In 1968, a national cigarette company launched a famous ad campaign targeting women. Every ad prominently featured the tagline, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” The tagline and campaign intended to celebrate the growing influence and success of modern women in the political, economic and social arenas.
Fifty years later, more than ever, women play a large and vital role in our society. There have been women astronauts, women serve in the military, they’ve been professional race car drivers and even won political offices across the country in both parties. Name any endeavor or enterprise and you won’t have to look hard to discover there is a strong female presence. Many large corporations, including General Motors and other Fortune 500 companies, have female CEOs. But what about in the small business world? Have they come a long way there?
The answer is a definite yes. Women make up 40 percent of new entrepreneurs in America, the highest rate since 1996. There were more than 11.6 million women-owned businesses in the United States in 2017. These businesses employed nine million people and generated $1.7 trillion in sales that year. They also make up nearly 40 percent of all businesses in the country and employ eight percent of the total workforce. Clearly women have become a force in the small business world.
According to one recent survey of more than 3,000 women small business owners, other than gender, there are not many differences between male and female entrepreneurs in terms of the passion they have or the industries they choose. Men and women small business owners tend to select industries in about the same numbers save for three, this study asserts. Four times as many men tend to start software/internet/computer/electronics companies. However, nearly twice as many women start health/pharmaceutical companies or art/design firms.
Another survey of 1,200 female business owners found that women entrepreneurs are quite optimistic and foresee few barriers to their future business success. This optimism may be well-founded – one university recently held a roundtable touting that now is the time for women entrepreneurs to strike out on their own and follow their passions.
Despite the glowing stats and positive poll results, women entrepreneurs do face burdens. Studies have shown that even though women-owned small businesses make up a sizeable and growing collective chunk of the American business landscape, very few individual firms make a “high economic impact” on their own. This means they do not generate more than $500,000 or more in revenue. Fewer women-owned small businesses ever “scale up” and grow into medium-sized businesses. In general, they start small and stay small.
As with any small business, no matter who owns them, women-owned businesses face funding challenges. However, big business and venture capitalists have joined forces to provide valuable seed money for women to start their own firms. Other financial giants have begun offering educational programs and initiatives on how to start a small business, as well as give mentoring and networking opportunities. Websites feature inspiring stories about women entrepreneurs who have taken a risk and found success. The world has recognized women small business owners have a lot to contribute to the economy.
In 1968, the advertising tagline told aspiring women, “You’ve come a long way.” In 2018, perhaps an updated tagline would add this for female entrepreneurs aiming to make their mark in the business world, “And keep it going, you’re doing great.”