By John Byrne
Producer, BBC R4's Changing the Rules
Chey Garland found that people skills were the key to success
Women are succeeding in business in greater numbers than ever before by changing the rules of engagement. But they still face an uphill struggle both in the US and the UK.
In the United States, nearly half the private companies are owned by women. Women's companies are creating jobs at twice the rate of all firms, and employ more people than the top 500 companies put together.
In the UK, it's estimated that there are now more than 600,000 women-led businesses, contributing some £130bn to the Exchequer.
According to one female entrepreneur, writer and business guru Margaret Heffernan, the motivations that drive businesswomen in Britain are different from those of men.
"These women were driven to look for a place where they could prove themselves on their terms," she says. "There is some evidence that women are willing to take bigger risks with their careers than men.
"This is not because they are stupid; it is because they are desperate. So often they can see no other way to find work, and a way of working, that suits them."
She argues that women have a different management style.
"These ways of working suggest that the old corporate notions - of business as war, of companies as machines, and of leadership as command - don't work for women, who are more interested in orchestration, empathy and relationship management."
Call centre boss
These are the skills that Chey Garland, chief executive of Garland Call Centres on Teesside, has found useful.
Few of the bosses in top boardrooms are female
It a company with an annual turnover of more than £43m, that employs more than 3,000 people in eight call centres located in Hartlepool, Stockton, and Middlesbrough.
They offer back-office services such as telephone sales, customer support, and technical assistance for major financial service, telecoms, and internet companies.
She believes that her company's success is down to its investment in people.
And her own personal management style stems from a belief in getting relationships to work for you.
"I remember in the early days one of my male colleagues said to me 'You know, you could talk for England on the phone - I could do a dozen things in the time you take.'
"But he was so wrong. I was doing a superb account management job at very low cost - not driving everywhere, not doing lunch, just getting to know people on the phone.
"And by knowing the person, when things go wrong you can find a way through the bad times."
Ability to empathise
The skills found in women bosses - good radar, intuition, an ability to empathise, conducting not commanding and multi-tasking, not getting lost in the detail - are also the values that drive their companies, according to Ms Heffernan.
"Of course it may be that these are just business skills - skills that have nothing to do with gender and everything to do with talent," she says.
"But historically, women have been low in social power in the workplace for a long time, and have learned how to read signals to ensure their survival.
"Lacking institutional protection, their careers depended on being attuned to shifts in mood and attitude - and what better preparation could there be for the unpredictable, irrational world of 21st century business?"
But for some, the pace of change is painfully slow.
Divine sells its fair-trade chocolates to all the big retailers
Sophie Tranchell is managing director of fair trade company Divine Chocolate, which sells chocolate bars made from Ghanaian cocoa to UK retailers.
She works with some of the most powerful retailers in the country and feels very much in a minority.
"Currently the top ten powerful people in retail are all men," she says.
"And you're left thinking, well, this is 2007 - how can all those people be men? I mean, how is running a supermarket a particularly manly activity?
"Maybe women just don't like the look of those jobs - maybe they're just too horrible to do!"
But change is nevertheless on the way.
And when it comes, the transformation of the British boardroom could be profound.
"Changing the Rules" will be broadcast on Monday 13th August at 1100BST on BBC's Radio 4.