Marking women’s progress

Despite widespread advancement since winning the right to vote 90 years ago, women can achieve more in the business world. Here’s how.

Chia-Li Chien | August 27, 2010

On Aug. 26, 1920, after a 72-year struggle, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was finally ratified, granting women the right to vote nationwide. This week, we celebrated the 90th anniversary of that struggle with Women’s Equality Day.

It’s fair to say much progress has been made since the days of the suffragettes.

If women-owned businesses based in the United States were part of their own country, they would have the fifth-largest gross domestic product in the world. They would trail closely the German economy, and be ahead of countries including France, the United Kingdom and Italy, according to the Center for Women’s Business Research.

Unconvinced about women’s role in our economy? Women-owned firms have an economic impact of $3 trillion annually, which creates or supports more than 23 million jobs. That’s 16% of all jobs in the United States, according to Center for Women’s Business Research.

This means that in the last 90 years, women have progressed from gaining voting rights to becoming an economic power.

These are great wins, but the annual celebration should observe more than accomplishments. Women’s Equality Day should serve to remind all people there’s more that needs to be done.

There are many opportunities for women in business to help build a better world, not just for themselves, but for all people.

In the 2009 Women’s Advisory Board annual report ( to the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners early this year, there are two recommendations to provide help for women in business:

Hire women with pay equal to that of men. On average, women make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men (based on Census Bureau figures of median wages of full-time, year-round workers). The wage gap is generally more pronounced for women of color.

Get your voice heard and get involved. Some 19% of Mecklenburg County boards and commissions have no women members, according to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Women’s Summit’s 2008 Action Book.

Here are some other steps to support this sector of our economy:

Buy from women. Collectively we can create more jobs if we buy and support each other. Together, we’ll have substantial economic impact, not just in the United States, but also globally.

Lend to women. Women-owned businesses also need access to private capital to fuel expansion and growth. Many women use their business credit cards, personal bank loans, SBA loans and commercial loans to grow. Yet many don’t know where to look for private capital.

The lack of investment in women-led ventures limits the opportunity for women to grow their businesses and create wealth, according to The Diana Project, which advocates for female entrepreneurs. This diminishes opportunities for women to build wealth and create assets for future generations.

Invest in women. Nonprofit organizations such as Springboard Enterprises does this. It helps venture capitalists invest in women entrepreneurs’ business expansion, from startup to exit.

Little of this can be accomplished without putting more women in science, engineering and higher education. We can’t fix our education system overnight, but we can certainly start in our businesses.

Mentor women. Twice as many men-owned firms have annual revenue of $1 million or more than women-owned firms (6% vs. 3%), according to Center for Women’s Business Research.

The best way to grow your business is learn from successful fellow women business owners. If you don’t have a mentor, get one. If you are not mentoring, find a woman business owner to mentor.

This is the most valuable form of informal education, and an effective way to make a difference in our world.

As we approach a century of Women’s Equality Day, we can take a leadership role in our homes, businesses, schools, neighborhoods, states, country and world. Women helping women is the best way to celebrate and perpetuate our success.

Chia-Li Chien of Chien Associates provides growth strategies for women entrepreneurs. She can be reached at or .

This article is published at Charlotte Business Journal URL:

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