gain practical, on-the-job experience.

• Educational institutions, businesses and development programs can create internship programs that provide training, with stipends, for women to learn by doing.


• Women need the benefit of market research and quality control to be competitive.

• To be competitive in one’s own market is usually necessary to compete internationally.

• Women’s products need to be given a high profile and a branding strategy to highlight “Made by women from (name of country).”

• Women need assistance finding buyers and creating market linkages that could facilitate access to external markets and provide trade logistics support.


• Where safe, affordable, reliable transport is unavailable, women need access to employee-provided transport to and from work.


• Women are not part of the “male network” of doing business.

• Even family connections often flow from father to son.

• Effective women’s business associations and networks are urgently needed.

Political will

• Commitment to women’s affordable and otherwise unfettered access to the opportunities that will facilitate their economic growth must be demonstrated at the highest leadership levels.

• Translating that commitment into policies and strategies that can be implemented both within the workplace and throughout the social, political and economic spheres is essential to move from rhetoric to reality.

Recruitment — female-friendly

• Websites and newspapers tend to be the primary formal channels connecting job seekers and employers. Virtual listings are often unavailable to women.

• Job announcements may request “experienced males” and “attractive females.”

• A significant amount of hiring occurs in “old boys’ clubs,” where men tend to hire other men.

• Job placement services are needed to work with educational institutions, governments and the private sector to ensure widespread links to employers.

• Employers need to reach out to women’s organizations and other community centers women frequent, to advertise their employment vacancies.

• Setting a certain percentage of positions for women has worked well in some settings; typically, the percentage is critical mass, or 30 percent, at all levels including leadership.

Role models

• In untraditional fields in particular, women lack female role models.

• Women who are successful in such fields could be encouraged to visit girls’ schools or videotape messages to girls explaining what their professions involve and what is required to qualify for them.

• Learning materials and field trips featuring women in a wide variety of occupations would help dispel notions of limited female roles.

The above are essential but not necessarily sufficient for women in all contexts to succeed. But if they were provided with this access in good faith, women would grab it and run as fast and as far as they could.

Want to learn more? Check out She Builds and tweet us using #SheBuilds.

She Builds is a month-long conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Chemonics, Creative Associates, JBS International as well as the Millennium Challenge Corp., United Nations Office for Project Services and U.K. Department for International Development.

About the author

  • Mary Fontaine

    Mary Fontaine is the gender practice lead of JBS International. She is an award-winning technical gender specialist with more than 20 years of residential development experience in the Near East, Middle-East and South Asia. She has lived and worked in director-level positions in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran and Pakistan, and has brought shorter-term technical expertise to programs in East and West Africa, Eastern Europe and the Balkans. She serves on the board of directors for Women for Afghan Women.