Entrepreneurship is no longer a boy’s club; women-owned businesses are on the rise each year, and the number of women-led businesses has increased 3,000% from 1972, and have more than doubled in the past 20 years. According to CNBC, women launch an average of 849 new businesses per day, with most of the businesses being run in the service or retail industries. Nuvro spoke with seven of these female business owners about their successes, their struggles, and what needs to change in business in order for women to grow and prosper.
The Passion Behind Being a Business Leader
When asked about their motivations for starting their own businesses, there was a commonality between all of the women’s answers – none of them were satisfied with the status quo. Passion is of the utmost importance for these industry leaders, and all of the women were seeking freedom and personal fulfillment through their work. Yvonne DiVita, owner of Nurturing Big Ideas, described being “dissatisfied” at her former place of her employment, where she was “seldom able to use” her talents, leading her to take the plunge into her own business, while Dana Theus, owner of InPower Coaching, noted that she “didn’t want to be who she had to become to work in organizations.”
Beginning a brand new business has its dilemmas. Most of the women surveyed cited that a lack of knowledge that can only be gained by experience was something that proved difficult at first, but that they all found their way over time. “When starting out in any field, lack of experience is always a big thing,” said Divine Mwimba, owner of Ladies Make Money Online. “In order to land clients, partnerships or relationships you need to always prove yourself. At the beginning I didn’t have the partnerships I needed to take my business from point A to B. I had basic knowledge of what I wanted to do but I went out and invested in education, did a lot of networking, and from there, my business grew.”
Women Thrive Despite Challenges
As women starting businesses in a male-dominated world, some of these women faced some internal conflict, reflecting on if they had what it takes – something that, due to ingrained gender stereotypes, is much more common for women than it is for men. Women are much less likely than men to showcase their knowledge and much more likely to lowball their talents and their ingenuity. “I never saw myself as a businesswoman at first”, said Angela De Souza, owner of Women’s Business Club. “(The hardest part was) answering the ‘who am i and what do i offer’?” said Theus, adding that having confidence in yourself as a business professional is more difficult to achieve as a woman.
Others found that challenges came from outside influences who are stuck in the type of backward thinking that perpetuates economic disparity between men and women. Most of the women interviewed had had experiences that revealed that though we’ve come a long way, there is still not equality in business. DiVita explained, “Being a woman challenges you to maintain your feminine personality while competing in a man's world. Women were and still are, in some cases, expected to wear dresses or skirts, to flaunt the fact they they were/are women. Also, getting financing is harder (for women than men) – not as hard now as it used to be, but it's not as easy for a woman entrepreneur, as it is for a man. And, let's not forget voice. If a woman raises her voice, for any reason, she is described as shrill or hysterical. When a man raises his voice, he's praised for being assertive.”
“You have to do things you don't know how to do because no one taught you in school how to be a business professional,” she continued. “You have to accept that some men will treat you like a child and dismiss your intelligence.”
Holly Reisem Hanna, owner of The Work at Home Woman, feels that she’s been treated fairly, but that it’s because she asserts confidence to her clients. “I've been fortunate in that I've always worked with clients that have treated me with mutual respect and dignity. So for me, I can't say that I've encountered any business challenges just because I'm a female. I also think part of this is me being older and wiser and being assertive when I need to, as when I was younger, I was more timid and insecure about rocking the boat.”
The Stigma of the Working Mother
Deb Bailey of DB Writing Services spoke about the internal struggle some women face that holds them back from reaching their full potential for success. “I think women tend to be hard on themselves to be perfect. To accommodate prospects who can't afford our services. To hold back instead of selling because we don't want to be pushy.” This brings an important point to the surface; women business owners are much more likely to accept underpayment than men, paying themselves 28% less than men pay themselves for the same work.
In a struggle that seems unique to working women, some find the biggest challenge to be balancing home and work life. De Souza explained that while the delicate balance between the two is the hardest part of being a woman in business, she believes that women have “the ability to juggle – the very thing that is challenging can also be a strength.”
“I think women are still disproportionately expected to juggle family and home responsibilities far more than men, and still face unconscious bias in a variety of ways, including in attaining venture capital,” said Karen Bate, owner of Awesome Women Entrepreneurs (AWE). “I co-founded AWE so the amazing women business owners in my community find the support and encouragement they seek, as well as a healthy dose of fun at our monthly meetings and events. We don't have to wear our superwoman capes, as we do at so many co-ed networking events – we can admit ‘the juggle and the struggle’ and everyone gets it and cheers us on.”
Slow Growth May Be a Result of Stereotyping
What Bate and DiVita have experienced through difficulties obtaining capital is something that happens frequently around the country. Though it’s not quite as bad as needing a male to co-sign for you as in years past, it is a fact that it is still more difficult to receive business financing as a woman than as a man. CNBC revealed that when compared to their male counterparts, women were offered 50% less in funding, and INC states that only 30% of women who apply for a bank loan are approved.
Research shows that industry matters when it comes to business growth. Women-owned businesses in construction, warehousing, logistics, and in STEM fields are much harder to come by than men, even though those industries are growing the most rapidly. The lack of women is not because women aren’t capable of competing in these industries, but that these industries and the recruiters within them are rooted in stereotypes and implicit bias. Furthering the cycle of these stereotypes, DiVita, a woman in the tech space, struggled with clients who did not think her capable of what they wanted, even though her business was based on those very needs. “I found some folks weren't sure I knew how to do web writing and SEO because I was a girl,” she said.
Dedication and Determination Make All the Difference
Through the trials and tribulations, women entrepreneurs persevere. Each of the women surveyed utilized the skill sets they had gained from their former jobs and applied it to carving out a new space for themselves in the market. “I basically bought a new laptop, set up a desk in my kitchen and began helping the nonprofit where I had worked for the previous 8 years,” said Bate. “I supported their P.R. and marketing for several events and programs, then did so for a couple of similar organizations, then joined the local Chamber of Commerce and began getting more business. I started small but my income doubled each year for the first four years.”
Mwimba used every experience to piggyback to the next. “I started out in the wedding industry – I was inspired to become a wedding planner. I decided to educate myself in the field, got my certification and applied at a hotel that catered to weddings. After working for that establishment for over three years, I decided I had enough experience to branch out on my own and book weddings and events. I did that for a good three years before I switched gears and became a blogger. I am still in that industry as I have a second wedding blog. I will continue to grow and educate myself as an entrepreneur.”
Women are Suited to Succeed in Business
Though women have been experiencing adversity from societal expectations and gender stereotypes through their entire lives, many women overcome these old-school ways of working, using their female-driven characteristics to rise to the top of their industry. De Souza said that “we (women) are nurturing and collaborate,” which she sees as a pro to being a woman in business. Studies show that women tend to be more resilient than men, they have more effective communication methods, and their ability to handle several tasks at once prove to be invaluable in business. “Once you're used to having to manage work, family, possibly school and other things – you know how to keep multiple things going. I also think that women have an edge in relationship building (and building community), which is very important,” said Bailey.
DiVita explained that it is advantageous to lean into what makes you unique as a woman in your business. “As women, we bring creativity, magic, talent, and nurturing to everything we do. Women who embrace their talents (whether that's in creating products or offering services) go farther than women who try to just be ‘like men.' As women, we also bring more patience and more willingness to let others teach us – rather than assuming we have all the answers. We also have more opportunity today to build community around a like-minded goal. The world isn't as afraid of women entrepreneurs as it used to be.”
Mwimba also expressed the importance of community in the business world. “Women tend to stick together and are the biggest helpers. As an entrepreneur, especially as a female entrepreneur, I find managing all aspect of the business alone can be hard. It can get extremely lonely and it is important to build relationships with other entrepreneurs in order to meet at least monthly. Coming up with unique and inspiring ideas can be tough if you are a solopreneur.”
A lack of role models for women in business can be a disadvantage for those who are seeking guidance. “Role models/advisors in business are very male (“get a plan and execute”) and don't work when you're trying to achieve something personal while balancing a family. But, success – when it comes – is very personal too,” said Theus.
Despite Hardships, Women are in Business for the Long Haul
All of the women surveyed were quick to encourage any forthcoming female entrepreneurs, despite any hard times they’ve faced. Hanna offers this advice to women who are debating whether to step into the business owner space: “Don't overthink it. There will always be challenges and more to do, and there is never going to be a perfect time — so, take action, even if it's just baby steps.”
Bailey explained that at least some planning is essential to starting your business out on the right foot. “Plan first, if you can. Understand what you have to do, costs, time it will take, and be realistic. Of course, it always ends up costing more, or taking more time to get your business going. But if you plan before jumping in, it will help. There's a fallacy out here that says business ownership is easy. Or can be done quickly if you follow a specific number of steps. That's not true. It will demand a lot of commitment, but it can also be so rewarding to build something of your own.”
Women leaders in business are an integral part of society, and a proper balance of men and women-owned businesses affects everyone, including other business leaders and consumers, in a positive way. “Understand this quote from Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin: ‘Women are the real architects of society,’” said DiVita. “Now, go out and architect something.”