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Women Becoming Entrepreneurs

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This introduction to the book Clearing Hurdles: Women Building High-Growth Businesses provides an overview of the history of women in business leadership, and outlines a plan for women to succeed in entrepreneurial positions.
This chapter is from the book

America is the land of opportunity. In the 1960s and 1970s, thanks in large part to the civil rights and feminist movements, it became a land of equal opportunity. Since the landmark AT&T settlement in 1973, women and minorities have made enormous progress in penetrating America's corporate ranks.[1] While great strides were made, the transformation of corporate America is still very much a work in process. Women still face very real, although often invisible, barriers known as the glass ceiling. Women make up the majority of managers under age 35, but they lead only 6 of the Fortune 500 corporations and comprise less than 15% of the corporate board members.[2] Both the progress and the problems are well documented. But this book is not about the glass ceiling.

No Glass Ceilings Here

This book is for women who choose another path entirely. It is for and about women entrepreneurs—women who desire to become their own bosses, gain personal control, grow their business, and create independent wealth. Over the past 25 years, the ranks of women entrepreneurs grew rapidly. The many new avenues that opened in the 1960s and 1970s—to education, employment, and access to credit—gave women the tools they needed to start new businesses and they have seized the opportunities with gusto.

By 2002, women were majority owners of 6.2 million businesses and held at least a 50% share in 10.1 million businesses, or 46% of all privately held firms in the United States.[3] The Center for Women's Business Research reported that between 1997 and 2002, the number of women-owned firms increased at more than 1.5 times the national rate. Even more striking, larger businesses led by women (100 or more employees) grew 18.3%. Women launched new businesses in every industry, sector, and geographic region of the United States.

This tremendous surge of female entrepreneurship was not without its own challenges. Of course, women have far more control of their own destinies in the businesses they create and develop. But, they encounter new and unseen barriers. These are not of a hierarchical sort, so they certainly do not represent a glass ceiling. Instead women entrepreneurs report challenges in establishing partnerships—with customers, suppliers, and, most important, with financial resource providers. Women who start their own enterprises are far more likely than men to report difficulties in securing the financing that is so necessary to grow their businesses. Without financial capital, entrepreneurs are hide-bound. They cannot expand their product lines, open new markets, or beef up their sales forces. They are forced to stay small and grow slowly; consequently they often miss the biggest opportunities.

These partnership barriers that women confront are often unseen hurdles. Every entrepreneur must overcome resourcing challenges in his or her quest for success, but for women, the hurdles are often higher and less apparent. This book addresses the unique challenges that growth oriented women entrepreneurs face in financing their businesses. It provides insight into why they exist, how significant they are, and how they can be overcome.

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