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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The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen. www.ft.com/womenblog

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.