It was the most frightening experience.
My heart was pounding in my ears.
I gently pushed my chair back and stood, trembling on the inside. I steadied myself and forced the words from my lips—my name, my business name, and a phrase about my writing and design services. As I sat down, a flash of heat swept over me from head to toe. I closed my eyes and took a slow breath. I did not hear the next five people introduce themselves.
This was the scene some 25 years ago at Business Over Breakfast, a monthly meeting for women in business back in my hometown of Bucks County, PA. It was my first introduction. Ever. And over the years, this group of women proved invaluable in shaping my role as a woman business owner and guiding the development of my business. Every woman starting out should have the benefit of such a strong support network.
Madeleine Albright puts it well. I’ll never forget the cheer that exploded from the audience when the former US Secretary of State delivered her famous line a few years ago at the Power of Women in Philanthropy event held by the Philadelphia Foundation:
There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
Women Own 21 Percent of Small Businesses
In 2019, the Small Business Administration reported women-owned businesses comprise about 21 percent of the small business marketplace.
And according to the 2019 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by American Express, statistics show:
Over the past five years, the annual growth rate in the number of women-owned firms has been more than double that of all businesses. The number of women-owned firms increased at a 3.9% annual rate between 2014 and 2019, while the number of all businesses averaged a 1.7% increase each year. There was an uptick in the annual growth rate for the most recent year: 5% for women-owned firms and 2.3% for all firms.”
In addition, the same study reports that as of 2019, women of color account for 50% of all women-owned businesses. However, the disparity between minority and non-minority women-owned businesses is increasing. The report concludes: “The disparity has an enormous effect on the U.S. economy. Four million new jobs and $981 billion in revenue would be added if average revenue of minority women-owned firms matched that of white women-owned businesses.”
Women Need to Help Women
Recently, as I designed ads for our local newspaper’s special section for National Women’s Small Business Month, I began to consider all the ways we can help one another as women. Here are just a few ideas you might apply:
Start a networking group for women in business. The Business Over Breakfast group was extremely important to me as a young entrepreneur, and the bonds that were forged between members are still strong today. Your networking group could be centered on social media platforms such as LinkedIn or Facebook, but don’t underestimate the power of local bonds with other business women in your community.
Hire women. The latest statistic is that a woman only makes 79–81 cents on the dollar for performing the same work as a man. You can change that by hiring women and paying them an equitable, living wage! In addition, by hiring women as employees or as independent contractors, you can take a leadership role in mentoring them.
Take a woman under your wing. Last summer, the Washington Post reported on a new study by the nonprofit research organization Catalyst, which found women are more likely than men to support talent development within their companies. (This dashes the myth that women tend to sabotage one another in the workplace.) In the Catalyst study, 65 percent of women who received career development support are now helping other women get ahead, compared to 56 percent of men. And 73 percent of these women are mentoring other women. The study also found that “paying it forward pays back” as the women who mentored others saw pay increases of more than $25,000 between 2008 and 2010, mostly because the act of mentoring made them more visible in the organization.
Patronize other women-owned businesses. This is probably the most direct way to help other women in business. A good place to find suppliers is through the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council—better yet, get your business certified so you can be listed there as well.
Work/volunteer for organizations that support women. There are so many ways to be of service. My own success pushed me into positions where I’ve been able to help other women by:
- Writing and publishing a newspaper called Bucks County Woman and an annual Women’s Resource Directory.
- Serving on the Bucks County Commissioners’ Advisory Council for Women.
- Helping to start and nurture Strictly Business: A Management Roundtable, a group of women who joined monthly to discuss thorny business issues over dinner, helping each another solve management problems and chart pathways forward.
- Serving for six years on the Board of Directors of the Bucks County Women’s Fund, a foundation that supported women and girls through grants to social service organizations.
- Working with several clients that provide services supporting women, including Planned Parenthood affiliates, the local YWCA, and county agencies.
- Helping to found the Bucks County Women’s Advocacy Coalition, where individual and organization partners promote gender equity and self-sufficiency, and where I continue to spend many volunteer hours on the Communications Subcommittee.
Find a method that works for you in supporting women in business. Whether it’s taking a woman under your wing or starting a networking group, offer the help and guidance that others need as they forge new entrepreneurial paths.
And for women new to the business world, seek out mentors and networking groups that can help you learn the ropes. You don’t have to go it alone, and you may be fortunate like me, and find a group that continues to be a strong support network some 25 years later.
October is National Women’s Small Business Month, and while this is a good thing for recognition, remember to support women in business throughout the year! Madeleine Albright would be proud of you. Me too.
Mary Ann Sircely