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Women in Business

How to continue pushing for gender equality

By Kathleen Quinn Votaw

Well said, Oscar winner Patricia Arquette: “To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else's equal rights, it's our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” And thank you for raising this topic that never seems to get resolved!

Women in Hollywood have at least this one thing in common with the rest of womankind—they are still treated like second-class citizens when it comes to money and power. Even rich, powerful women like Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez responded passionately to Arquette’s demand for gender equality.

It’s not just wages that are lopsided for women in the U.S. and in the rest of the world. Although women-owned businesses continue to grow at a fast pace in our country, they lag behind businesses run by their male counterparts in funding, number of employees and revenue. There are many explanations as to why women make less in wages and revenue: they drop out to have children and get behind; they don’t need the money to support their families like men do; they aren’t in the right fields; they don’t negotiate or compete as well as men … the list is long. Does anyone really take these excuses seriously?

The fact is that discrimination in pay, hiring, promoting and funding are typical and accepted business practices when it comes to women. There is more we can do to change that.

The landscape

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research: “Women are almost half of the workforce. They are the equal, if not main, breadwinner in four out of ten families. They receive more college and graduate degrees than men. Yet, on average, women continue to earn considerably less than men. In 2013, female full-time workers made only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 22 percent. Women, on average, earn less than men in virtually every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data for both men and women to calculate an earnings ratio.”

Moving from wages to business ownership, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) tells us that women own more than 9.1 million U.S. firms that employ nearly 7.9 million people and generate $1.4 trillion in sales as of 2014. Sounds impressive, but when you look a little deeper, and compare with men’s achievements, you see a major uphill battle that women are fighting:

  • Although recent data show that women start businesses at twice the rate of men, only two percent of female-owned businesses break $1 million in revenue. Conversely, businesses owned by men are 3.5 times more likely to break $1 million. (Ernst & Young)
  • Women entrepreneurs receive just 19 percent of angel funding and even less of venture capital funding. (Kauffman Foundation)
  • Companies with a woman CEO only received three percent of the total venture capital dollars, or $1.5 billion out of the total of $50.8 billion invested during 2011-2013. (The Diana Project-Babson College study of 6,793 companies)
  • Only 19 percent of directors of S&P 500 companies are women, with the U.S. lagging behind many countries with advanced economies. (Catalyst)
  • One in 25 of the S&P 1500 has a woman CEO. (Ernst & Young)

Making Sense and Making Change

Anyone who pays attention is aware that companies with the most women on their executive teams outperform companies with the fewest women. This is true in terms of both return on equity and return to shareholders. In addition, numerous studies find one of two things about men and women leaders: that there is no difference in their levels of leadership skill and success; or that women are the better leaders (as in recent Harvard Business Review survey data that found women outscored men on 12 of 16 outstanding leadership competencies).

So how do we overcome the stereotypes and discrimination that hold back the careers of our wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters—especially when the status quo harms us all, both financially and morally? The data are in—and have been for many years. It’s time for equality. I have two suggestions to add to the excellent advice that’s out there for women who look.

The first is: ladies, find your confidence and please communicate it. Women notoriously ask for less compensation than their male counterparts. My friend, business leader Colleen Abdoulah, Chairwoman of WOW, Inc. often illustrates how women undermine themselves. She points out, for example, that women look at a job description and count how many qualifications for the job they don’t have. Our male counterparts look at the same job description and confidently note how many strengths they have, even when they have just two or three qualifications out of a long list of requirements for the job.

The second suggestion is: find a mentor and be a mentor. Most people who succeed in any field you can name had a mentor. Women are known for shutting out other women as they rise to the top. Don’t do that yourself, and go further by having the courage to call out women who try to become queen bees. Women should surround themselves with other successful, positive women and with men who are on record for supporting women. Work with people who tell you the truth about how they see things and how they see you—and do the same for others.

It seems to me that it’s up to us as individuals—as women or men who care about women—to not only change our own behavior, but enforce standards for equality wherever we see it lacking. As soon as enough of us commit to promoting equality, women will make it all the way up the staircase.  In the end, it is all about men and women leading together to grow our great country and economy—no one can do it alone!

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