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Lynn Parramore

Lynn Parramore

Posted: November 1, 2010 11:23 AM

After the crash, the downturn was dubbed a "mancession." As the meme continues to circulate, the Roosevelt Institute's New Deal 2.0 blog asked leading thinkers to help sort fact from fiction. Are men suffering more than women in a weak economy? Is Washington doing enough to address female unemployment? How do we ensure a jobs agenda that's fair and equitable? In the sixth part of an ongoing series, "The Myth of the Mancession? Women & the Jobs Crisis", Lynn Parramore explains how women business-owners can help lead the world out of economic doldrums.

Call it "She-orientation" -- a trend in which women are having an increasingly significant impact on the economic and cultural landscape. The "mancession" meme has outlived its usefulness, but it's high-time for a fresh way of looking at a seismic shift that will shape America's future. Women, it turns out, may be key to economic recovery.

In the last 50 years, women's working lives have undergone an amazing metamorphosis. We're breadwinners. Over seven million families rely mainly or solely on our income to survive. And we're the backbone of the middle class. As President Obama recently acknowledged to a crowd in Seattle, women constitute "more than half of the money that's coming into middle-class families." He reminded folks that "when you talk about what's happened to the middle class, part of what you're talking about is what's happening to women in the workforce."

The President also gave a shout-out to women entrepreneurs, a national asset that's commanding new attention as policy-makers and politicians search for ways to boost the economy. Over the last decade, the number of women-owned businesses grew twice and fast as those headed by men. Today there are over a million women-owned firms in the United States, which generate $1.9 trillion in sales. These companies provide jobs to 13 million people. The female entrepreneur, once a rara avis, is now a prized constituent of the economy whose way of doing business reaps enormous financial and social dividends.

Since the Great Recession, a lot of ink has been spilled about how women are less likely to take risks than men. But I think women may simply view risk differently. For many of us, working for someone else can actually feel riskier that starting a business of our own. We never did have the Old Boys Network to support us, and many of us lacked the mentors and role models our male counterparts rely on to guide them through careers. We're kind of used to getting things done on our own. So entrepreneurship comes naturally to many women.

During the economic tsunami of 2008, I found this out for myself when I watched a freelance career I had spent years building crumble before my eyes. Suddenly, media outlets around the country closed or went on life-support. "Sorry, we've folded," came the call from long-time editors. I was shaken and afraid. But as a cultural critic, I also saw massive social and economic changes taking place and knew that I had to be part of the conversation. If no one would hire me to write, then I would make a place for myself on the Web. Without much more thought than that, I bought a URL from GoDaddy called "Recessionwire.com". Soon, joining forces with fellow out-of-work journalists Laura Rich and Sara Clemence, I created a place to capture stories and offer support to people like me who were getting pummeled by the economy.

A loss of jobs and income became an opportunity - not only for the founders, but for the writers we hired, the interns we trained, the fellow-entrepreneurs with whom we bartered and brainstormed, and the laid-off workers we inspired. I got to experience first-hand how entrepreneurial women support each other, both in their communities and online. We barter skills, pool resources, and offer each other comfort and advice. In a special section of Recessionwire called "Lemonade Makers", we talked to women who decided to start a business for the first time in the midst of a downturn -- women who showed what can be done with determination and resourcefulness. A graphic designer launched a handbag firm. A technology project manager became a career coach. A real estate developer started making cardboard forts for kids. I began to see how these female business owners combined reasonable risk-taking with real collaboration; how they infused profit-making with attention to social values.

Two years after the Crash, women's economic stability is increasingly hard hit hard by foreclosure crisis, the shortfall in social services, and the recent round of state and municipal job cuts. As Eileen Boris pointed out earlier in this series, the burden of carework falls upon us disproportionately. Women trying their hands as entrepreneurs are creating critical jobs for Americans, and we need start-up funds, access to affordable education and training, childcare, and a reliable network of social services. The growing pool of female entrepreneurs is a national treasure, and finding ways to capitalize on it will be a critical engine for growth. We are making steps in the right direction: Obama's Recovery Act has awarded 12,000 Small Business Administration loans to women-owned businesses. But there's more to be done.

Female entrepreneurship can kick-start the middle class both in the U.S. and in the developed world. The success of women business-owners is key to both social stability and economic progress -- research shows that women tend to invest 90% of their incomes into their communities, as opposed to around 30% -- 40% invested by men. Countries that do not support women business owners will find themselves lagging behind on productivity, competition and community-building. Around the world, practices and programs that address women's business needs and help remove obstacles that stand in the way will reorient the economy in ways that benefit everyone.

Cross-posted from New Deal 2.0.