The Challenges and Survival.
By: Tia Withers
Women Entrepreneurs are inspiring. An entrepreneur is someone that organizes, manages, and assumes the risk of a business enterprise. Why would a female put themselves in such a precarious position? What do the ones who have succeeded have in common? They arise from seemingly insurmountable obstacles, bloom with remarkable creativity and navigate the risk tightrope as if it were a highway. Why do women become Entrepreneurs? Sometimes the answer is as easy as, survival. They have the opportunity to create their own futures separate from hardships that are common in the labor force. Their incomes are not gender biased. They control their own destiny. Female entrepreneurs have bloomed from the male dominated workforce. Most times they faced crisis and hardships in life before success. The similarities of the behavioral and experiential profiles of females with creative genius are phenomenal. Female Entrepreneurs are individuals who possess leadership skills that have been forced into survival tactics because of labor force, sexual, and wage discrimination. This paper will discuss the why, the challenges and examine female entrepreneurs who have changed the world.
Why? Female Entrepreneurs
Females who choose or desire a career oft times are forced to make a decision about family life. They resolve the career-family dichotomy in one of three ways: opt for a serial (family followed by career), parallel (family and career attempted simultaneously), or sacrificial (no marriage or children) lifestyle. What does it mean to be a mother? For women of the past it meant raising the perfect family. In the past a typical family model as portrayed in television shows like “Father Knows Best” or Happy Days” were two children, a boy and a girl, a stay at home mom, and a father as the main bread winner. A mother’s day consisted of housecleaning, laundry, cooking, and escorting children to and from their activities. She probably was the head of the Parent Teacher Organization and made sure her family was seen at all the community events. This mother was never faced with the strain of adding wage earner into her array of titles. Because of economic downturns, labor force demands, and highly motivated women, mothers of today are accepting the responsibility and risk of two titles; managing a family and wage earner/entrepreneur. Research conducted by the US Dept of Labor reported that in 2005, 77% of mothers with children under 17 were in the labor force. Women, who manage both family and job, take the biggest hit in the form of lower pay. In general, mothers are faced with higher degrees of hardship in the workforce. They experience wage gaps in comparison with male and with non-mother peers. The wage gap for mothers versus non-mothers is on the rise. It increased about 10% from the 1980’s to 1990’s. Women have always faced discrimination in the workforce but it was disregarded because of the value associated with motherhood.
Historically women have been a minority in the labor force. Labor force participation rates steadily began to rise around the 1940’s. This is due to the drastic change of the work force caused by World War II. Men were leaving the work force at high rates to join the armed forces and for the first time large numbers of older married women worked outside the home. The Government made it their mission to seek out the help of women in the labor market; for the first and only time women had child care help available. The Lanham Act of 1944 provided federal funding for childcare and nursery facilities totaling 52 million dollars along with matching sums from local and state communities. This made child care available to large numbers of children estimated at 600,000. At this time it seemed as though the U.S. Government was finally seeing the importance of women to the work force. Women like Rosie the Riveter, who laid the groundwork for entrepreneurship, were finally getting a taste of what paid labor felt like. Women liked the money and the independence from working in the defense plants. After the war men came home and went back to their jobs. Employers were mandated to give men their jobs back and that meant for the most part women were no longer needed. This made it tough to have a fair work force let alone fair wages. It was obvious that women were used just to fill in and if women wanted to stay, it was with great fight and unfair treatment. Women began to see the discrimination first hand and definitely felt it in their wages.
Today things have not changed, as of 2006 college educated women between the ages of 36 and 45 earned 75 cents in hourly pay for every dollar that men in the same group earned. Employers find it non-discriminatory to give men a higher wage rate because of the possibility of women becoming mothers. Mothers take a maternity leave and sometimes choose to leave the work force. Between 1996 and 1999, only 64.6 % of mothers returned to work within a year of the birth of their first child. When employers incur the cost of training and benefits they find men to provide greater returns on their investment. Men spend more time investing into themselves. One theory economists use to explain this phenomenon of wage gap is the human capital model. Resources are invested in an individual today in order to increase his or her future productivity in earnings. Investments can be such things as education, on-the-job training, job search and geographic migration. Female Entrepreneurs, who choose motherhood, can control the barriers of labor force discrimination.
Women face discrimination from employers more then men because of the way society has been socialized. It is thought to be a duty of women to raise the children and stay at home. Although this is the ideal situation for some, economic factors are forcing many into the labor market. Other women have spent a great deal of time and effort into higher education and will leave their careers to start a family. This decision that some mothers are forced to make is known as a “Mommy Tax”. The “Mommy Tax” could be valued at over a million dollars in lost lifetime earnings if they drop out of the labor market entirely to raise a family.
Single mothers are often forced into business ownership because of the high cost of childcare, cost of insurance, and absenteeism. These factors also play a part in women earning less then men. If the government would implement childcare policies to subsidize cost of day care the wage gap may not be as drastic. These issues make it difficult for women to “have it all”; career and family. According to Claudia Goldin, a research associate at The National Bureau of Economic Research, “In today’s world only 13-17% of women between the ages of 38 and 51 with a college degree have a family (at least one child) and a career.
Discrimination in the work force against mothers is a growing trend. Implications of discrimination are high, causing women to withdrawal from the public arena and own their own business. The cost of childcare is more then a minimum wage earner can afford. Companies that take a family friendly approach will see higher rates of productivity among their workers, and generally higher morale. Females that have been forced into entrepreneurship have the potential to be top executives. This is evident from companies who have females in executive positions like Ford Motor Company. Vice President, Felicia Fields, holds the highest ranking Human resource position at Ford Motor Company. Felicia Fields was able to have a parallel lifestyle, mother of two teenagers and highly accomplished career person. Corporations such as Google and S.E. Johnson incorporate family friendly policies and have earned top spots on the top Best 100 companies to work for. On site child care, flexible work schedules, parental leave, and cafeteria style benefit programs would help the labor force to grow equally without discrimination of females and discourage entrepreneurship.
Challenges of Female Entrepreneurship
Many women who have entered the corporate arena have found themselves at a proverbial glass ceiling. It seems that no matter how they perform they will never be “one of the guys”. Females feel that they are held back from the top positions because of gender. They possess the capabilities but are never afforded the titles or opportunities. One example is Linda Wachner, CEO of Warnaco; she was named the first vice President in the company’s hundred-year history. Even then she was told by the Company’s President at the time “you got this promotion, and you shouldn’t expect too much more”. He was informing Wachner that she was a token female executive and that she would not be moving forward. Years later Wachner enacted her revenge by becoming CEO and Chairman of the company via a hostile takeover.
Educational attainment is another barrier faced by women. Women were not universally admitted to all institutions of higher education in all fields for a long time. The prestigious Harvard Medical School did not admit women until 1945; Harvard Law excluded women until 1950. Many highly respected undergraduate institutions, like Princeton and Yale, remained male until the late 1960’s or early 1970’s. Females lacking role models were not motivated to enter into fields requiring higher education. Because women leave the labor force during child bearing often they choose not to enter into higher education. They do not have ample career time to get the return on their educational investments; therefore if they choose to raise a family they do not attain higher levels of education unlike their male counterparts. Women may lack a formal and experiential education. Society doesn’t expect women to run their own businesses. They aren’t exposed to how to start a business. In order to be an entrepreneur you have to have the educational background to recognize opportunities that others may have overlooked — and then have the self-esteem, knowledge, and confidence to act when others hesitate. Women have wonderful ideas, but no idea how to put them into action.
Many thriving female entrepreneurs tell of self confidence given to them in very early childhood by positive reinforcement from special adults. Women without the ability to be confident in themselves will face enormous challenges in entrepreneurship. Oprah Winfrey had positive role models. She was raised by her Grandmother and she states “I am what I am today because of my grandmother: my strength, my sense of reasoning, everything, all of that, was set by the time I was six years old. I am basically no different now from what I was when I was six years old.” A strong belief in self is the first step for self empowered persons. Self confident individuals look outside themselves and set goals, they know where they are headed and have a purpose and mission in mind. On the job self esteem gives the courage and commitment to lead a company into new directions. Self esteem empowers one to take control of their life and not let the power be taken away. Eleanor Roosevelt said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. We let it happen!” Self empowered persons are more likely to assume risk challenges.
Entrepreneurs are risk takers. Financial risks are one of the biggest challenges that an entrepreneur faces. Many times businesses are backed by venture capital and even personal investment that could result in loosing everything. Meeting payrolls and budget commitments are often on the verge of disaster. Sometimes no one is aware of the extreme financial risk except the entrepreneur herself. Estee Lauder is an example of a financial risk taker. She was the pioneer of the “free gift with purchase” program. The implementation of this marketing promotion revolutionized the standard of the cosmetic industry. She risked all of her firms’ available funds ($50,000.00) to gift promotions.
Every business owner faces a risk with legal ramifications. Each decision can have a cause and effect. In 1968 the packaging was complete for the launch of the new hypoallergenic line of products under the “Clinique” name. It was discovered before the launch that the name was already taken by another firm. Panic ensued, legal negotiations began. Five thousand dollars was offered and laughed at by the other firm and finally a ransom of one hundred thousand dollars was agreed upon, a veritable fortune for a fledgling company. The legal crisis of Estee Lauder’s business life was over, but never forgotten. Clinique took off to unprecedented heights. Not all legal ramifications have a happy ending.
Risking the future of those who follow an entrepreneur is a responsibility not taken lightly. In 1992, Mary Kay Ash, of Mary Kay Cosmetics ignored the advice of lawyers and accountants, family and friends, that told her to give up her idea because her plan would never be a success. Her plan was to create a company that would make it possible for a woman, even a woman with young children, to control how she runs her business. She created a company for her consultants. In her meetings in Dallas, Texas she tells them. “I created this company for you”. People often follow charismatic entrepreneurs blinded by an entrepreneurs’ mystical attraction and never realize the plan is always a risk.
Being an entrepreneur has a risk of living life alone. The challenge of an entrepreneur is risking a future of loneliness, because mates don’t understand that their whole being is integrated into their work. Type A driven personalities can not imagine putting someone before their career decisions; therefore they remain single. Often entrepreneurs’ relationships end in divorce.
There are no assurances of successful outcomes. Risk of failure lays heavy on the minds of every entrepreneur. Just as a ship that is designed to sail the seas, is safe in the harbor, so is the entrepreneur before embarking on a business adventure. The opposite of failure is determined by luck and skill. Estee Lauder states “People make their own luck by daring to follow their instincts and taking risks”
Physical risks of entrepreneurship tend to be more of a concern then if a female stayed at home or was an employee rather then this special brand of risk taker. The physical demands of schedule, travel, and mental exhaustion can be overwhelming. The physiological result to external events is stress. An individual’s personality, values, age and goals, as well as other characteristics, help determine the degree of stress that results in any given environment. Hypertension, cancer, ulcers, diabetes, backaches, headaches, allergies, arthritis, sexual dysfunction, and heart attacks all have been linked to stress. All executives have to figure out a way to handle stress so that disabling physical attributes are controlled. Changing situations when possible, accepting what cannot be changed, letting go of negative factors are techniques implemented by entrepreneurs, sometimes even subconsciously to handle stress. Not all stress is negative. A certain measure of stress helps humans to face the day. Balance is the key essential to maintaining physical well being.
Female Entrepreneurs have to be practical; meeting a need in a community, fulfilling a special niche that can turn into profits. A take charge attitude that is willing to be resilient in the face of opposition. Tenacity is a character trait of female entrepreneurs, being determined almost to the point of stubbornness. All the while, an entrepreneur must keep a balance to maintain sanity in face of all these numerous challenges. Are entrepreneurs a special breed or just ones who have managed to survive? An examination of entrepreneurs tends to show generalities about character and personality but in almost every situation, a gambling risk is not what most female entrepreneurs would have chosen. Every situation is different but if policies were different that would enable females in the work force some business decisions would be made differently.
As mentioned before, the Lanham Act, legislation implemented by the government during the war to provide childcare was a policy that enabled women to enter the work force. If a tax credit for childcare or if government childcare was readily available women’s labor would not feel the direct impact as much. Child care should not be just an issue mandated by governmental policy but employers could ease the pressures of childcare by providing on site facilities thru a subsidized payroll participation program. On site care for minor medical conditions would not only help families but all employees who would not have to miss work for common ailments.
Legislative policy that subsidized the cost of birth control could have a direct impact on women’s tenure in the work force. If women had access to birth control over the counter or in on site clinics at work at discounted rates they would not have to leave their jobs for appointments just to have access to birth control. Society confronting such issues with more understanding of women and their gender needs without guilt or shame of not fulfilling motherhood obligations would ease the mental decisions women face when entering the job market.
Legally, sexual discrimination has been put in to check, however more policies on a broader scale need to be enacted. Affording equal education opportunities for women has to be monitored by the government. Women that attain higher levels of education are seen as a good predictor of their ability to have access to professional employment opportunities. More on the job training that prepares individuals for higher managerial positions could have special incentives. The Civil rights Act of 1964: Title VII applies to all private employers with 15 or more employees and protects against discrimination. The first antidiscrimination legislation, Equal pay Act of 1963, gave women the opportunity to earn equal pay for equal work. That did not legislate equal opportunities afforded to women. Currently, twenty percent of the total work force or one out of every three women who work for pay holds a clerical position. This has not been enough to break through the glass ceiling faced by women as employees forcing them to become entrepreneurs. More policies that encourage female labor force participation would make it possible for females to compete in the once dominated “good old boy” system.
Examples of Female Entrepreneurs
Female entrepreneurs names are very familiar, they are common in our homes, seen on our televisions, their products are found in our cabinets. They have changed industries and the way we think. Common characteristics discussed in Profiles of a Female Genius include:
First Born or Father’s favorite
Persistently goal-oriented workaholics
High self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-image
Charismatic persuasive personality
Right-brain intuitive “gut” decision makers
Psychic energy level
Who are they? Do you recognize, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda, Estee Lauder, Liz Claiborne, Mary Kay Ash, Madonna, Golda Meir, Gloria Steinem, Margaret Thatcher, Lilian Vernon? These women were all female entrepreneurs that ranged from dominating business, to entertainment, political visionaries and humanitarians.
Their stories are inspirational. Though did not come easily or without self sacrifice. Oprah Winfrey has sacrificed family life for her career and drive. Many of these women intimidated men and did not have successful relationships. They may have the admiration of men but do not fit the social stereotype of wife and mother.
Female Entrepreneurs work fast, their accomplishments are usually at a young age. They do not let grass grow under their feet. The first female CEO of a fortune 500 company, Linda Wachner, started her “Do It Now” approach to management at Max Factor. She had every executive to carry spiral notebooks similar to those used in high school to record both problems and opportunities. Her management style was known for ground level and customer need driven. Her creative genius was like a start-up circus adventure.
Their achievements are uncommon, unprecedented and unpredictable. Mary Kay Ash uses the bumble bee to inspire her two hundred and fifty thousand sales consultants. The Bumble Bee or even the Queen Bee as she likes to say, aerodynamically should not be able to fly; but it doesn’t know that, so it soars. Female entrepreneurs soar in their communities, their industries, in the world. They have left their imprint on society.
The issues of motherhood and childcare, earning opportunities, sexual labor force discrimination and the glass ceiling have encouraged females to become entrepreneurs. In each case the why is a little different but once an entrepreneur, the challenges are very similar. Financial jeopardy, mental leadership strains, physical endurance and social acceptance challenge each entrepreneur. Risks are high but the reward is great. Females face a challenge of self-esteem, failure, influencing others for better or worse, and being alone. Successful female entrepreneurs have overcome the lack of policies and have made their own futures; but how many women have this ability? Women have the potential to rise to the top in our world if afforded the opportunities that the work force and government policies can provide. Society will see an increase in the potential of the labor force when females are encouraged and supported with their roles as both mother and wage-earner.
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