Women still face gender bias despite increase in business ownership

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Although the number of all-female founders has increased from one to five in the past two years according to “30 Most Influential Young Entrepreneurs” list by Under30Media, women are still facing gender-based obstacles in the workforce, research shows.

An American Express OPEN report that was released in March 2012 estimated 8.3 million women-owned businesses in the United States generated nearly $1.3 trillion in revenue and employed over 7 million people. With a 54 percent increase in American female-owned businesses over the past fifteen years, women are still making strides when it comes to owning these businesses.

Shaherose Charania, the CEO and Co-Founder of Women 2.0, said she created online platform to help increase the number of females pursuing more non-traditional careers, specifically in the technological industry. When Women 2.0 first started in 2006, Charania said only 20 percent of females in the U.S. had actually started a business.

“Now when we ask the question, ‘How many of you have started a company?’ the response is now 50-60 percent,” Charania said. “It’s pushed people who were thinking about starting a company to actually start a company in the last four years, which we thought was pretty awesome.”

Women 2.0, listed as one of the “Top 100 websites for women” by Forbes in June 2012, offers resources, a safe community and conferences to help women become successful business leaders.

Emma Frisch is the Director and Co-Founder of PEAKS, a crowdfunding website for non-profit organizations who recently partnered with Cornell Cooperative Extension. Frisch attended a Women 2.0 conference last year in New York City, and said that communities like Women 2.0 are very beneficial for future generations of female entrepreneurs.

“For the next generation of women, it basically says and shows us that there is a support for what you want to do,” Frisch said. “There are lots of people you can talk to for advice and you can be fearless in getting what you want. That’s the key.”

The growth of women entrepreneurs, however, doesn’t overturn the traditional social expectation towards women. Cheryl Cho, President of the Society for Women in Business at Cornell, said there are challenges being a woman in business in terms of perception.

“Sometimes men are a little wary about working with women, especially if it’s a male-dominated culture,” Cho said. “Adding a woman to that scene can change the dynamic, change the culture of the group, and it’s something that you have to feel out.”

Women must fight to shed the stereotype created by society, says Debora Streeter, a professor of Personal Enterprise at Cornell University.

“People expect women to be nice.” Streeter said. “You have to work against many stereotypes of what is appropriate for women to do.”

After teaching “Women, Leadership and Entrepreneurship” for ten years, Streeter feels that although women today are facing a less sexist working environment, they are still associated with the traditional role of caretaker.

“[A Catalyst study titled “Women Take Care, Men Take Charge”] shows that both men and women expect different things from women leaders than from men leaders,” Streeter said. “They expect female leaders to take care, and they expect male leaders to take charge. In reality you need both.”

An article published by Harvard Business Review in 2003 discovered that women often don’t get what they want because they don’t ask for it. “Women tend to assume that they will be recognized and rewarded for working hard and doing a good job. Unlike men, they haven’t been taught that they can ask for more.”

Although women today have a broader view of what they can accomplish, Streeter hopes to empower them and provide the tools they will need to overcome gender-based obstacles.

“They are more confident as a whole group, but they still need more role models,” Streeter said. “There’s this expression: if you can’t see it, you can’t be it. We don’t see women in technology; we don’t see women in venture capital, then why would a women enter a world that’s dominated by men?”


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