As we progress through the 21st century, certain trends about the future the world makes for itself. One trend (long in the making, in the minds of many) becoming more apparent with every year is the prominence of women in business and entrepreneurship.
It wasn’t that long ago that, in the US, a woman could not establish business credit without a male relative as a co-signer. Take a guess, though, of when that was. 1928? Nope.
Not until 1988 could a woman truly start a business on her own. Small business is an integral part of the American economy. In 2012, small businesses employed about half of the nation’s workforce. That same year, woman-owned businesses made up 36.3 percent of small business owners. To think that more than a third of small business owners today could not participate in the same way only 28 years ago—it kind of boggles the mind.
Thankfully, however, we don’t live in that kind of world, and business leaders, employees, women, and the wider national and global economies are all the better for it. But let me throw some more statistics at you because statistics paint a more holistic picture, and require me to write less, which, like the inclusion of women and minorities in the economy, is best for everyone.
Between 1997 and 2015, the number of small businesses started by minority women increased from one in six to one in three. Black woman-owned firms in that time period increased in number by 322 percent. In 2015, black women owned 14 percent of all businesses in the US, which amounts to $52.6 billion in revenue. Incubators such as the Minority Ventures Partners Accelerator in New York help to bring private equity and debt financing to minority communities, specifically women in those communities. To quote Martha Stewart, “It’s a good thing.”
All this business growth among women drives the economy, equalizing opportunities for women to contribute to GDP and opening new segments of the market domestically and internationally. As this article from The Economist reports, women see the world in a different way than men and provide a different kind of insight than typical business owners in whatever country they operate.
As per this month’s piece on diversity (also available on this website), the needs of the future demand greater participation from women and minorities. But just because the need is there does not imply the means are present. That is to say, all these statistics point toward progress; but it’s not enough.
Even though women possess parity with men in terms of business degrees earned, and women earn baccalaureate degrees at higher rates than men, numerous barriers exist for women in terms of accessibility to startup capital, mentorship, and entrepreneurial education.
In 2014, the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship of the US Senate held a hearing on empowering women as small business owners, and identified some startling facts: only four percent of the dollar value of small business loans goes toward women entrepreneurs; women are also more likely to rely on personal credit or loans from family members to start businesses. The report specifically mentions access to intermediate capital as a major barrier.
Then, of course, there is the gender pay gap, which affects all aspects of income for women, including entrepreneurs. In addition to barriers of accessibility, women entrepreneurs on average give themselves a smaller salary than their male counterparts. Though numerous services exist to help foster business participation for women, the fundamental challenges of less networking or mentorship opportunities perpetuate and exacerbate existing barriers.
Progress means inclusion, which ultimately fuels expansion. The trend of women participating in business will only grow in the future. Neglecting investment in women as a demographic is effectively turning away half of the competent people available. The innovative approaches women provide for business and entrepreneurship cannot and should not be ignored.