By Rieva Lesonsky

I’ve been covering women entrepreneurs for more than 30 years. And while we’ve certainly made progress—in some cases, a lot of it—I have to be honest and say we still have a long way to go. There are numerous factors at play for why women business owners aren’t earning more, growing faster, getting funded (particularly VC capital) participating in greater numbers in the tech universe, or gaining access to the time-honored “old/young boys’ network”. If you’re an entrepreneurial woman, you’ve likely encountered a few of these challenges yourself.

In honor of National Women’s Small Business month, here are some articles, blogs and stats that are for and about women entrepreneurs I either wrote or found particularly informative.


1—Women Business Owners are More Confident

Bank of America’s 2018 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight (available here) shows women are more confident about their future revenue growth.

  • 58% of women entrepreneurs expect their revenues to increase in the year ahead, up 14 percentage points from 2017
  • 56% plan to grow their businesses over the next five years (+ 2 percentage points)
  • 21% plan to hire more employees this year (+ 2 percentage points)
  • 49% expect their local economies to improve (+ 4 percentage points from 2017 and 12 percentage points from 2016)
  • 48% expect the national economy to improve (+ 4 percentage points from 2017 and 23% percentage points from 2016)

Other survey highlights:

Women business owners leading digital transformation

  • Half foresee a complete transition to digital payments in the next five years
  • 33% of women use mobile devices to process digital financial transactions (vs. 26% of men)
  • Of those conducting business transactions on mobile devices, women business owners lead men on specific-use cases as well:
    • Accept mobile payments from customers (71% of women vs. 65% of men)
    • Issue refunds to customers (29% of women vs.19% of men)
    • Pay employees (19% of women vs. 14% of men)

Social media updates and hiring

  • Social media updates (44% of women vs. 33% of men)
  • Hiring (12% of women vs. 8% of men)

Barriers to business ownership and accessing capital

  • 61% of women entrepreneurs say it was more difficult for them to get their businesses off the ground than it was for male business owners they know
  • 68% say women face greater challenges than men when it comes to accessing capital
  • Yet, 84% of women entrepreneurs believe access to capital for women has improved in the last 10 years
  • To continue progress in this area, 42% of women believe gender-blind financing (where the gender of an applicant seeking investment or loan funding is not known) has the greatest potential to level the playing field for equal access to capital, followed by more opportunities for education and training (24%) and access to government loan programs (16%).

In addition to the report for B of A, there was another—The Future of Finance is Female: Merrill Edge® Report: Spotlight on Women (available here).


Today, women feel increasingly in charge of their finances

  • Over the last 20 years, 75% of women believe they’ve gained more financial-decision making power
  • 55% are the primary financial decision-maker for their households

Women appear to be more proactive than men in some aspects of their financial futures

Rather than procrastinate on future investments, women are proactively saving for:

  • Retirement (84% of women, vs. 78% of men)
  • Emergency Fund (74% of women, vs. 67% of men)
  • Buying a house (72% of women, vs. 66% of men)

Yet, there’s still a confidence gap

Nearly half of women reported making money in the market in the past year. However, this is 20% lower than their male counterparts, suggesting there is room to grow.

  • They’re nearly twice as likely to say they don’t have money in the stock market (21% of women vs. 11% of men)
  • Women trust their instincts for nearly every aspect of life including having children (91%), supporting or donating to charities (83%), or becoming a homeowner (78%), but they are less likely to trust their instincts alone when it comes to buying a car (68%), retiring (75%) and investing their money (56%)

Making investments

As they gain financial prowess, women look to invest in companies that support women’s financial empowerment and demonstrate social responsibility. Women are more likely to buy stock in a company that:

  • Pays women the same as men (91%)
  • Offers employees 3+ months of family leave (85%)
  • Has diverse leadership (90%)
  • Demonstrates a commitment to environmental sustainability (87%)
  • Supports LGBTQ community (67%)


2—Closing the Gender Credit Gap

Fundbox, a leading financial technology company dedicated to simplifying the way businesses pay and get paid, just released a research report that finds newer data-driven underwriting models are helping to close the “gender credit gap”.

The free report, What If chronicles the historical challenges women business owners have faced in accessing a business line of credit.

The reality for women-business owners

While women business owners are an economic powerhouse contributing millions of jobs and trillions of dollars to the U.S. economy, history shows they have faced more and greater obstacles compared to men in their quest to obtain credit and secure investment. Inequities in today’s financial landscape remain and are often exacerbated by financial institutions in their methods for determining creditworthiness.

Report insights include:

  • The rise of female entrepreneurs and why it matters
  • How traditional credit approvals can shut out women
  • The credit gap between male and female entrepreneurs
  • Why technology is helping level the playing field
  • How financial firms can help create a fairer future

Despite the challenges that women-business owners face, the report concludes, there are newer, more data-driven underwriting methods that can diminish bias and level the playing field so that women and men are treated fairly.

“At Fundbox, we believe in the importance of financial inclusion. All business owners deserve fair and equal access to credit,” says Sebastian Rymarz, Chief Business Officer of Fundbox. “Our goal with this research project was to highlight the fact that women entrepreneurs continue to face significant challenges when applying for credit. Thankfully, advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies are helping to close the gender credit gap and, we’re proud to be part of that much needed wave of change.”


3—Best & Worst Cities for Women Entrepreneurs

The experts at evaluated and ranked the largest 50 U.S. metro areas to determine which are the most/least friendly to women-owned businesses. The analysis took several factors into account, including business income for self-employed women, business earnings for self-employed women compared to wage earners, the rate of self-employed and “incorporated” women, and parity of business ownership between men and women.

Key research findings: 

  • Cities on the West Coast fared well for female business owners
  • Cities in the Rust Belt fared worst for female business owners
  • Only 37% of self-employed professionals are women
  • The average woman-owned business brings in just $18,011 per year

Best 10 Cities for Female Entrepreneurs
1) San Francisco
2) San Antonio
3) San Jose
4) Memphis
5) Nashville
6) Los Angeles
7) San Diego
8) Sacramento
9) Seattle
10) Cincinnati

Worst 10 Cities for Female Entrepreneurs 
50) Cleveland
49) Pittsburgh
48) Philadelphia
47) Louisville
46) Indianapolis
45) Detroit
44) Birmingham
43) Chicago
42) St. Louis
41) Buffalo


4—No More Male Co-Signers: FinTech and the women’s business revolution

Guest post by Sarina Siddhanti, head of commercial lending at Funding Circle 

Just 30 years ago, an entrepreneur like my mom seeking a loan for her business could be required to find a male relative to co-sign her business loan documents. His involvement in the business didn’t matter, just his gender.

That changed with the passage of H.R. 5050, also known as the Women’s Business Ownership Act, in October 1988. The law eliminated the co-signer requirement, established new support for women business owners, and mandated that the government collect more complete information on the state of women-owned businesses.

It might seem shocking that the discriminatory practice of requiring a male co-signer was still in effect so recently. But it wasn’t that much earlier that women even gained the right to open their own bank accounts or get their own credit cards. Women taking control of their own financial futures, particularly in the business realm, is a recent development—and this progress can’t be taken for granted.

My mom can remember, down to the minute, the moment when she realized that she would never get what she wanted out of her corporate job just outside Washington, D.C. and decided to go into business for herself. Armed with her public policy PhD, she self-funded and started an environmental consulting company that works with federal and state governments. I was in 5th grade when she made this decision and she still owns that same business today.

When I was growing up, I never realized there was such a thing as a “woman entrepreneur.” There were just entrepreneurs. Business owners. Hustlers. And that’s who I wanted to support when I chose a career for myself. That’s what brought me to my career in FinTech.

We often think about the benefits of FinTech—the term used to describe technology-powered financial services—in terms of increased convenience and speed, cost savings, and better user experiences. But beyond that, FinTech also represents a step forward for financial inclusion. It’s helping to level the playing field for small business owners like my mom in particular, giving them access to capital and resources that were previously out of reach. Here are three ways:

  1. 1. FinTech is giving women back their most precious commodity: time. What I remember most from my time growing up was that running a small business means lots of long hours and hard work. For us, it was a family affair. My childhood was filled with weekends of my brother and I stuffing binders for a big proposal, an occasional Tuesday night FedEx run, and of course non-stop work for my Mom through nights and vacations. Between work and family, my mom just never had a break.

While there are many men who juggle these demands as well, it’s often women—particularly mothers—who must perform a constant balancing act. Women are increasingly serving as primary breadwinners for their families, and usually do so without relinquishing many of their family duties. Women are also twice as likely to act as primary caregiver for aging parents. While flexible and remote work schedules offered by many large companies have helped working mothers, these arrangements just aren’t possible at a small business when you’re the only one running the operations.

Fintech solutions such as Zenefits, Due, and Wave allow small business owners to spend less time on the daily tasks of running their business. This means they have more time to spend on growing their business—or on their families and life outside the business.

  1. FinTech is equalizing access to financing. Once I started working at Funding Circle, a business loans platform, I asked my mom if she had ever considered financing. She hadn’t. Like so many other female entrepreneurs, my mom wanted to work with the capital that she had in order to grow her business. Now, she advises other entrepreneurs to take help early in order to meet their growth objectives.

Study after study have documented that women business owners not only ask for less financing than men do, but are approved at lower rates. The financing they do get tends to come at a higher cost. The stats are even worse in the VC world, where female startup founders received just 2% of of the $85 billion total invested by venture capitalists in 2017.

This funding gap makes it difficult for women-owned businesses to grow quickly, or to weather the storm when sales are down. FinTechs don’t just make the process of securing financing easier and faster, but they use gender-blind digital processes that are less likely to be infiltrated by bias. In fact, research shows in crowdfunding, women are actually better at raising money than men are.

  1. FinTech is helping with the hardest piece of the puzzle: Building your network. Running a successful business takes more than just capital and a great idea. You can’t learn to start a business beforehand, it just happens on the job. And when it does, it comes at you fast. One of a business owner’s best assets is a network of others who are working on the same challenges that they are.

Growing up, my mom was the only female entrepreneur I knew. She wasn’t able to compare business challenges with her friends, most of whom had traditional jobs and didn’t face the same types of issues. Over time she has not only formed a network, but she’s led several networks that help other women find a leg up.

FinTech is stepping in to help women do that faster. Websites like Ellevest exist to form communities around finance just for women and provide plenty of fantastic advice specific to female entrepreneurs. Not to mention, other types of technology platforms like Meetup and Facebook have helped women entrepreneurs make all types of connections with others.

FinTech isn’t a novelty anymore, it’s becoming a central component of our financial system. In doing so, it’s fulfilling its promise to equalize and democratize access to finance. This is great news for everyone, especially America’s 12 million women-owned small businesses.


5—Widening the Gender Pay Gap

A new study released by the ADP Research Institute (ADP RI) studied both salary and bonus pay between genders at the time of hire and after six years of tenure within the same firmsAccording to findings from the Rethinking Gender Pay Inequity in a More Transparent World study, a larger proportion of women begin their careers at lower wages compared to men. By following the career paths of male and female exempt new hires who stayed with the same company for six years (2010 to 2016), the ADP Research Institute found that women, on average, are paid 17% ($15,000) less in base salary than men. However, when factoring in the gender pay gap for incentive pay (69%), the total earnings pay gap widens to 19% ($18,500).

“We’re looking at pay equity in a very unique manner,” says Ahu Yildirmaz, co-head of the ADP Research Institute. “By studying both salary and bonus pay between genders at the time of hire and after six years of tenure within the same firms, we found that the overall pay gap between men and women worsens due to disparity in bonuses. Additionally, while it has been believed part of the wage disparity is due to women assuming the role of family caregiver and therefore prompted to leave the workforce, the findings show there is minimal evidence women are more likely to quit their job compared to men.”

Differing gaps exist across age groups

When categorizing new hires by age and income, women ages 20 to 30 with a low starting salary had near-equal base pay of men; however, the base salary gap worsened for females after six years. Plus, when bonuses are factored in, these women fared the worst with a 21% less bonus-to-base ratio compared to their male counterparts.

However, for the 40-50 age group, men and women started their careers with almost no base salary gap for all income groups, and women did well keeping up with men in base salary growth for the next six years. In fact, in most groups, they closed the base salary gap. The disparity here is with incentive pay, especially with the lower income group. In the $40,000 to $60,000 income range, female workers received an average bonus of 8.5%, whereas men received 11.4%—a gap of 74%.

Pay gaps fluctuate across industries

When looking across industries, incentive pay made some very distinct impacts. Women working in the Information sector make 7% more in bonus to base ratio than men, which lessened their overall gap in total earnings. In contrast, women in the Finance and Real Estate industry earn 21% less in their bonus to base ratio compared to men. The industry has the largest pay gap for women with and without incentive pay.

The average bonus amount for women was less than two-thirds of the amount paid to men who had equivalent base pay, age, and tenure. This incentive pay disparity was observed across all age, salary, and industry groups from moment of hire and persisted throughout the six-year study window.


6—State of Women-Owned Businesses

According to Ventureneer’s latest research American Express 2018 State of Women-Owned Businesses, women-owned businesses continue to make great progress.

  • There are now 12.3 million women-owned businesses accounting for 40% of all businesses.
  • The growth rate for women-of-color businesses between 2007 and 2018 is triple that of all women-owned businesses: 163% vs. 58% respectively.
  • Over the past 11 years million dollar plus women-owned business grew 46% vs.12% for all businesses.

That’s the good news. The bad news: While they represent 40% of all businesses, women-owned businesses only account for 8% of total employees and 4.3% of total revenue.

The report is chock full of stats and information. Check it out here.


7—Women Less Optimistic Than Men About the Future of Work

Women are less optimistic than men about the future of work, according to a recent survey by Clutch, a leading B2B research, ratings, and reviews company. When asked how they view their future career prospects, 27% of working women say they feel worried or neutral, compared to 20% of men.

Workers overall have a positive outlook about their future careers, the survey found. Most (76%) are optimistic about their future careers, compared to 20% who say they are worried.

However, gender differences correlate with other factors that impact optimism, including decision-making authority at work, according to the survey’s findings.

Men’s Optimism for the future of work is tied to their likelihood of having decision-making authority at work: The survey suggests that men are more optimistic about the future because they are more likely to have decision-making authority in their jobs.

Higher levels of authority correlate with higher levels of optimism. For example, over 90% of  business owners and 80% of business managers say they are optimistic about their future career prospects, compared to 70% of individual contributor employees who do not have decision-making authority.

Men are significantly more likely to hold leadership positions, compared to women—53% of those surveyed are business owners or managers, compared to only 32% of women.

You can read the full report here.


8—Paying it Forward

Want to help support young girls? Then check out the nonprofit Campaign for Female Education (Camfed). They’ve educated 2.6 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa in 25 years. Camfed has pledged to educate one million more in five years (2015-2020) and they’re on their way to exceeding that goal.

Camfed’s alumnae network (CAMA) contributes to the mission, enabling women to support each other and more girls to break free of the cycle of poverty and become leaders and changemakers for their communities and beyond. Some of Camfed’s biggest donors are the girls themselves. And their success as educated women is impressive.

For instance, Ayisha Fuseini, a CAMA member, won Female Entrepreneur of the Year at the Invest in Africa Awards (IIA) for her social entrepreneurship as a shea butter producer, supplying major companies like The Body Shop. CAMA multiplies the effects of Camfed as each alumna helps support three more girls through school and helps transform them into leaders, lawyers, and entrepreneurs.

Learn more!

  • Posted a great exclusive report featuring insights from lots of women business owners. Well worth reading
  • 2018 women business owner spotlight
  • Growth of women-owned businesses
  • Great organizations for women-business owners to join
  • 6 nonprofits you can support to help women in business
  • 5 organizations to help women globally
  • 15 great websites for women business owners
  • Venture report on women-owned businesses (the news is not good)
  • Why hiring working mothers benefits your business
  • How your small business can build the next generation of women leaders
  • Why women start businesses
  • The Founders Index: A rising generation of female entrepreneurs from Quartz
  • Selling to baby boomer women
  • Spotlight on women entrepreneurs: Stories about women in business from the Bank of America Small Business Community
  • Women have come a long way…but
  • Why we should all support women business owners
  • 6 top boot camps, accelerators and leadership programs for women entrepreneurs
  • Interested in going global? Check out this great resource: Women Entrepreneurs Grow Global

Women stock photo by mavo/Shutterstock