Negosentro|It’s a truth universally acknowledged that women have it harder than their male counterparts in almost any given life situation. Nowhere is the inbuilt gender bias of our entire economic system more evident than in the dog-eat-dog world of business. In 2019, around 40% of US businesses are female-owned, and this represents a promising trajectory over the last decade. Of course, that figure’s still a good 10% off what it should be. The deeper you dig into the statistics, the more evident it is that there are still barriers out there limiting the capacity of women to start and grow their own businesses.
One area where the gender gap is particularly pronounced is in the area of business funding. Women entrepreneurs, on average, find it more difficult to get access to financial backing from banks, investors, state and federal initiatives. The gender lending gap is exemplified by the fact that the average loan to female-owned businesses is 31% smaller than to male-owned businesses. Some women also report difficulties accessing loans in spite of having entrepreneurial track-records and bonafide credit histories.
Fortunately, there are schemes in place that are seeking to redress this imbalance with everyone from the federal government to economic development agencies offering loans, credit, and grants to women-owned businesses. The competition for small business grants, in particular, can be fearsome, but the payoff is more than worth it.
As we’ve seen, there are currently fewer female CEOs, and in recent times, there were very few indeed. A knock-on effect of this is the smaller pool of potential female mentors and partners. Compounding this problem is the fact that many female entrepreneurs may not feel at home in traditional male-dominated business networking environments: the golf course, men-only private clubs, and the shooting range, to name but a few.
There have been some efforts to counter this with some high-profile meet-ups and organizations founded to bring female entrepreneurs together in the same space and amplify their voices. If you’re looking for a mentor, seeking out a business coach for women can kill two birds with one stone. Work with someone who can give you an objective critique of your business, while also taking account of the barriers you face. Business coaches who focus on female-run firms should also have a Rolodex of useful contacts.
Most female leaders will encounter unreconstructed sexism often in their careers, whether it’s investors taking them less seriously, staff judging them for being “emotional” or workers questioning their commitment when they try to have a family as well as a business. In some countries, there are actually some early indications of a backward slide. Microaggressions like these mean you have to be tough to survive in the world of business and have a strategy for navigating these kinds of interactions.
It shouldn’t have to be like this. The single best piece of advice for any entrepreneur encountering this kind of sexism is to call it out, whether that means challenging a remark in the moment or spreading the word within the female entrepreneur community. It’s all about solidarity and collective action. Empower female members of staff, encourage them to back each other, and you’re already on the road to a better world.
Change doesn’t come easy, but there are signs that the business bubble is starting to adapt to the twenty-first century. Don’t be disheartened; be determined.