Do you know the names Eliza Lucas Pinckney, Mary Katherine Goddard, Joyce Chen, and Annie Easley? If you don’t, maybe you should. An article in 2019 lists these women as some of the earliest female entrepreneurs, taking places beside more well-known names like Madam C.J. Walker, Coco Chanel, and Estee Lauder. Many of the examples of known and obscure references to women entrepreneurs begin in the 18th century, but there are even more examples throughout every decade of history where men take credit for the achievements of women and limit their ability to create a business for themselves. These examples of men stealing from or limiting a woman’s potential are wide-spreading: from years of art theft (Margaret Keane) to stolen inventions (Margaret Knight), removing credit for scientific breakthroughs (Lise Meitner), and even denying authorship of vital 12th-century gynecological research (Trotula of Salerno). In fact, the right for a married woman to be economically free of her husband didn’t become law in the United States until 1848. It would still take another 124 years for Katherine Graham to become the first CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Keep in mind, almost all of the women mentioned above are white, American women. The stories, hardships, and laws designed to protect the rights of entrepreneurial endeavors change drastically if the people involved are minorities, transgender women, lesbian women, or women outside of the US.
That being said, what are the benefits of a female entrepreneur in a world that has not always accepted the business-minded woman? 2020 was a hard year, but still, female-led businesses in the US thrived. Legal Zoom reports, “women own 42 percent of all businesses in the U.S. and employ nearly 9 million people. Of those businesses, 5.4 million are majority-owned by women of color who, alone, employ 2.1 million people and generate $361 billion in annual revenues.” Stephanie Burns, the founder of ChicCEO, says women have learned from negative work environments and fostered happier, more productive ones: “Instead of trying to fit ourselves into corporate environments that weren’t designed for us, we are able to create corporate cultures that are conducive to the type of lives we lead. We want companies that make it easy for us to have a family, to live the lifestyle we want and support our values. I believe you’ll see a lot more flex time, work share, co-working and home offices.” A study in 2013 states, “The results of surveys conducted by the National Foundation of Women Business Owners show that the women-owned firms that are competing in the global market stimulate growth and are focused on business expansion. Women entrepreneurs have a significant impact on the economy not only in their ability to create jobs for themselves, but also in creating jobs for others.” The same study also points out, “women-owned businesses are more likely to have positive revenues since women entrepreneurs have a tendency to minimize risk so that their business and personal lives work in harmony.” Though women have experienced incredible societal setbacks throughout history, as INC says, “Learning to deal with and address adversity is what creates resilience. Every challenge we face and navigate strengthens our will, confidence, and our ability to conquer future obstacles.” Therefore, even adversity helps to foster the corporate potential of a female entrepreneur. When women are met with obstacles in the workplace specific to gender stereotypes, it forces the need for the female entrepreneur to creatively find solutions to the problems presented, giving women a unique advantage over those who do not face such adversity.
So how can you support a women-owned business? Forbes outlines five great ways to start:
- Shop from women-owned businesses
- Mentor women entrepreneurs
- Invite women to business networking opportunities
- Speak up to empower other women and praise women who are doing well
- Be transparent about business and finances with women instead of assuming they won’t be interested.
If you are a woman entrepreneur or thinking about becoming one, Forbes also has an article encouraging women to find female role models to learn from, add value with collaboration and networking, and remember to treat other women with respect.
History has not always been kind to women in business. Many would say we still have quite a long way to go. A professional coach can help you conceptualize your vision for your financial future and set short-term and long-term goals towards achieving everything you dream of. The 21st-century businesswoman is in line with centuries of other women who knew they could accomplish anything they put their mind to. We may not know all of their names, but with faith in yourself, a business plan, and the help of a professional coach, you may be able to add to the honor of their legacy.