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Are times changing for women entrepreneurs?

The increase in women entrepreneurs has been predicted for years and finally seems to be happening, although gradually. In 2012, 36 percent of business owners were women, up significantly from 30 percent in 2007. This development has occurred amid challenges women still face regarding work and life balance, securing financing and finding mentors. Nevertheless, the tide seems to be shifting as more businesses are headed by women. This trend seems set to continue as opportunities become more available and obstacles fall away. There are still challenges that women aspiring to start their own businesses still face.


Women Entrepreneurs and Financing


One of the biggest obstacles facing female entrepreneurs is financing. According to the National Women’s Business Council, women tend to secure 50 percent less funding and investment than their male counterparts. This may not be due to conscious discrimination, but could be partly the result of the fact that since women are seen less often in leadership positions than men, particularly in the world of high-tech, they command less of the funding. Funding and investment involve risk, and many financing companies are more confident entrusting funds to those who have a proven track record. As a result, many female business owners aren’t given a fair chance.


Fortunately, designer Tory Burch launched the Tory Burch Foundation to help support women entrepreneurs secure the financing they need. Coca-Cola and the World Bank have also contributed to programs that lend a hand to women entrepreneurs. In spite of many advances for women, there are still some subtle yet entrenched attitudes that can influence distribution of funding. To combat this, Women’s World Banking was formed to provide small loans to women entrepreneurs.


Education and Mentorship


Another obstacle women face on the road to developing their own businesses is a lack of mentorship and training. Just as with funding, many people are more likely to invest time and energy men than women, partly because of the perception that a woman may be compromised with her family commitments or that she might be less aggressive in running a company and therefore, less successful. Because women tend to lack the kind of support their male counterparts receive, they may lack confidence. Education and training along with mentorship provide women entrepreneurs with the skills and the confidence to succeed.


Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program provides the support and training needed by women who are planning to start a business. The program has met with significant success with 8 out of 10 increasing revenues for their businesses and 9 out of 10 lending their mentoring skills to other women. As more women become mentors to other women, the opportunities for women in business should increase and lead to a greater presence for women as entrepreneurs.


Success Breeds Success


A change of perception of women in positions of leadership can signal an opening up of funding and professional opportunities. Success stories involving women include Alexandra Depledge, who sold Hassle.com for $32 million to a UK-based cleaning company called Helping. Katelyn Gleason founded Eligible, a site that makes it easier for health insurers to answer customers’ questions about eligibility for certain types of insurance. Neela Seenandan HR executive is co-CEO and managing partner at Chicago-based Hanold Associates. She has enhanced the development of the company’s business technology office. As more women rise to high positions, the landscape could improve for prospective female entrepreneurs.


Advantages Women Entrepreneurs Provide


Women entrepreneurs provide unique advantages to the business world. If leadership and management positions are dominated by only one gender, it can be harder for companies to have a fresh perspective. Women can lend a detail-oriented approach to a traditionally male-dominated business and can provide original solutions. Because women still take a primary role in childcare and domestic life in addition to striving to make it in the business world, struggle with the work-life balance can inspire new ideas for products and services geared towards working women.


In addition, women often focus on negotiation rather than competition. Increasingly, businesses are embracing social media and are striving to create ongoing relationship between the customer and the brand. The focus on beating out the competition and grabbing customers has shifted to building confidence in the customer’s mind through persuasion and establishing a relationship. The latter qualities tend to be more closely associated with a female style of communication and marketing.


The Future of Women in Business


While complete equality for men and women in the world of business still seems far off, opportunities for women business owners are increasing, and that trend seems poised to continue. As women achieve more success in business, they are likely to pave the way for more women to join their ranks. Organizations are giving female entrepreneurs the push they need with funding, mentoring and training. Women who have achieved success pass on their knowledge and experience to other women and increase the trend of women claiming leadership positions in business.

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