Women Entrepreneurs in 2010

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:

  1. 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).
  2. Few women leading or growing a business: there seem to be few women founders or at the top of company ranks
  3. 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.

4 thoughts on “Women Entrepreneurs in 2010

  1. Bobbie, I was thinking you have identified a real issue about there being few women technology entrepreneurs. Any ideas about how to increase the numbers?

  2. Center for Women in Enterprise (www.cweonline.org) is the Boston region certifying office for Women’s Business Enterprise (WBENC) and an incubator/resource of growth tools for a woman entrepreneur. The National Federation for Independent Business (NFIB) is also worth checking out as is the Women’s Community page on http://www.business.gov. My firm helped debut the book: “Enlightened Power: How Women are Transforming the Practice of Leadership” (Wiley) which should be required reading for boards and management committees, not just by women. SBA research shows that women-owned start-ups are growing at the greatest rate and provide a significant economic infusion in the US. But yes, from history there are fewer women CEOs (13 from the 2009 Fortune 500) so in that there are fewer role models. Double standards in business are nothing new and continue to be reflected in politics as well. Until we stop being intrigued by a candidate’s appearance or question someone’s obligations to their children (women in particular), the rise to the top of the ladder in business and government will continue to be measured with women getting the presumptive short end of the stick. Gender blindness requires an attitude reset across the board, but I think there are a lot of fantastic and inspiring women business owners who will tell you that “balance” is an unachievable goal, that your life infrastructure has to be built to offset the demands of business ownership, and that women would do well to apply our nurturing aptitude for greater networking reciprocity with men and women, because “pay it forward” works in business, no matter your gender or entrepreneurial standing. @loringbarnes

  3. Perspective is an interesting lens so when I attend entrepreneurial high tech events I see things differently. I’m thrilled to see how many women are in the room. Probably because when I co-founded DOME imaging systems in the late 80s, I was always the only woman in the room. Things have definitely changed & for the better. Not only do I appreciate the increase in women entrepreneurs, but in the support we/they give each other. To answer the question posed by John, the secret to encouraging more women entrepreneurs in Boston is to increase funding for B to C businesses. This is because most women founded companies are B to C’s and Boston traditionally funds B to B businesses.

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