Female Entrepreneurs Go Beyond “Cookies and Crafts”

WPO Founder and President, Marsha Firestone, Ph.D. post on Harvard Business Review HBR Blog Network: http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/09/female-entrepreneurs-go-beyond/

Published on Monday, September 9, 2013

In the 1990′s, if you asked most women business owners what their dreams were, they’d say they just want to be able to support themselves and their families. The times have changed. Today, women have bigger dreams and seek to grow their businesses to the maximum level. However, many are still saddled with an outdated perception about their roles in business and contributions to the economy, despite tremendous growth over the past decade.

The old perception is that women-led and -owned businesses are micro-enterprises; companies run out of the home with fewer than five employees. But most women outgrew the “cookies and crafts” stereotype a long time ago, and have their sights set on bigger goals. Many have found success in industries like technology, mining, and construction.

Progressive thinking is being pushed forward by new data that showcases the undeniable impact of women-led and -owned businesses on the economy. Consider these datapoints:

  • American Express OPEN’s latest Growing Under the Radar report details just how strong these businesses have been over the past decade. Perhaps the most surprising data is that women-led and -owned businesses experienced 57% growth in revenue of $10 million or above. That is actually a growth rate of 47% more than their male counterparts. This data is even more impressive in the context of a down economy: women-led and -owned businesses continued to grow throughout the recession, as companies around the world had to tighten their belts to weather the storm. The same report indicates that health care, social assistance, and education are industries in which the growth of women’s ownership has been the strongest.
  • The membership of the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO), a nonprofit peer-advisory group for women with $2MM-plus gross revenue, itself accounts for $19BN in aggregate revenue and over 142,000 jobs, stemming directly from its 1,700+ female business leaders. In the WPO, the largest number of businesses are in manufacturing and distribution and 25% of members generate over $10 million annually.
  • Forbes called 2013 the “Year of the Female Founder.” As female entrepreneurship gains steam, interest from venture capitalists will grow as well. There are now a number of investment groups, like Golden Seeds, that specialize in funding and empowering women-led businesses.

It makes sense that we’re seeing such a tremendous growth rate for women-led and -owned businesses at this particular time in history. In 1977, only 4.5% of privately held businesses were owned by women. Those businesses were mainly in fashion, fitness and beauty. Today, the greatest number of multimillion-dollar women-owned businesses are in wholesale trade (20%), finance/insurance (12%), and transportation/warehousing (11%).

Over the last decade, women-led and owned businesses generating more than $1 million have grown 31%. That number would be even greater if businesses owned 50/50 by male and female partners and businesses with financial investors were included in census data.

With so many women-led and -owned businesses reaching such lofty benchmarks in the last decade, the stereotypes about female business leaders are thankfully beginning to wear thin. As more women ascend the corporate ladder or build their own businesses from the ground up, they’ll bring even visibility to the success of women throughout business.


One thought on “Female Entrepreneurs Go Beyond “Cookies and Crafts”

  1. We are definitely more diversified than before, and I expect it will increase in years to come. I think the use of “cookies and crafts” as a negative stereotype perhaps meant historically to undermine women’s work, also undermines the contribution that women-owned businesses that market these products (industries) make to the economy. In addition to being women-owned business pioneers, these entities continue to make a considerable contribution to the economy. I love cookies … and crafts and all the rest.

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