Women entrepreneurs are not new to the American workforce. While the laws that protect women in the corporate world have been hard won and are still being fought for, modern-day business has significantly benefited from the activity of female entrepreneurs and business leaders.
You can trace the feminine presence in the workforce as far back as the Colonial Age, but female participation in American business swelled during the World War II era. As the men marched off to war, the mantle of breadwinner passed to the mothers, sisters, daughters and wives that were left behind. Because of this new situation the “Cult of Domesticity” began to dissolve within the nation, freeing women from the traditional roles settled upon them.
Women began to discover their vast capacity for self-sustainability during this time, taking on more authoritative positions in the home and business. When the men returned post-WWII and resumed their places as the primary moneymakers of the household, women began to start businesses from home. Initially, these entrepreneurial efforts were met with condescension, until women such as Estée Lauder, Brownie Wise and Ruth Handler began to rise to corporate prominence and financial success.
Now, in the 21st century, women-owned businesses make up more than 9 million firms. They employ over 7 million people and, as of 2015, have generated more than $1 trillion in sales. Despite this significant element of corporate influence in the country, modern-day women still face challenges that stifle and hinder their rise in the corporate world.
While no entrepreneur in the history of capitalism has had it easy, the challenges that businesswomen face tend to extend across a multitude of areas — including economic, civil and even the ethical realm. Here are just a few examples of the difficulties that women face as they walk the entrepreneurial road of the 21st century.
Personality & Behavior Stereotypes
People often perceive women as more emotional than men. Unfortunately for women, this stereotype remains prevalent within the public consciousness, which includes the male-dominated corporate sector. Women who intend to operate as professionals often find themselves marginalized by their male counterparts due to an expectation of hypersensitivity and emotional instability.
These expectations breed an atmosphere among business professionals that leads to gender discrimination toward women aiming to take on a leadership role. As professional operators, women leaders are seen as unpredictable and unstable, mostly due to prejudices mentioned above.
Women also face challenges attempting to break into certain fields. Particularly, research has shown that women have a more difficult time getting into careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. This has been tied to a general assumption throughout society, in both men and women, that women won’t be able to succeed in these traditionally male-dominated fields. However, this just isn’t true in reality. There are many trailblazing female role models to point to who are in charge of STEM-focused companies, and thousands of others who work in various other positions in STEM fields.
Lack of Professional Role Models
Often we find that any woman who has breached a particular glass ceiling in the corporate world has become a trailblazer. The multitudes of successful and accessible female entrepreneurs available to other women as role models are few and far between. It’s becoming more and more frequent to see female professionals in executive positions as chief executives, supervisors and operators, but female business owners do not tend to operate in an accessible social circle.
Another challenge that female entrepreneurs suffer through comes from a lack of business networking opportunities. While it’s not completely necessary for women to connect with one another to reach financial success, women aiming to open businesses or expand their operations can benefit greatly from a network of professional women that have gone before.
Where We Stand Now
Ultimately, the state of women’s rights and the way society views women in the United States seems to be on an upward trend, for the most part. With every passing year and every new generation, total equality becomes a more realistic conclusion. Certainly, things have improved since the Colonial Age, but there’s still a long way to go, and progress is certainly slower than we’d like it to be. For example, it took until 2009 for the emergence of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Restoration Act — a federal mandate that allows victims of pay discrimination to file a complaint with the government against their employer 180 days after their last paycheck.
The fact remains, despite the improvements and advancements, that there continue to be issues and challenges that haunt professional women, and they’re issues that men do not experience. The solution? There are many ways women are combating the challenges, but perseverance, above all, is key. Despite the snail-like pace of the federal government and the inherited biases and stereotypes of our culture, a dogged determination will win the day.
As long as professional women and female students continue to pursue their right to excel and rise, change for the better remains inevitable. The female entrepreneur can contribute to that symbol of change.