More breaks in the glass ceiling? Helping women business owners thrive
Nearly 40 years after Marilyn Loden coined the phrase “glass ceiling” to represent the invisible barriers to success that female leaders face, I can’t help but wonder: Is the glass ceiling truly shattered — especially for women business owners?
We got some interesting data earlier this year about elite female entrepreneurs: two-thirds of them feel that they have broken through this metaphorical barricade, according to the 2017 BNP Paribas Global Entrepreneur Report. Their success shows in the numbers: The women entrepreneurs surveyed for the report have an average personal net worth of $15.9 million, have an average primary company turnover of $8.6 million, and own an average of 3.6 companies – all figures higher than their male peers.
But the road toward success has not been easy for these women. Two-thirds of the survey respondents said they felt they had faced greater challenges than their male counterparts did. It’s an issue I wonder about as we approach our annual Women Entrepreneur Program, to be held July 9-14 at Stanford University.
It’s tempting to think that the world’s youngest female entrepreneurs – “millennipreneurs,” born between 1980 and 2000 – don’t face the same level of challenges that older female entrepreneurs faced on their climb to the top. But those millennipreneurs would beg to differ. In fact, 69% of the female millennipreneurs surveyed said that they had faced a greater level of challenges than male entrepreneurs, compared to only 55% of “boomerpreneurs” aged 55 and up, according to the report.
In other words, despite the gains for gender equality that women have strove for in the preceding decades, young female entrepreneurs feel that they still face a more difficult road to success than males do. This challenge may be partly due to female entrepreneurs having fewer female family role models in business than their male counterparts. In fact, female entrepreneurs are more likely than males to be first-generation success stories, the report found. And, as any first-generation entrepreneur will tell you, business ownership isn’t easy when you don’t have a knowledgeable family member to turn to for guidance and moral support.
At Bank of the West’s Private Business Owner Solutions group, we’ve found that women entrepreneurs who come to us feel they may have to work harder than their male peers, which makes them motivated and often more inclined to try new things. Many are also looking to learn more in order to give them a competitive edge in business.
These realities are precisely why events like the Women Entrepreneur Program at Stanford are so important to fostering success of not just women entrepreneurs as individuals but also female entrepreneurship as a whole. The Stanford event gives participants the opportunity to learn more skills in leadership and fast-growing businesses. For example, this year they can hear talks from Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Deborah Gruenfeld on “Acting with Power” and Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Maggie Neale on realizing the synergy of teams. Participants can also network with 40 women from 12 countries, which allows for continued growth.
In addition to attending the Stanford event, women business leaders can help entrepreneurship thrive outside the classroom. The possibilities are endless, but some ways of contributing include:
- Creating a local community or network for female entrepreneurs. For instance, you can use websites such as Meetup to create a monthly meeting where female entrepreneurs can meet each other in a friendly, informal setting such as at a local restaurant or bar.
- Offer to speak at your local library, community college, or university about how you achieved success as a female entrepreneur.
- Send a loan to an entrepreneur across the globe through the nonprofit Kiva. Your loan can be particularly useful to women looking to start businesses where female entrepreneurship is uncommon. For example, the 2017 BNP Paribas Global Entrepreneur Report found that female business-ownership is least common in Qatar, Indonesia, and Poland.
The glass ceiling may still exist, but female entrepreneurs are thriving nonetheless, and are banding together to encourage young women to start businesses. The statistics prove that it’s not only working, but thriving.