With women dominating the political and sports news, it seems like a great time to talk about women in business.
We've come a long way, but women are still woefully under-represented in the upper echelons of the business world. But why?
In 2010, The Kauffman Foundation released a study about how women entrepreneurs differ from men.
Unsurprisingly, more than half of all men and women are motivated by the same five financial and psychological factors:
- The desire to build wealth
- The wish to capitalize on business ideas they had
- The appeal of start-up culture
- A long-standing desire to own their own company
- Working for someone else did not appeal to them
Chances are, if you dream of starting your own business, you've thought along the same lines.
However, starting from the same motivations does not mean we act in the same way. Most women start businesses connected with traditional female roles. In other words, the majority of female entrepreneurs are Avon ladies. We sell makeup or kitchen products. We become photographers or cake bakers or writers.
And there's nothing wrong with that. Many of us like a small freelance business, beholden to no one, with little risk or investment. Those of us who want more face barriers, but also have some surprising advantages.
Related Article: The Global State of Women-Owned Small Business Enterprises
Women by the Numbers: Business, Politics and Education
The growth of women in leadership roles has been glacial. In the United States, women hold 19.9 percent of board seats, yet make up 44.3 percent of the workforce. Only 4.4 percent of CEOs are women and just 25 percent are in key management positions.
“As recently as spring 2014, nearly 47 percent of the 150 highest-earning public companies in Silicon Valley had no female executive officers at all.” - The Women's Leadership Gap, The Center for American Progress
The number of women in Congress and state government echoes the business landscape. It's about 75 percent to 80 percent male overall.
The numbers for women of color are even more abysmal. This would all make sense if women were less educated, but that's not true. Women earn 60 percent of all master’s degrees, including 47 percent of all law degrees. What's going on here?
Perception, Both Internal and External
Even today, face sexism, ageism, and outright misogyny in the workplace, and that extends to finding funding for new ventures. It's most likely due to a combination of factors, not the least of which is an ingrained lack of confidence in our own abilities. Women tend to take fewer risks, rely more on their own money as opposed to seeking funding, and they also know fewer entrepreneurs to whom they can turn for advice.
Oddly enough, some seemingly negative characteristics are what make women better entrepreneurs than men. Being more cautious with money, less likely to take risks, and more invested in more long-term strategies can be virtues in a business setting, even if it results in slower growth. Before women can make men see their value, they have to see it themselves.
Tips for Starting Your Own Business
Are you nervous about taking the plunge? Join the club. Excepting a headstrong few, we all are. Luckily, there are a ton of resources for women starting a small business.
- Network. One of the advantages men have is a strong network of entrepreneurs, and one powerful thing you can do is join a group where you can find support, answers, encouragement, and often tangible help.
- Know your strengths. Stop being self-depreciating and learn to sell yourself and your product, skills, or service. If you're hesitant about your own worth, you're dead in the water.
- Appeal to other women. Find a mentor you can talk to, and look for women investors. Don't expect them to give you a pass because you're a woman, your idea or product still has to be a winner. But most won't discriminate against you because you're a woman, either, unconsciously or overtly.
- Relocate. Dell teamed up with IHS and the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard to find the best city for women to start a business, and New York came out on top. San Francisco Bay was #2, D.C. was #7, and Austin, TX came in at #12 on the global list.
- Test before you invest. You can't know for sure if your idea will be successful, but you can test the waters. One great way is to put it on Kickstarter. If people like it, they'll fund it. While you're there, try not to notice how few projects are offered by women. (like this super cool LED light bulb with a woman co-founder)
- Take risks. Don't be afraid to fail, it's not the end of the world. Men fail all the time. In the immortal words of Frank Sinatra: “I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate a poet, a pawn and a king. I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing each time I find myself flat on my face I pick myself up and get back in the race. That's life”
Rise and Roar
After nearly a century of fighting for our rights, we are within striking distance of real, tangible equality. During the Democratic National Convention, Katy Perry performed “Rise" and "Roar.” While she was urging Democrats to use their voices and their votes, the underlying message was for women.
Related Article: 40 Inspiring Quotes From Trailblazing Women We Admire
Rise and Roar is the perfect slogan for the situation in which we find ourselves today. We have the means (social media) to connect, band together, and support each other. To take our rightful places as heads of corporations and state, to use our brains and educations to start new businesses.
If we take no action and progress for women continues at the same pace, women will achieve equality in 2087, and everyone reading this right now will be dead. Wouldn't you rather change the face of leadership right now? Be confident. Book a speaking engagement. Start that business you've been talking about. Run for office. Rise and Roar.