Gender Equality: Where do Female Entrepreneurs Stand Today?

10/12/2016 11:06 am ET Updated Oct 13, 2017

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Oprah Winfrey. Sara Blakely. Angie Hicks.

These women are the embodiment of successful American entrepreneurs - but do they accurately reflect the "state of the union" when it comes to female entrepreneurship?

Despite the fact that the number of women-owned businesses is on the rise, we still face an uphill battle. In the U.S., gender-based challenges - including stereotypes and access to finance - present significant obstacles to women who want to launch and run businesses.

So, where do female entrepreneurs stand today?
In many areas, American women have taken the business world by storm:
  • According to this Fortune.com article, the number of women-owned businesses grew by a whopping 74% between 1997 and 2015. That's 1.5 times the national average!
  • Black females are the fastest growing group of U.S. entrepreneurs; businesses owned by African American women grew 322% since 1997.
  • Nearly half (46%) of the privately held companies in the U.S. are now at least half-owned by women.

But the big picture isn't all rosy.
In addition to the "typical" challenges all entrepreneurs face, women must overcome additional obstacles to launch and run a business:

Gender bias. Despite the fact that Americans say women are every bit as capable of being good leaders as men, 4 in 10 people believe females are held to higher standards than males - and that our country is "just not ready" to put more women in top leadership roles (Pew Research).

Access to finance. Women cite barriers to access to capital as the biggest obstacle they face in funding and growing their businesses. And it's easy to understand why. In the U.S., only 13% of venture capital goes to women-led enterprises (Deloitte).

Venture capitalists are predominantly white men, who in turn fund companies started and run by men. As a result, female entrepreneurs typically start out with less capital and are more likely to rely on personal credit or family money.

Pay gap.
While U.S. gender wage gap may be narrower than ever (especially for young women), it's still over double the size of other industrialized nations'. According to
and
:
  • Women working full-time earn 77% of what their male counterparts earn.
  • African American women earn 60% of what their white male counterparts earn.
  • Latina women earn 55% of what their white male counterparts earn.
  • Younger women (ages 18 to 24) earn 88% of what their male counterparts earn.
Closing the entrepreneurial gender gap
Entrepreneurship is an undeniable driver of our nation's economic growth - and women need to play an equal role "behind the wheel." Moving forward, companies, governments and societies as a whole must collaborate to close the gap by:
  • embedding diversity and gender equality within corporate cultures;
  • formalizing policies to provide the flexibility and parental leave women need;
  • adopting talent management practices that nurture women's professional development - especially in leadership roles;
  • increasing women's representation on boards of directors;
  • passing legislation to equalize pay;
  • developing and implementing public policy frameworks to support women's economic empowerment and access to finance.
On an individual level, women can do the following to pave their own way:
  • Ignore traditional gender expectations. Working women face pressure to excel in every aspect of their lives - their careers, their family relationships, their appearance and their seeming ability to "have it all." I say, "Forget 'having it all' - have what matters most."
  • Find role models, sources of inspiration and mentors. Learn and draw strength from as many successful female entrepreneurs as you can!
  • Seek out female angel investors (like Hera Fund), or VC firms that have a history of funding women-owned startups.
  • Push past fear of failure. It's okay to fail in business - often. Frequent, small failures are signs that a business leader is constantly trying new things, taking calculated risks and pushing outside their comfort zone. In my opinion, failure doesn't define a female entrepreneur; the way she bounces back from it does.