The State of Women Entrepreneurs in the U.S.
Hard times bring out best in business women, provide opportunity to thrive
Still a long way to go but research findings substantiate the value of supporting woman-owned enterprises
By Felicia Joy
New research findings by the Center for Women’s Business Research (CWBR) and the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) show that women-owned businesses in the U.S. contribute $2.8 trillion in annual economic impact and provide for 23 million jobs. That’s news. But if women keep up the good work, some day it won’t be.
Nell Merlino, CEO and founder of the non-profit organization Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, and creator of the Make Mine a Million $ Business initiative for women, hopes she will see that day in her lifetime but she’s not so sure. “I’m looking forward to women’s growth in business being a non-story but we’ve still got a long way to go,” Merlino said. “There are a million men in business who’ve reached $1 million dollars in annual revenue but only 243-thousand women who have,” she said. “Seventy percent of woman owned businesses are still at $50,000 a year or less in annual gross revenues. To me, that’s unacceptable.”
Though the CWBR reports that the number of woman owned businesses have been growing at twice the clip of men’s for nearly 30 years, it seems that women’s time in business has just now come. Why? Three words: The Great Recession. While the downturn knocked the wind out of the economy and, earlier on, sent both government and corporate leaders scrambling for solutions, it galvanized small business owners to figure out creative ways to stay afloat. Not all of them have—but many have weathered the storm, including a lot of women.
Navigating lack of resources is nothing new for women entrepreneurs according to Gwen Martin, interim executive director and director of research for the Center for Women’s Business Research, who says women often report being treated as though they are invisible and their companies insignificant by business organizations and financial institutions.
So during the recession, women business owner’s familiarity with tough realities may have worked to their advantage as they continued to fight the odds and have been ever more motivated to succeed. “On average, the women in the Make Mine a Million $ Business Initiative reported that they have increased their level of employees by 86 percent and their revenues by 30 percent,” Merlino said.
“I think the people who still haven’t comprehended the economic changes that are occurring because of women don’t get it because this has never happened before. Until the recession of the last couple years, women had never rescued the world from economic crisis. We rescued the world from war, during World War II, with the Rosie the Riveter movement, but we had never rescued the world from financial turmoil until this economic downturn,” Merlino said.
Research supports Martin and Merlino’s claims in a way that business and government leaders cannot deny. Ernst and Young’s Groundbreakers report, released in early 2009 at the World Economic Forum, indicates that women as consumers, corporate and government leaders and entrepreneurs represent the world’s greatest untapped economic resource. A benchmarking report by The White House Project corroborates this idea with data that show that despite equality perceptions by both genders, the fact is women are not leading—or equal—in any category of society compared to men; not even in those areas traditionally considered to be the domain of women, like non-profits and education.
With the recession technically over according to some economists, but job losses, low lending and tough times continuing—and a mass of research in favor of creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs—women who own businesses with demonstrated demand are up for sweet opportunities aimed at growing their companies. Proponents say focusing on the success of women entrepreneurs will create the most jobs in the long run and will boost the national economy in the process.