Why the Future Depends on Elevating Women
Dr. Saba Ozyurt and Dr. Huiyu Qian
Alliant International University, California School of Management and Leadership (CSML)
Women's economic empowerment is a key pillar in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is a United Nations plan of action to realize women’s rights and gender equality1 and to strengthen several areas on a global level including: people, the planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership2. Women’s economic participation and entrepreneurship is critical for local, national and global economic growth and development3. For example, businesses owned by women helped stabilize the economy following the 2008 recession by creating 1.8 million jobs from 2008 to 2012. In the same period, firms owned by white men reduced their workforce4.
In recent years, more women and women of color began to venture into entrepreneurship. The number of women-owned businesses grew by 21% to nearly 13 million between 2014 and 20195. This is very encouraging. However, there are still fewer female business owners globally than male business owners, and women-owned businesses are smaller and have less access to funding, assets, and resources than those owned by men6 7.
In a research project conducted by three faculty members and three doctoral students8 at California School of Management and Leadership (CSML) at Alliant International University, we have interviewed women entrepreneurs across the United States to understand their motivations and the challenges they experience when starting and running their business. Our findings highlight the ways in which we can invest in and empower women small business owners, whose contributions to the economic growth and stability is very important:
- Our findings indicate that two major factors drive women entrepreneurs: financial independence, and a strong sense of social responsibility, particularly towards women who might be experiencing work-life balance similar to themselves. Most women entrepreneurs have a desire to positively influence their community and contribute to their family and society. Women entrepreneurs we interviewed stated that they felt they had a calling to help others. Successful women utilized their existing know-how, networks and passion to not only start a new career for themselves but also to put their knowledge into good use for others in their community, and to support others who are going through similar hardship.
- Our research was conducted during the Covid pandemic. We asked participants about their experience to secure funds and loans when they started their business and during the economic downturn experienced during Covid. The responses of our participant reaffirmed existing research that gender discrimination is very strong in the business world and it leads to difficulties in accessing financial resources such as bank loans, which can be detrimental to the growth of women’s businesses. Men access and secure funds from venture capitalist or investors much more easily than women. Women entrepreneurs had to find creative solutions to deal with their inability to get loans or receive funding from big banks or organizations by tapping into loans from family members and friends, or by using their own personal savings. Women who were not able to secure loans from larger banks relied on smaller banks that were willing to give them loans but for a higher interest rate.
- The third important finding of our research was about navigating the system and mentoring. Women expressed having challenges when starting their own business as they do not know the process, the policies, or the resources that are available to make this happen. There is almost no support or mentoring available for women to overcome these challenges except to put themselves out there and do the best they can, learning along the way. Mentoring is widely considered a critical part of a successful career. The lack of mentoring and support among women entrepreneurs negatively affects women’s experiences of starting and running a business. Building and sustaining a network for women entrepreneurs is an important step that should be included in the empowerment process of women entrepreneurs.
We recommend small business associations and financial institutions to pay attention to these research results and help remove the barriers for independent businesswomen. Empowering women entrepreneurs not only builds their prosperity and success but allows them to empower others and strengthen our economy by generating opportunities throughout the world.
- UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, Leave No One Behind: A Call to Action for Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment. Available at: https://www.empowerwomen.org/-/media/files/un%20women/empowerwomen/reso…
- Bush, H., & Pease, K. (July 8, 2020). Women entrepreneurs: foundational to economic recovery. https://cornerstonecapinc.com/women-entrepreneurs-foundational-to-econo…
- CSML research team included Dr. Saba Ozyurt, Dr. Huiyu Qian, Dr. Rachna Kumar, Becky Arce, Oluwatoyin Embassey, Rajinder Bir