Women-Owned Businesses on the Rise: How We’ll Change the World

A couple of weeks ago, Sam Fiorella wrote an interesting blog post called, “Under-Representation of Women in Corporate and Political Offices.”

I won’t dissect the blog post; you likely have already read it. But he and I had a good debate in the comments about why it is women are underrepresented in the executive suite.

working_women

One of the points I made is we tend to be the ones focused on raising kids while our male counterparts work outside of the home. Not all of us (I certainly am not that way), but a very high percentage of us.

In May 2011, Sheryl Sandberg - the COO of Facebook – gave a commencement speech at Barnard, an all-women’s college. During the 20 minute speech (which is well worth the watch, if you haven’t already seen it), she talks about why women aren’t given more leadership roles and why we still don’t have equality.

Her reasoning? We tend to let up for promotions when we think it’s time to get married and again when we think it’s time to have a baby (or babies). Not when we do those things. When we think it’s time.

Women almost never make one decision to leave the workforce.  It doesn’t happen that way.  They make small little decisions along the way that eventually lead them there.  Maybe it’s the last year of med school when they say, I’ll take a slightly less interesting specialty because I’m going to want more balance one day.  Maybe it’s the fifth year in a law firm when they say, I’m not even sure I should go for partner, because I know I’m going to want kids eventually.

Women-Owned Businesses on the Rise: How We’ll Change the World

I tend to agree with her. I’ve run a marketing communications firm in Chicago for nearly eight years and I’ve found the exact, same thing with the young women in our office. Which, by-the-way, is extremely frustrating for this leader who provides the flexibility most women want.

It’s not our fault. It’s ingrained. It’s natural. It’s in our DNA.

But there’s good news coming out of National Association of Women Business Owners and web.com about the state of women-owned businesses.

It turns out the crazy economy of 2008-2011 created a reason for women to take matters into their own hands: Eighty-five percent of those surveyed predict more women will start businesses this year.

And, for those who already run businesses, 81 percent are optimistic about growth this year and 74 percent are confident about the economic outlook of their organizations.

Of course, this doesn’t speak to equality or women in the c-suite for the Fortune 10 companies or in the top branches of political office. But it does mean more and more women are contributing to the health of our economy through job creation, innovative products and services, and getting closer to the elusive work/life balance.

So, perhaps instead of leaning in, as Sandberg advises, we’re more focused on creating our destinies, as this study suggests. We’ll let the men have those stuffy corporate jobs and we’ll change the world.

Do you agree? Are we too focused on equal representation in corporate offices to understand the value that women have contributed to that workplace? Are women changing the corporate world in other ways?

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich. She is the lead blogger at PR and marketing blog, Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR, a weekly podcast about communications and social media. She's in the middle of writing Spin Sucks, which is due out in November.

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29 comments
jeanniecw
jeanniecw

Alright...one more point to the many excellent ones already made here. So much of this is about trust. Do we trust the leadership of our organizations to make the right choices? If we had trust, we wouldn't worry about equality, but because we don't always trust the leadership, we need some help in gaining what's right. 

elizabethefthy
elizabethefthy

In Canada, the Workplace Gender Equality Act for private sector employers with more than 100 employees has come into force late last year. Employers will now have to publish annual reports that are to include, among other indicators, the gender composition of their staff as well as the gender composition of the governing body of the organization. Also included are  working arrangements for employees with children, and the provision of consulting with staff on gender equality issues. These (and a couple more) indicators will be coupled with "minimum standards" to be soon determined by the Minister for the Status of Women.  What will be the "minimum standard" for the male/female gender composition of the workforce? which is our point in question. To be continued...

margieclayman
margieclayman

I have pretty strong feelings about this that in some ways run counter to what you've written here.

I'm sure there are many women who opt to give up on their career because they would rather be moms. That's fine.

HOWEVER...I think that women like Sheryl Sandberg are doing women a disservice by pinning that to why there is not equal representation OR equal pay in the business world. Or why lower paying jobs tend to be dominated by women even though women outscore men in most levels of schooling. 

I also think, as we talked about when Sam focused on this issue for #Bizforum, that this conversation can be just as damaging to men as it can be for women. When we say, "Well, women want to stay at home with the kids," by definition we are insinuating that men don't. We're hinting that maybe men like work more than kids or family. I know far too many men for whom that is not true to let that pigeon hole pass.

I don't think we need to strive for a 50/50 split. I think we need to get to a place where we say, "who is the best PERSON" for this job. If they are black, great. White? Fine. Man? Awesome. Woman? Super cool. Will they get the job done? Will they be able, in their own lives, to balance work and play and personal responsibilities? If so, who cares about the stats?

I really feel like Sheryl Sandberg's argument is a double-edged sword that can do more harm than good. Of course women want to stay home with their kids. I want to stay home instead of having to trudge out to an office and I don't even have kids. I'm sure men would love to stay home and sip coffee with their wives and cuddle their babies. We all have to work. We all have responsibilities. Times have changed. It's time for society to catch up. We're not farmers or cavemen anymore. Right?

Other than that I don't have much to say.

Good post, Gini-San :)

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chieflemonhead
chieflemonhead

Wow - what a post... what a stream of comments.

It is my (humble) opinion that this issue could also be one of ethnicities, races, religions, etc. Our workforce should reflect our society, so we place quotas on who we should (or should not) hire in order to have a brand/business that best reflects society. We focus on "women in the workforce" because it's an issue that has been hotly debated over the past multiple years (nay - decades).

But, I want to re-iterate what I've seen in a few comments: I would never want to be hired into a workplace because of the fact that I am a woman. If I am not the right person for the job, then I'd rather not be there. Here's the thing... if you hire on quota, and your employees know, then you start to create tension/friction inside your organization. You start eroding, you know, that thing: culture! And, in so doing, you reinforce issues (some people may have) about women in the workforce.


Additionally, the issue of women in the workforce is not just one of corporations making decisions, or career women making choices. It goes beyond that - again - to a societal issue. The world really is changing, but there once was a time not too long ago where "mothers" in the workforce were looked poorly upon and judged. There once was a time - and you can still find cues today - where men who stay at home are looked poorly upon and judged. If as a society, we were more open to an individual's choice in how they live their lives - within the rules and laws of our country (i.e. don't steal or hurt people), then we'd be much further ahead in this issue and many others.

All that rant to say: as a woman, I strongly urge other women to rise above what the world thinks they should or should not do. As a business person, I strongly urge businesses to hire the right person for the job - period! Get the right person in, and you'll be more successful. Makes sense, right?

It is time to raise a new generation, shape and change the world, and we all have a duty to do this - men and women!

(For the record: I live in #MiltonON. The population of stay-at-home dads is unprecedented - from other areas I've seen! They seem quite happy; some of them are taking contracts. It is growing.)

elizabethefthy
elizabethefthy

@ginidietrich and @samfiorella 50/50 might have to be clothed with a symbolic connotation rather than a concrete one since, as more than one comment remarked, talents are different and the best candidate should fill any position. I agree with Sam about equal opportunity being a goal but how equal would this be without some sort of "standard"? Gini's comment about the Davos invitations is perhaps a good example of the "flexible" approach to women's representation and employment.  We women have come a long way but there is still work to be done. 

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

Interesting point about not pursuing promotions due to "thinking it is TIME for...". Good distinction. 

katskrieger
katskrieger

I find myself in a funny position on this because my company is 80% female and led by a female CEO. I don't think 50/50 is realistic though. We all have different talents and strengths. 

elizabethefthy
elizabethefthy

Is the 50/50 representation a goal we need to focus on? If it weren't for this claim put forth by some courageous women (and supported by a handful of men?), there would be appreciably less women working at the executive level today.  So yes it's a goal we should focus on especially because we are different, think and operate differently and therefore women bring a complement to a man's world (less so today) that can only enrich us all. 

KimHawkins
KimHawkins

I see more women creating work scenarios that match their current lifestyle now and many are doing it by starting small home-based businesses. You make a great point by saying many leave the corporate world for a number of small reason rather than one single one. Great article Gini!

DragonSearch
DragonSearch

It's a quandary, isn't it, @ginidietrich ? We want more women in the workforce, but don't want to decrease the amount of men in the workforce. With both genders out working and achieving, the element left out is the future workforce: children. 


At our organization, we have seen both family setups: mother as primary provider and vice-versa. Being flexible with parents and growing families is key, but also the worker must want to take on the higher roles in the organization as well (male or female). 


You're entirely correct that leaving the workforce isn't just one choice, one time, but a gradual progression over time, as a person plans their own personal future. Watching Sheryl Sandberg's speech (and reading her book) may be a wakeup call for many women to embrace their true aspirations of advancement and status, but it shouldn't persuade women to shoulder the equal pay/equal representation burden for future women, at the expense of their true personal aspirations.

Thanks for the food for though, Gini.

[Jillian]

samfiorella
samfiorella moderator

Focusing on attaining (or why we don't have) equal representation is counterproductive. We're different. We think differently, we operate differently, we have different motivations. Provided that the opportunity is open, why do we care about the numbers? Focusing on what's right for you, how you can achieve more and better contribute seems like a worthier goal than 50/50 representation.  Great post Gini. Maybe even controversial. 

samfiorella
samfiorella moderator

@elizabethefthy I support equal representation among the sexes in the workplace. I do not support it being mandated. Mandate equal pay for equal work. Mandate equal opportunity to do the same job and achieve the same end point if the person succeeds. 

Mandating a male/female ratio in the workforce is a horrible idea for everyone. It hurts the business (not able to hire the most qualified people in some cases) and the employee (hiring someone into a position they're not qualified to do because they fill a quota). 

belllindsay
belllindsay

@chieflemonhead When my son was younger and in the school's daycare (after school) I recall being eyeballed harshly by the stay at home moms when I would show up to a "fun fest" day or whatever after work. No, I couldn't deliver all the fresh baked goods, or be there all afternoon volunteering to set up, etc., but by God I wrote more cheques to that daycare for events and fundraisers than they'll ever know. Pretty pathetic that even today women judge other women around their choices (and it wasn't a choice for me, working, it was necessity). I think the more dads that get into the game, the more people who have flexible schedules in order to look after their kids, the more organizations who see child care/child rearing as an integral part of our society - and an integral part of their corporate culture - the faster these types of judgements, etc., will start to fall away. Not sure I'm making sense here - LOL - it is Saturday morning after all!! :D 

katskrieger
katskrieger

@RebeccaTodd I reached that same point when deciding between 2 jobs several years ago and chose the one I thought would be more friendly towards me starting a family. Turns out in the immediate I made the wrong decision, but it eventually led me to my current company, which has been the right one. 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@elizabethefthy I don't know if 50/50 is realistic. I don't know that all women want to work outside of the home or in the corporate world. So saying we should have equal numbers of men and women in leadership positions at the Fortune 100 and in political offices probably isn't realistic. But we should continue to push toward more women. I read an article that said there were so few women represented at Davos, the organizers asked the member companies to open invitations to two women inside their organizations - and gave them each two extra tickets to do it. But most? Rather than invite two women each, they declined and just brought their men. THAT is the stuf that has to change.

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samfiorella
samfiorella moderator

@elizabethefthy I see the value in having at 50/50 male/female split in the workforce - and certainly within executive roles. I agree, based on our differences, that the combination would spur on greater achievements. Yet is striving for a goal that might not be feasible (for reasons shared by Gini and others) productive? Should the focus not be on ensuring that equal opportunity is there for women -  if they choose to go for it - and/or the value that they bring to the roles they do take on? For example, in many cases, those roles are owning businesses instead of climbing the corporate ladder.  Just a thought.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@KimHawkins Thanks Kim! I have lots and lots of friends who've decided, rather than find a job after the kids all start school, they're starting their businesses. Technology gives us an amazing opportunity to do just that these days.

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ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@DragonSearch I do think we're in a much different position today than our mothers were. We have the opportunity to pursue the executive positions and create family environments to do so. But it's also in our DNA to let up on the gas, as Sandberg says. I think we have to be very conscientious about not doing that if we want to achieve the highest levels of our career. Or, as this study points out, create those opportunities for ourselves (like I did).

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belllindsay
belllindsay

@samfiorella I agree with Sam and Erin on this one also. I don't like quotas. I know why they're there. I know about the past injustices. I understand about trying to right some wrongs. But I don't want to be anywhere because I am part of a statistical group. I want to be there because I deserve to be there. Personally, I had opportunities to climb into the executive suite when I worked in TV. No thanks! It really is a very personal choice. And one I'm not convinced should be always tarred with the 'gender brush'. 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@samfiorella Part of it won't happen until it's societal okay for men to stay home with kids or work out of the house. It's hard because it's not in your DNA like it is ours. I'm the primary breadwinner in our house and I can tell you it derives some interesting challenges...on both sides. I don't know if 50/50 is realistic.

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samfiorella
samfiorella moderator

@belllindsay as long as we focus on the percentages  - or make them our goal - we'll not be able to create an environment where choice is acceptable and praised. A woman who choses to stay at home is judged. A man more harshly. A woman who chooses to work while raising children is judged - by stay at home moms on the one side and by executives handing out promotions on the other.  Allow people to be who they are and make career choices that are right for them and their families. And be happy when they do. 

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