The start-up rate of women-owned businesses is soaring while the number in the big leagues—well above $1 million in revenue—is stagnating, according to The American Express OPEN State of Women-Owned Businesses Report. That doesn't serve anyone's interest. As the Women Entrepreneurs as Economic Drivers, a report from the Kauffman Foundation shows, getting those women-owned businesses on a high-growth track would energize our sluggish economy.
But it’s not happening. Why?
I’ve been asking successful women owners what they think is holding back their counterparts, and here’s what they say:
Women need to take more risk. When women start a businesses, they think too far ahead, to the day when they’ll be managing a family as well as a business.They opt for career paths that seem safer and more flexible than running a major corporation.
Liz Elting, CEO and founder of global language service provider TransPerfect, advocates another tack: Go for broke when you are young and have nothing to lose. Don’t worry about what your life will be like in 10 years. Dream big and follow your dreams. When your business grows, so do your options for work/life balance.
And being a high-powered CEO doesn’t mean you can’t be a good mom. “If you want to have a family and run a business, you can — and a growing number of us do,” says Elting.
Women need to get tougher. Nice girls please people. CEOs have to make tough decisions, from firing people to cutting services. In a man, that’s being strong; in a woman it is seen as being bitchy. “If you want everyone to like you, you will have a hard time doing what is necessary,” Elting says.
Men need to get over themselves. At home, men must share in household responsibilities, recognizing that their partner’s career is as valuable as their own. At work, men need to be more inclusive. Networking events shouldn’t be just guy things. Deals are done in informal settings after the conference or out of the office — on golf courses and in the corporate box at the ball game. Yes, some women like sports but a lot are left out of that schmoozing and dealing.
It’s not that men are circling the wagons; they’re just not thinking it through. They’re losing, too, when possibly great deals get left at the clubhouse.
Women need to get over themselves, too. Whether in peer groups, such as the Women Presidents’ Organization or through mentoring women starting out, women need to support and mentor each other, As Sheila Lirio Marcelo, CEO of Care.com says, “We must lift as we climb, bring others along with us and collect talented people as we rise.”
Men know how to network. Women seem to be falling behind. That needs to change.
Everyone needs to build more flexible businesses. Let’s start firms that don’t follow the same old businesses model; let’s build a model that can accommodate the differing needs of GenY, parents, Type A workers, and those who want to work reduced hours. You can retain and grow talent by being flexible — flexible about taking a year off for family without losing a rung on the career ladder; flexible in working hours; flexible about telecommuting.
If we don’t restructure business culture, we’re going to keep losing the talented people we’ve paid money to train.
Rosalie Mandel, principal of the alternative investments accounting firm Rothstein Kass, has changed the culture of her company. “Our firm had the vision to see the benefits of flexible scheduling – and it’s never said no. We’ve had an official flex policy since 1999,” she said in an article for The Glass Hammer.
Changes now, in attitudes, awareness, and culture could end the stagnation of small women-led businesses and make them into the economic drivers we need.