Women ready for entrepreneurial push

My colleague, Liz Bolshaw, recently wrote in this space about new research that examines entrepreneurship’s gender gap. The study found that 29 per cent of privately held firms in the US are women-owned, but just 1.8 per cent of those firms had revenues above $1m. The study also found that women lodge less than half the number of patents of men.

To get some perspective from the trenches, I caught up with Lori Greiner, the chief executive of a personal and home organisation company with annual revenues of over $50m a year, and an inventor in her own right. Greiner personally holds 110 patents. (I wrote about her last year for the Financial Times.)

Greiner’s company, For Your Ease Only, sells products like electric vegetable peelers, no-mess cooking utensils, and lighted reading glasses – not exactly game-changing technologies, but items that make your life simpler. The company has had sales of over $500m since its launch 15 years ago.

Greiner told me:

“I see myself as a woman entrepreneur, but in the day-to-day I don’t think of myself that way. I think of myself as a president of a company who has a lot of work to do.”

But Greiner found it hard to gain respect as a woman entrepreneur in the beginning.

“In the early days when I first started making my products, I often found myself in male-dominated environments, like factories. There I would experience chauvinism. Many of the men who worked there were ‘old world’. I had to be forceful and speak up for myself, which wasn’t always easy. In the workforce and in society, there has been the notion that if a man acts in a certain way, he’s perceived as strong, but if a woman does, she is perceived negatively.”

But times are changing, as are the perceptions of women, she says. Women comprise about half the workforce in the US, and account for about 40 per cent of all managers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 72 per cent of women with children under the age of 18 participated in the workforce last year; for comparison’s sake: in 1975, that number was around 47 per cent.

“This is a whole new world that strong females are growing up in. The kids in grade school and high school now are less influenced by that mindset. Girls today have so many more female role models – chief executives, bankers, police chiefs, entrepreneurs and politicians. That was not the norm even 15 years ago … And more moms are working than ever before; kids see their moms as powerful, and they see their dads as equal partners at home.”

Indeed, according to the BLS, in terms of housework, on an average day, 84 per cent of women and 67 per cent of men spent some time doing household activities such as cooking, lawn care, or other household management.

Greiner said:

“Fathers want their daughters to grow up and be strong, independent women. So I feel optimistic.”

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