Women now own four out of every 10 businesses in the U.S. The rise in women-owned businesses is proving to be a real driving force in the nation’s economy and is an exciting trend to watch.

For business owners, financial literacy is an essential skill. The ability to comprehend, manage, and discuss business finances is critical. Unfortunately, women have consistently scored lower than men on measures of financial literacy, according to the Financial Literacy Excellence Center at George Washington University. For example, just 47 percent of women responded correctly to the study’s personal finance index questions, which included topics such as borrowing, saving, earning, investing and insurance, compared to 53 percent of men who answered them correctly.

As women continue to rise to leadership positions in the business world, it is important for them to lean into discussions involving the financial health of their businesses, and to do so with confidence.

As a woman business leader in banking, I know what it’s like to be the only woman in the room. Even with years of training and experience in financial services, discussing business issues in a boardroom can be intimidating. It took me a while to find the confidence to let my voice be heard, and honestly, once I did, it was very liberating. It took courage. It also took accepting that, regardless of how the world of finance and running a business has been viewed in the past, women--myself included--have an obligation to find their voice and bridge the gap between discomfort and determination.

Did you know, more women than ever before hold leadership positions at top companies, including an all-time record of 33 women Fortune 500 CEOs in 2019, up 37 percent from last year? This is a promising trend, and we, as leaders, need to do our part to keep the momentum.

Based on my experience, I see three opportunities for women to step up and differentiate in today’s business world:

1. Real-life business experience can be just as powerful as business degree

Each day represents an opportunity to learn. Successful leaders surround themselves with talented people and make time to learn from their team members. Understanding the financial health of a business is a great place to start--and you don’t need a business degree to do so.

Even though a business may be rooted in passion and a strong idea, those factors alone won’t be enough to make it successful. Skilled financial management is also essential. The owner of a performance marketing agency explained that she was shielded from much of the back-office responsibilities until she became CEO. At that point, financials and sales were suddenly thrust at her. She found that “learning as I go was personally better than attending business school, as some things can’t be taught in a classroom.” 

2. Leveraging our natural super-powers can make a huge difference 

Relationship building comes naturally to many women and this super-power can pay dividends in the business world. A recent SCORE report found that entrepreneurs who seek mentorship and the expert advice of others significantly increase their chances of success.

Savvy business owners are also aware of their own knowledge gaps and surround themselves with expert resources who can help connect the dots. Successful businesses consult resources such as their banker, local Chamber of Commerce, and U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to help solve complex problems. Banks, like Capital One, are a great place to start when seeking financial counsel and offer programs designed to educate and support business owners. For example, Capital One’s Catapult is a seven-month program that provides the necessary tools for business innovation and offers solutions to real business challenges. This program helps business owners of all sizes understand the specific issues and fears entrepreneurs face.

3. Knowing and understanding financing options can keep you in the driver's seat

Taking the steps to expand a business, purchase new equipment and maintain a healthy level of liquidity can be overwhelming. Sometimes, all it takes is a little creativity and some expert advice.

It is crucial for business owners to understand not only their business needs but also their financing options, including securing business loans, lines of credit and investment opportunities. Capital One’s trusted business bankers can also help with these difficult decisions. For example, to maintain autonomy, many women business owners seek out financial resources beyond traditional investors, such as SBA loans and credit lines. According to Biz2Credit, the number of women-owned businesses that applied for funding in 2018 increased 13 percent. Additional capital can help them manage cash flow issues while still remaining in control of their business.

During the last 20 years, the rate of women entrepreneurs has grown 114 percent. The economy is going to become even more reliant on women and their business acumen. Women are becoming a force in the small business world, and I love having a front row seat! 

Capital One offers credit card and business banking solutions for small businesses. Learn more about Capital One's collaboration with small businesses here.

This article is sponsored by Capital One® Spark Business® for informational purposes only. Unless noted otherwise, Capital One is not affiliated with, nor is it endorsed by, any of the companies mentioned.