Women entrepreneurs are continuing to grow their leadership stake in the small business market. Bank of America Head of Small Business, Sharon Miller, spoke about how she’s seeing more opportunities for women, including increased woman-to-woman mentorship opportunities, and the positive impact its having.
Kate Delaney: I'm Kate Delaney with Gregg Stebben. We're from Heartbeat of Main Street with ForbesBooks and Bank of America, and we are so pleased to be here at the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight. And we are with, I've got to call her my nickname, the grand dame of banking, Sharon Miller, who is the head of Small Business for Bank of America. It's so great to meet you and be here at this fabulous event.
Sharon Miller: It's so great to be here, Kate and Gregg. Thank you so much for having me.
Gregg Stebben: Absolutely. This is one of your premier events of the year.
Sharon Miller: It is. It is.
Gregg Stebben: So tell us about the event and about the data and the statistics and the research behind it.
Sharon Miller: For the last four years, we have produced a Women Business Owner Report just to understand how women are feeling about the economy, about what's happening with their own business and their revenue outlook. And this time, for the first time over the last four years, women have a higher expectation for hiring plans, for revenue growth of their business and the outlook than their male counterparts. So, that's a pretty fascinating data point when you think about the optimism out there in the economy and what's happening in the political climate right now.
Gregg Stebben: You talk to a lot of women business owners. Do you have theories of your own about why there would be that change?
Sharon Miller: You know, women, I mean Kate, we're women, right?
Gregg Stebben: I'm always the guy here.
Kate Delaney: Yes, you are.
Sharon Miller: You're always the guy.
Gregg Stebben: The lone guy.
Sharon Miller: You're the lone guy. And we are sitting in a fabulous place that is dedicated to women, Luminary, that is a co-op of women entrepreneurs working together, that's why we chose this spot in particular here in Manhattan. And to me, women, we are more and more getting out there, starting our own business, wanting to take control of our own destiny. And I think that as that settles in, as you see sustainability, women are understanding, "Hey, I can do this. I feel confident, I feel good about what's going on." And I think it's just time.
Kate Delaney: I love numbers and I'm wondering if there's some trends or stats from the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight that we should look at, that we should call attention to for people who are listening to us.
Sharon Miller: Well, 84% of women told us that they expected their revenue to be higher at the end of this year in 2019 versus last year. So, that's a pretty good majority of business owners out there.
Gregg Stebben: It's also—they're predicting that for themselves after a previously great year.
Sharon Miller: That's right.
Gregg Stebben: So, it's not a reaction to something bad, but it's a greater reaction to something great.
Sharon Miller: It is. It's continuing that increase, it's continued optimism. And we're already in October.
Gregg Stebben: Right.
Sharon Miller: So when you think about, a lot of the year has passed. We're in the 10th month of the year and we're hearing this from business owners, so that's a pretty good indicator of how they feel they'll end the year.
Gregg Stebben: One of the things I want to ask you about, Sharon, because this really fascinated me, partially I think because I am a man, but I think it's going to be really eye-opening for women as well. One of the things you asked as part of this was, "I believe blank will be impactful in helping women in business over the next five years." And first of all, I love the question, I love the collection of responses you got, but I love the fact that the number one thing that women said they thought would be impactful was achieving work-life balance. Because I think that's also aligned with more and more people, thanks to millennials, are looking for in their business whether they own it or they're an employee. And I want to hear you talk about that.
Sharon Miller: I agree, and I think that's not just for entrepreneurship, but it's for corporate America.
Gregg Stebben: Yes.
Sharon Miller: And I think about Bank of America and the benefits we give: 16 weeks of maternity or paternity leave when someone has a baby. Whether you're the man or the woman, you get that leave, you get to spend time with your family. More and more, people want to spend time with their family, and it's a blurred line of work and life. And when you can have it both together, and you can do what you love and still be with your loved ones, and your company is committed to that, or you're an entrepreneur and you lead that type of organization, he's got greater followership and greater commitment. And especially in the millennials, we're finding that.
Kate Delaney: Talking about the millennials, here at the 2019 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, what would you tell young women as they jump into owning their own businesses?
Sharon Miller: I think it's important to be positive. Be confident. Follow your passion, follow your dream. Because the more I hear and I read articles and I listen to business owners about, "Why did you do it?" "Well, I followed my dream, I followed my passion." Then don't limit your dream and don't limit what's possible, because when you got into this business, you felt the sky's the limit.
So keep dreaming, keep thinking about how I can do things differently, how I can continue to expand or go into different markets, and don't ever stop that creative engine that got you here to begin with. Because when you just get stale and you don't keep thinking, "Okay, how can I do this better, faster, more efficient?" You're not going to keep growing. And so that's what I would encourage any business owner to do, but especially millennials as they're getting into the start of their own business.
Gregg Stebben: Millennials, yes, and women, yes. Because one of the things you mentioned early on as we've been talking today, and I think one of the things that's so visible at this event today is that—and you found this in the report—the more there are women who are successful in business, the more it impacts other women and empowers them to do the same thing. For a lot of reasons, including, "Oh, there are lots of mentors now. There's lots of women that have experienced this. There's more women in banking, so that I do have access to capital," on and on and on and on. And I want you to talk about the network effect of that for women, that your report really beautifully displays.
Sharon Miller: I think it's important, and especially when you think about networking and mentorship and connecting with other women, many times when you have a man and a woman coming together to network or mentor, you're going to have differences. And what we found from clients, and we talk about this a lot, many times men are talking to women about, "Okay, maybe you need to navigate this politics or that," versus the tactical, operational, "Here's the finances, here's the P&L-
Gregg Stebben: Oh my gosh, you sound like my wife and I.
Sharon Miller: "Here's how you operate a business." I mean, so it's important. And I think the more women that know those types of functions and how to do it and how to drive it, they're going to be able to pass that on and understand that, you know what, yeah, there's politics involved, but there's also brass tacks of how to run a business, how to operate a company. And that's all very, very important.
Gregg Stebben: You're talking about a cultural shift as a result of more and more women being in business and owning business and being in positions of leadership.
Sharon Miller: Absolutely. And what we find is that women bring that back to their communities more so than men. Women are coming back, they're investing in their communities.
Gregg Stebben: Why are you both looking at me?
Sharon Miller: We're not trying to!
Gregg Stebben: But you, I mean it is, there's research to support that. Women share, and men don't.
Kate Delaney: But that's exciting, because that means that the more of those tactics that spread, the more the fear or the barrier to entry will lower, I think, for women. What do you think?
Sharon Miller: Yeah, because I see someone, "Oh, they're like me. They can do it, I can do it." You have to, when you can see what's possible and people paving the way, these great women, then you can say, "Wow, I can do that, because I see they're like me."
Gregg Stebben: What kind of programs do you have at Bank of America that are taking advantage of the things you're learning from the report?
Sharon Miller: Well, my favorite is the Women Ready to Lead Conference, and we do this in various cities across the country. And really it's about women understanding that, you know what, you don't have to have all of it right here and there. Raise your hand, let us know you're ready to lead, let us know you want to grow with the company, and we're going to support you, and we're going to help you get to where you want to go.
Gregg Stebben: So in other words, what you're doing is saying, "If you have the right mindset, we'll help you get the right skillset."
Sharon Miller: Absolutely. Absolutely. And we're here to support you, to train you, to mentor you, to connect you with other women within the company. When I think about Bank of America, 40% of our management team is women.
Kate Delaney: Wow.
Sharon Miller: I mean, it starts at the top with Brian Moynihan and our board setting the vision. 30% of our board, women. You don't find that in corporate America. So it's not just we talk about supporting women, we are-
Gregg Stebben: You're doing it.
Sharon Miller: ... a company made of great women and men.
Gregg Stebben: You mentioned few minutes ago about mentors. And you told us off mic that you know, you had had some great mentors or still have great mentors that were men.
Sharon Miller: Yes.
Gregg Stebben: It's easier and easier for women to have great female mentors, because there's women who have now succeeded at higher and higher levels. But it also occurs to me that there will be another shift culturally when men can find great female mentors. Because now you're cross-pollinating all of these things in a very deep way.
Sharon Miller: You are. And I think you're bringing together the best.
Gregg Stebben: Yes.
Sharon Miller: Because women and men, they bring together different perspectives, and different backgrounds, and that's what diversity inclusion is all about: bringing your whole self to work and feeling comfortable doing that. So it may not be just a man, woman, it might not be just race. It's where did I grow up, am I from the Northeast, am I from the West coast? Very different, very different culturally. And I think that the best companies and the best organizations allow that to come through so that you're able to get the best outcome.
Kate Delaney: What's your ultimate vision? What would make you get up in the morning and say, "Wow, I just completely have nailed this. I am so happy with where I'm at." Because you're growing, growing, all these different programs.
Sharon Miller: I think every day we have to get up and say, "What can we do more of?" I don't think you ever arrive and say, "Hey, it's here," right? We've got to keep thinking and keep getting better and keep growing, because every day, you learn something new, and how can we be better at supporting all people?
Gregg Stebben: Everybody.
Sharon Miller: All people.
Gregg Stebben: Everybody. And I want to ask you about one last thing. We've talked about this with you before in previous interviews. The program you just told us about, it's called Ready for Leadership?
Sharon Miller: Women Ready to Lead.
Gregg Stebben: Women Ready to Lead. It reminds me of something you told us about before, the Bank of America Institute for Women's Entrepreneurship at Cornell.
Sharon Miller: Yes.
Gregg Stebben: Can you update us... first of all, remind people what it is and then update us on what's happening there today?
Sharon Miller: So it is a program that we put together in partnership with Cornell University to help women entrepreneurs. Anyone can access the program, but we put it together with women in mind around education, around training, around how to access capital. Because in this report too, we talked about access to capital, and it's still a barrier or a perceived barrier of many women. And so it is an online institute where you can sign up, your company can. We've got courses and professors and students that are coming together, every single session that we have. And there's different sections, there's different focuses, but what we've heard from business owners going through is, "It has made the world of difference to my business." We have over 13,000 businesses that are in the queue going through this program, which, that's, doesn't sound like, I mean it's a lot of businesses, but how many more can we reach?
Gregg Stebben: How much bigger is the opportunity?
Sharon Miller: How many more can we reach?
Gregg Stebben: How do you scale?
Sharon Miller: That's right.
Gregg Stebben: Yeah. The website is bofainstitute.cornell.edu, bofainstitute.cornell.edu.
Kate Delaney: Perfect place to end us. Sign up.
Sharon Miller: Thank you so much.
Gregg Stebben: Thank you Sharon.
Sharon Miller: Thank you.
Narrator: For more great small business tips check out Bank of America’s online Small Business Community at bankofamerica.com/sbc. Thanks for listening to “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com and Bank of America at BankofAmerica.com.