This coming week I am going to be part of a panel of local women entrepreneurs speaking about Women in Business. (This was organized by Andrea Paquette from the Lexington Community Education program where I regularly teach a class on using social media to market your business.) I have to admit to being torn about being identified as a female entrepreneur. I wonder if this is a dated concept or if there is really and truly a unique set of challenges, issues and concerns for women. Are we still in need of extra assistance? Do we need our own special panel?
When people talk about a woman’s unique business challenges, things that get mentioned frequently are:
- Wage and earnings inequities: Women still earn approximately 3/4 of what men earn (usually because they take time off to have and raise children).
- Few women leading or growing a business: there seem to be few women founders or at the top of company ranks
- Women are still struggling to balance family and business obligations
As the mother of two, and the wife of a stay-at-home dad, #1 and #3 don’t seem to apply to me, although I would dearly love to be able to spend more time at home with the family. My husband, a musician, was the obvious choice for primary caregiver, just as my earlier career success and higher salary qualified me to be the sole breadwinner. My husband has been home since our older son was born more than 12 years ago. (Yes, it would be great if vacuum cleaning happened more often but for the most part, hubby is in charge of home, hearth, and the not-so-small heathens we are raising.) In this sense, am I any different from working dads and male entrepreneurs with stay-at-home spouses? (OK, aside from the birth process, maternity versus paternity leave, and breastfeeding.)
There have been fewer female role models than I would like. I can think of only a few women big company founders whom I have met. (And most of the women business owners I know seem to fall in the small business category.) Meanwhile, I was the faithful sidekick for more than 2 years to a passionate woman CEO who had successfully raised quite a bit of angel capital for her second business (the first had been sold) but was stymied when raising venture money. But I have talked with dozens of male entrepreneurs who had similar experiences.
There seems to also be a dearth of women entrepreneurs in the technology space where I spend a good amount of my time. I go to networking events where I am among the few women. When Scott Kirsner recently hosted a dinner at the Microsoft NERD center in Cambridge, I was one of only two women in the room. Granted, there was also a dearth of marketing/PR people and a heavy concentration of tech-types. This could be another piece of evidence in terms of a lack of girls going on to study math, science and technology but, as I have attempted to prove using the device of Mass Innovation Nights, entrepreneurial and innovative spirit isn’t restricted to any one industry.
There remain lots of hold-overs from an era when women were hampered in the workplace more than they are today: special websites and blogs, angels and other investment groups, networking organizations and women’s business publications. I’ve rarely felt that my being a woman hurt my success in business. (Notice I said “rarely.”)
Are women still in need of special attention? Do we have different business needs than men? I’m not so sure but I am not yet ready to declare victory.