There is no question; women are claiming their place in the world of business, and the world of business is better for it. The number of businesses founded by women are rapidly increasing; slowly, the number of venture capitalist firms that focus on women-owned businesses (WOBs) are also on the rise.
This is incredibly important, since mentors are crucial to a person’s growth and development, in business and outside of it. As more women succeed in business, there are more women available as powerful mentors, improving the overall success of women in the sphere of business.
Based on the National Women’s Business Council 2012 analysis (the most recent report currently available), just under 10 million WOBs existed in the United States. That was an increase of 2 million businesses from the previous year surveyed (2007). Looking at the American Express WOB report for 2017 (conducted annually), the U.S. has seen another 2 million WOBs formed in the intervening half decade. WOBs are estimated to employ almost 9 million people, and generate more than $1.7 trillion in revenue.
One of the reasons this data remains so interesting is that women are still an untapped force in the world of entrepreneurship. The rate of businesses owned by women is growing at a significantly higher pace (114%) than businesses in general (44%). Women owned businesses, as of 2017, account for nearly 40% of the number of businesses operating in the United States. We expect SAAS and public cloud market to grow by %20 in 2018 where women continue their fight to carve out a role for themselves.
It is important to note that women of color are opening businesses at a rate four times higher than WOBs in general. American Express notes that this has less to do with women of color wanting to move into a niche market, and more to do with higher unemployment rates and significant wage discrimination.
With all these women coming into the business sphere, however, VC firms are still struggling to get a more gendered balanced portfolio in place. Only 8% of VC firms in 2016 had women on their boards, and the Harvard Business Review says that this lack of balance is hurting VC firms.
More women are joining the ranks of venture capitalists, however. Women like Karin Klein at Bloomberg Beta and Joanne Wilson at Gotham Gal Ventures have had a dramatic impact on the businesses in their area. Venture capital firms that specifically focus on women entrepreneurs, like Valor Ventures and Golden Seeds, are helping women make inroads into tech. Investors like billionaire Chris Sacca are also working to call out bro-centric culture within the world of tech. Sacca has said that “As a culture, we don’t treat our girls as potential business leaders.”
Given that women are a driving force in the economic recovery over the past ten years, with women of color particularly powerful in the business sphere, what can be done to help women continue to build strong, successful businesses?
- Advocate for minority centric programs. The data is clear that women, people of color, and disabled people have a much more difficult time accessing funding of any kind for their businesses. Many women in particular have turned to crowdfunding to get their businesses off the ground, but they should be able to access traditional, low cost funding as well.
- Mentor women and other marginalized people in the workplace. Don’t assume that only women can mentor women. While a shared marginalization may make it easier to target specific issues in the business sphere, good advice is good advice.
- Break down sexist culture in the workplace. While women often look to support each other in situations like meetings or conference calls where they may be frequently interrupted, everyone has a role to play in those conversations. Regardless of gender, stopping people from interrupting women in a meeting, saying “I want to hear what Jill was saying,” or “I think that’s exactly what Sarah was getting at,” can be powerful steps towards changing office culture.
- Support women outside of the workplace. Be involved in causes that disproportionally affect women, and give support both through financial giving and volunteering.
- In companies where there is a disproportionate number of men over women, ask why. Recruiters need to be particularly aware of internal biases and work to overcorrect for them. Racism and sexism in the workplace are rarely as obvious as not hiring someone because of their skin color; the experiences are much more insidious. They are as simple as choosing one resume over another because of the individual’s name.
Women are a driving force of the American economy and deserve the support of all genders in the workforce. Helping women to succeed helps the business sphere as a whole improve.