Women: Power in the House

October 2017

Shot of a group of businesswomen using a laptop during a meeting at work

Photo: AJ Watt

It’s time to celebrate! October is the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)’s National Women’s Small Business Month—a way to acknowledge the tremendous trajectory of women owning businesses, taking control of their financial futures and packing economic power.

A recent SBA article stated, “Thirty years ago, some state laws prevented women from getting a business loan without having a male relative co-sign for it. That changed in 1988 with the passage of a federal bill known as HR 5050, which eliminated that requirement and empowered women to be entrepreneurs on their own terms.” How senseless is the fact that women needed a handler to take fiscal responsibility to form a company seeded from their own ambitions? That was then, and this is now … and what a bright future women have created!

Doing business

Since the floodgates opened in 1988, the growth of women-owned businesses in the U.S. has had a powerful impact on the economy. An SBA report released in spring 2017, based on the Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners (SBO) in 2012, reveals women were majority owners of 9.9 million businesses, which generated $1.4 trillion in sales and employed more than 8.4 million individuals. In addition, another 2.5 million businesses were equally owned by women and men, and they accounted for another $1.1 trillion in sales and 6.5 million jobs. As majority and joint business owners, women entrepreneurs generated $453 billion in payroll for 14.9 million workers through more than 12.3 million businesses. You go, ladies … and their male partners!

More opportunity on the horizon

The measurable increases of women-owned businesses and women in the workplace will likely continue given the fact that females have surpassed men in educational attainment, with more than 33% of women having a bachelor’s degree or higher. Additionally, women control $14 trillion, or 51% of U.S. personal wealth and are now the primary source of income in over 40% of households. Women are quickly becoming the majority decision-makers in enterprises. The wealth that women control is expected to grow to $22 trillion by 2020.

Lots of support out there

At Twirling Tiger Media, my business partner, Anne Saita, and I are big proponents of seeking business guidance—and offering it. In fact, we were the recipient of a year-long mentorship with BCBS Massachusetts in 2016. Whether you have how-to-get-started questions or specific business challenges, I implore you to accelerate your learning curve (and possibly spare yourself from making costly rookie mistakes) by using mentors. Pack away your fears of rejection and reach out to helpers.

There are many supportive (and often free and low-cost) ways to seek guidance for women in business. The SBA is a treasure trove of guidance resources. It offers ways to plan, launch, manage and grow a business. It has district and regional offices nationwide and its SCORE experts are invaluable.

Another organization for accessing help if you are located in New England is the Center for Women & Enterprise (CWE). Established 22 years ago, the CWE set a mission to provide opportunities for women entrepreneurs and women in business to increase professional success, personal growth and financial independence. These mission objectives are delivered through educational and training programs, technical assistance and women’s business enterprise certification. (The certification is through the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)—another helpful organization whose mission is to foster diversity in the world of commerce.)

Recently, I attended the CWE’s 2017 Women Business Leaders Conference and came away with inspiration delivered by two dynamic keynote speakers Stefania Mallett, co-founder and CEO of ezCater, and Gillian Meek, president of Keds. Throughout the day, I was galvanized by session speakers such as Louise Leduc Kennedy, founding attorney of West Hill Technology, who addressed growing a business through strategic alliances and the considerations needed for legal agreements related to these relationships, to Annabel Beerel, president and CEO of the New England Women’s Leaders Institute, who addressed how “new realities in life and business challenge us because they invite us to change.”

The CWE also offers classes and programs on myriad topics, from mastering your elevator pitch to understanding intellectual property and more. Joining this community has many advantages to any-stage business person.

And the help that’s available to businesswomen should be accessed often—in growth periods and in times of failure. Failures are launching pads for new successes. Stefania Mallet offered sage advice she’d give to her younger self on this very topic: “Try more things, collect feedback and learn from it. Be bolder; be less fearful. Don’t take failures so personally. When they do happen, make yourself vulnerable. Go out and ask for help.” And, one piece of advice I plan to test on a negative thought: “Hello, feeling. You get five minutes and then you’ve got to go.” (She stated that suppressing feelings doesn’t work.)

An expanded web of support 

Support to women in business comes not only from the organizations that educate and encourage us but equally as important, from the businesses that include the diversity that we bring into their supply chain. In our case, a women-owned business that creates content for technology clients. Companies that willingly consider all types of minority businesses are to be applauded for their conscientious efforts to advance a workforce that reflects diversification—mirroring the customers they ultimately serve.

Maintaining balance

Striving for a work-life balance is a struggle and many of the speakers at the CWE’s 2017 Women Business Leaders Conference acknowledged this and offered ways to cope. Gillian Meek expressed her thoughts on balance by saying, “You can have it all, not just all at the same time.” She encouraged attendees by saying, “Do something for you every day. For me, it’s exercise.”

If you are a businesswoman and a nurturer in the home, you’re likely living the caregiver burden. By scheduling “me time” and asking for help, a balance can be accomplished so that all are satisfied and you’re able to move forward with business and personal goals in a healthy manner.

Women in business, as employees or employers, have never been so empowered and it’s a train that’s barreling down the track, according to the data gleaned in the U.S. Census Bureau’s SBO. Our next collective effort needs to be aimed at addressing gender pay disparities. It’s our job to “be bold and be brave”—the theme of this year’s CWE conference.

—Maureen Joyce