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This chapter is from the book

Slow to Grow

Even though women are now creating new ventures at a very fast clip, most of their ventures start small and stay that way. Why? Historically, most women started businesses in traditionally female sectors—beauty parlors, flower shops, and day-care centers—while the most scalable businesses were in manufacturing, technology, construction, and financial services, fields traditionally dominated by men. Approximately 55% of women-led businesses are concentrated in services, 17% in retail, and less than 2.5% in transportation, communications and utilities, or manufacturing.[15]

Because women's businesses were clustered in service sectors with limited growth opportunities, many assumed that they preferred small, low-tech ventures and that they started them to supplement family income rather than create substantial enterprise value. However, these decisions might not have been so much a matter of choice as they were of circumstance. Women often lacked the economic power and the social and family support structure to grow their ventures. There is evidence that lack of adequate child care might have forced women to keep their businesses smaller and more manageable.

Consequent of their choice of business and industry, their more limited goals and their lack of familiarity with the systems, most women entrepreneurs did not take advantage of commercial bank loans, credit, and government programs before 1990. Networking organizations were less prominent, and social acceptance of women as high-powered entrepreneurial superstars was unheard of. Without the necessary infrastructure, most women entrepreneurs found they had a narrow range of choices. The result was a greater proportion of smaller, slow-growth business choices by women. Therefore, women have a legacy of unique obstacles to growth.

By contrast, men always had a much broader range of choices. It's assumed that men can start businesses in any sector: manufacturing, telecommunications, medicine, or food service. The opportunities for them to gain credit, find suppliers, or expand are more often available. The higher proportion of smaller, slower growing ventures led by women can thus be explained by the fact that they had farther to come.

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