On International Women’s Day, The Financialist takes a look at a thriving group of women business leaders: entrepreneurs.
The challenges professional women face in the workplace is not exactly a subject that lacks attention these days.
A Wall Street Journal section cover last week bemoaned the existence of “queen bees,” or women who climb the workplace ladder and pull it up behind them. Yahoo’s female CEO, Marissa Mayer, implemented a policy that no longer allows employees to work from home – a move that some criticized as being unfair to working mothers. But others complained that her decision would not have been scrutinized as heavily had it come from a male chief executive.
Today, women hold leading or very senior positions in some of America’s most admired companies, including Mayer at Yahoo, Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook and Ursula Burns at Xerox. However, statistics compiled by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development outline a tougher reality for women workers. According to the Paris-based organization, America’s ranking for women’s workforce participation has dropped a whopping 11 places since 1990 to 17.
Statistics show that women are generally underrepresented on corporate boards and within the executive ranks, and studies suggest companies would do well to reverse this trend. Indeed, a recent Credit Suisse survey shows companies whose boards include at least one woman have outperformed their peers in terms of share price.
But women appear to be making inroads in one corner of the working world: entrepreneurship. The number of women entrepreneurs – and the revenue they generate – is increasing, and many have high hopes for their independent futures.
“I am seeing a lot of young women starting companies,” Laurel Touby, who founded journalism and publishing resource site mediabistro.com in the 1990s and sold it in 2007 for $23 million, told The Financialist.
“The sense I’m getting is that there’s more potential for them than ever before.”
A study commissioned by American Express OPEN last year found that the number of women-owned firms increased by 54 percent between 1997 and 2012, faster than the 37 percent overall growth in the number of American businesses.
Furthermore, American Express OPEN estimated the country’s 8.3 million women-owned businesses provided about 7.7 million people with jobs last year. Of those businesses, nearly 152,000 were generating annual revenues of more than $1 million.
“Interestingly, we find that, in terms of employment growth, the growth pattern is much the same today as it was a decade ago, but in terms of growth along the revenue spectrum, women-owned firms who have passed the million-dollar mark may be stronger today than they were back in 2002,” the study said.
A more recent survey by the National Association of Women Business Owners shows two out of three women entrepreneurs are more optimistic about their futures this year than they were in 2012, which is higher than in the broader business sector, the association found.
Touby said she finds that today’s women entrepreneurs are more courageous than previous generations.
“This younger generation of women has a real can-do attitude,” she said. “Women nowadays don’t see any difference between themselves and the guys they were brought up with.”
Of the 550 women business owners surveyed by the association, more than 80 percent said they expected 2013 to be a good year. That’s despite sluggish U.S. growth and economic uncertainty around the world. The figure was enough for the association to dub 2013 the year for women business owners.
Women surveyed by the association said they were planning to invest more in marketing and hiring this year, and more than eight in 10 women expected more of their female peers to join their entrepreneurial ranks. Most survey respondents said they expected their biggest challenge of the year to be customer acquisition.