Is workplace gender equality on the horizon? Depends on who you ask. According to most of the 375 women entrepreneurs surveyed for the 2017 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, the answer is yes. However, I’m not so sure I agree…
The survey found that within 20 years:
- 80 percent of those surveyed believe there will be “greater or equal representation of women” in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) industries, compared to men
- 68 percent say women will match or exceed men in executive leadership or C-suite roles
- 66 percent think there will be more women-owned small businesses compared to those owned by men
- 61 percent of women believe their wages will be equal to or greater than those of men
I want to agree with these women. I’ve been advocating for women entrepreneurs since the mid-1980s when I first launched a magazine for them. But if the past is prologue, 20 years may not be enough time for women to achieve economic parity.
According to the latest stats from the Labor Department, in 2016 women made 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man. (And that’s for white women. CNN Money reports Hispanic women make 54 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man earns, while black women earn 63 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man makes.)
Twenty years ago, in 1997, women earned 73.5 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Progress? Not much. And the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (which has tracked the gender wage gap since 1987), says, “If change continues at the same slow pace as it has done for the past 50 years, it will take 42 years—or until 2059—for women to finally reach pay parity.”
There’s better news when it comes to CEOs. Fortune magazine says women lead 6.4 percent of Fortune 500 companies (that’s 32 companies). According to the magazine, “This is the highest proportion of female CEOs in the 63-year history of the Fortune 500.” And yet Fortune says that number is “still very, very low—and in no way representative of the wider population.”
For some context, the government enacted the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) in 1974. In other words, it became illegal “for creditors to discriminate in any aspect of a credit transaction on the basis of sex or marital status,” only 43 years ago. Essentially, before then, a woman could not get credit unless she had a male co-signer.
The nation experienced an entrepreneurial revolution in the 1990s—and women became a symbol of that surge. For most of that decade (and since) the startup rate for women-owned businesses was at least double, sometimes four times that of the general startup rate. Many experts predicted women would own 50 percent of U.S. small businesses by 2000. Today, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), women own about 9.4 million businesses or around one-third of all U.S. businesses, employing nearly 7.9 million people and generating $1.5 trillion in sales.
By every measure, women run smaller businesses than men. Why is the growth of women-owned businesses so stilted? Joanna L. Krotz addressed this earlier this year on HuffPost, and some of her examples are because women owners suffer from: low confidence; less business experience; gender bias in funding; service businesses that don’t scale; family responsibilities; fewer role models; reluctance to delegate; inadequate pricing; and resistance to taking on complementary partners.
So, does the problem lie with women? Candida Brush, a Babson professor of entrepreneurship, doesn’t think so. Several years ago, she told me, “It was all about what women need to do. Not anymore. The women are there, they’re qualified, and they perform well. I’m very tired of this argument that it’s the women who need to fix themselves.”
As noted above, women face hurdles when it comes to securing venture capital. According to long-time financial journalist Ali Velshi, “Only 17 percent of VC-funded companies have a female co-founder or CEO. Women only run 3.9 percent entirely. In 2016, women-run companies got $4.5M in VC funding, down from $6.1M in 2015 and $5.1M in 2014.”
While I applaud the optimism of the women in the Spotlight report, I don’t necessarily share it. Frankly, paraphrasing that old cliché, women have come a long way and we have a long way yet to go.
Let’s not focus on that cliché though.
Here are some actions women can take to break through the glass ceiling:
Create a culture that accepts, acknowledges and rewards women. If you’re in a position to hire, consider worthy women candidates—and pay them fairly.
Women tend to be more risk-averse than men. If you’re worried about “what will happen if…” and that concern stops you in your tracks, just ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen if things don’t go as planned?”. You’ll see you can manage what you fear.
Don’t take failure personally. No one wins all the time. When something goes wrong, examine your mistakes, “mourn” for 48 hours, and then move on.
Claim your fame. Often, women don’t like to toot their own horns. Embrace your success—in public.
Find a mentor; be a mentor. If you need help, ask for it. Talk to people here in the Bank of America community. Go to SCORE.org and get free mentorship. There’s no better feeling than helping someone accomplish their goals.
And finally, remember the words of former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” I interpret that as practice the Golden Rule, “Do unto others…”
About Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years.
Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah. Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.
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