While women and men around the world celebrated the 106th annual International Women’s Day earlier this month, it was also a chance to revisit questions about women’s progress in society, business and the world at-large. No question, progress has been amazing. But gaps and deficits still exist, too. Take corporate America, for example, where things like the glass ceiling and less pay for equal work point to the sad realities that progress, albeit real, is also really slow.
What do women continue to grapple with in the workplace? Harvard Business Review rounded up various pieces of research that took a look. A few key findings:
- Men still get more plum assignments and more senior management attention as a result.
- Don’t most ambitious, hard-working women who leave the workplace do so to care for their families? That’s largely a myth. Research shows that the exodus is due more to work-life balance problems such as long hours—or just plain frustration.
- Based on studies of 60 major corporations, the number and percentage of women fall off dramatically in the higher ranks.
- In a couple of small but revealing experiments, women seemed much more concerned with ethical issues than their male counterparts.
So it’s no surprise that the debate continues. And it’s also no surprise, given the experiences of many women in larger companies, that over the past 20-plus years, women have been starting businesses at nearly twice the rate of men. Predictions are that by 2018, more than 9.72 million new small business jobs will be created, with women creating over half of them! It’s a dramatic leap: As recently as 2010, women-owned businesses created only 16 percent of U.S. jobs. As more and more women opt for the independence owning a small business affords them, they’re also drawn by the promise of using their many skills to create their own destiny and be the masters of their fate. Both are experiences women know they’re unlikely to get in corporate America.
As women as a group gain in strength and numbers as small business owners, they appear to be marching into the future with growing optimism. According to the 2014 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and Web.com Group Inc., an overwhelming majority of women surveyed were optimistic about the economy overall and about how their businesses will do this year. It’s not that women business owners don’t have worries and concerns; they do. Getting new customers and keeping them, tax and health insurance issues, and rising fuel and energy costs are very much on their minds. But, as business owners, these women seem to demonstrate a confidence in their own abilities to take on the challenges they encounter.
There are some good economic reasons for women’s optimism, too. In a special report for CNBC, Biz2Credit CEO Rohit Arora writes that the “gender lending gap” is shrinking for women business owners. Women are not only starting more businesses, but as business owners, they’re also creating more jobs and earning significantly more—as much as 54 percent more in some year-over-year comparisons. Arora says that improved fundamentals, balance sheets and credit scores among women-owned businesses have led to more success in obtaining capital, both in loan numbers and loan size. But it’s not all rosy, Arora says: Funding rates for women-owned businesses still lag behind men’s.
But overall, women entrepreneurs and business owners are making impressive gains. What’s driving the changes? Rohit lists several key contributors:
- Remote capabilities
- Productivity enhancements
- Digital and social media
- More competition in lending / available capital at lower cost
- Lower start-up costs
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