Women Face Challenges as Entrepreneurs
In the 21st century, it would seem obvious that female and male entrepreneurs would be treated equally. However, that is not necessarily true. Although most new businesses are started by women, some men still do not deal with women business owners in the same that they deal with business men.
Maryann Winterich, owner of Innuendo, a women's clothing boutique in Rocky River, has been in business for 22 years. She has little experience with this issue. “The vendors and sales reps I have worked with have always treated me with respect and professionalism. It is their job to sell me their products and merchandise. Their behavior has always been appropriate."
Moreover, since her customer base is mostly women, the issue is almost moot for Winterich. “Most of my customers are women, with a few husbands thrown into the mix. They all seem to appreciate my knowledgeable and creative customer service.”
Winterich, however, has on occasion had issues with some service providers, particularly those who represent credit card services and utilities. “Sometimes I feel that, because I am a female, [they think] I must have no knowledge of numbers and mechanicals. In fact, one reason that I chose my current credit card provider was because the woman who represented it was so knowledgeable and helpful!”
Marylou Palazzi, owner of Palazzi Interiors, said the interior design business was "professionalized" by two women a century ago, Elise de Wolf and Dorothy Drapery, so it is accepted as a field for women. “I have not experienced issues that other women entrepreneurs have had to face because of this. But a consistent problem I have to face is working with male contractors. I expect them not to not accept and they expect not to accept me, all based on previous experiences. I do not know if that will ever change, could be a great team though.”
Wild Flower Bakery in Rocky River is celebrating its 20th anniversary in just a few weeks, according to its owner, Sue Johansen. She has not felt she has been treated differently. However, prior to opening her business, she worked in a grocery store bakery. “It was a highly sexist environment that was passed down from the management. I do feel this was an isolated circumstance based on the ownership of that particular business,” she stated.
“I think the greatest attributes that have led to part of my store's success are compassion, humor and fairness. I don't know that being a woman really had anything to do with it. If anything, my maternal instincts have been both a positive and negative in the store's history,” Johansen remarked.
Funding Is a Hurdle
Lack of access to funding is a big hurdle for female entrepreneurs. Nationally women own fewer companies than men, a common reason for the funding problem. According to The Center for Women’s Business Research, women head only 28.2% of all businesses in the U.S. Yet, more women are starting their own businesses to avoid having to deal with the glass ceiling of larger organizations.
However, things are getting better for women seeking funding. A study found that companies with at least one female founder secured a record 13% of U.S. venture capital through September 2013. By comparison, in 2004, women-led companies secured only 4% of venture capital. Two industries stand out in terms of growth in recent years: Female-founded companies in the retail business received about 40% of the venture capital and in the consumer services industry, 33% .
Several organizations have been created specifically to assist women entrepreneurs. The Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Women's Business Ownership created a loan program that makes it easier for women entrepreneurs to obtain SBA financing. The SBA also established a Women's Network for Entrepreneurial Training that links women mentors with those in need of help. In addition, many states including Ohio have programs to promote women entrepreneurs.
For more information, Dr. Haan can be reached at 419-618-2867 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Perry Haan is Professor of Marketing and Entrepreneurship, and former Dean of the Business School at Tiffin University. He resides in Rocky River.