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Marsha Firestone Headshot

Women Entrepreneurs: Leading the Way by Leveling the Playing Field

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The Great Equalizer

It is undeniably important that women of all backgrounds and industries support one another. Recently, Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In has generated significant buzz by encouraging women to work collaboratively to talk about what they can do, rather than what they cannot do.

This is an immensely important topic and a step in the right direction in breaking down gender barriers. The Lean In perspective specifically encourages women in the corporate arena to begin to support one another through monthly meetings and to share challenges they face as females in the corporate workplace.

However, the Lean In perspective is merely a snapshot of the whole women's economic picture. By focusing primarily on helping corporate women, we are leaving out a significant segment, namely, women entrepreneurs.

Lean In is undoubtedly an interesting approach for corporate women but it is not the only source for women as it's missing the "great equalizer"- the women's entrepreneurship sector. This sector is the "great equalizer" because it gives women the opportunity to have significant control over their time, as well as more power and more influence in the global economy. Women's entrepreneurship is the one place where women can be compensated at the same level as their male counterparts. Research has demonstrated that the most valuable resource available to help successful business owners learn and grow is other successful business owners, similar to Sandberg's approach to the development of corporate women.

Pulling the Genius Out

The model surrounding the Lean In perspective is that women essentially become peer groups, called Lean In Circles. These peer groups meet to discuss best practices, provide support and encouragement, share experiences and challenges, and learn useful skills.

This is a concept long fostered by the Women Presidents' Organization. The WPO has been providing women entrepreneurs with a similar resource for over 15 years. Members of the WPO meet once a month and are led by professionally trained facilitators in order to discuss challenges, best practices, and share experiences. Essentially, these peer groups pull the genius out of the group to accelerate the growth of these businesses. While the Lean In perspective is a step in the right direction by providing a platform for corporate women; the WPO has established that this format is the most effective approach to learning new strategies for women business owners.

The Future of Women in Business

Women entrepreneurs are the greatest hope in growing the economy, breaking down gender barriers, and becoming the great economic equalizer. Every year, the Women Presidents' Organization partners with American Express OPEN to promote a program known as the 50 Fastest Growing Women-Owned/Led Businesses in North America. The 2013 and sixth annual ranking is a snapshot of the impressive strides that women entrepreneurs have made in just the last few years.

"Growing Under the Radar", a research report commissioned by American Express OPEN earlier this year, shows that the number of women-owned firms pulling in $10 million or more in annual sales has jumped by 57% over the last decade. The women included on the list generated a combined $3.2 billion this year alone, and the average number of employees per company is 641. The list represents an impressive variety of women-owned businesses from transportation to IT, healthcare and recruiting. In addition, nearly half of the ranking includes WPO members who truly have reaped the benefits received through working with other women business owners.

Considering these impressive facts and statistics, it has become increasingly more apparent that supporting small businesses, specifically, women-owned companies will ultimately lead to a level playing field. The members of the WPO are established business owners who have a substantial amount of experience and skills to share. It's important that society begins to recognize the economic importance of these women. The Lean In perspective is a compliment to the work that the WPO has already established. Women business owners are driving business breakthroughs because they are "reaching farther, together." Perhaps, corporate women will do the same?