I was a bit confused when I read Penelope Trunk’s blog telling me (and others) to stop telling women to do startups. If we get this kind of strong reaction when we support other women, maybe we need to keep talking about why we need female entrepreneurs and why so many women are, in fact, choosing to be entrepreneurs.
I am an expert in few things, but I do know something about sustainable futures and female entrepreneurs. But you don’t have to be an expert to notice that things are not working all that well on the planet. We need a new approach, and—in business—women are the ones most likely to bring a fresh perspective. At SmartGirls Way, we are focused on engaging women in entrepreneurship and creating solutions to the challenges they face.
As a three-time entrepreneur, I know it is genuinely hard work. On the other hand, I don’t know many women who don’t work hard, whether they are in a career, a job, or running their own company. Women are paying the price for this ambition in other parts of their lives, but we are also finding ways to work smarter, use technology to leverage our capabilities, and we are closer to "having it all" than ever before. We are also coming together in amazing numbers to provide each other much needed support and re-frame the idea of the grueling experience it takes to be an entrepreneur.
Why do women want to start businesses? The vast majority of the hundreds of women entrepreneurs we’ve talked to are not launching and scaling their own companies because they want to get rich quick—or even slow. Of course they would like to make money and most of them would also like to see a great exit. They wouldn’t be very good entrepreneurs if they weren’t thinking this way.
But the primary motivation is not monetary. It’s value driven. The women in our community believe that the product or service or solution they are creating will make a big difference in the lives of others—women, families, communities, the world. Whether it is a difference in the quality of life, the energy we use to run our lives and our homes, the way we think about and engage with fashion, or simply the way we enjoy food and use it to create community, it matters.
The world needs these ideas now. The customers whose lives will be improved by these products and services need the innovators and the economy that will be built through the energy and enthusiasm that women bring to business. Think of the employees (men and women) who will benefit from business cultures that value more than the concept of work-life balance. I’m sure more dads might choose to have a little extra balance in their lives if the companies they worked for made it a reasonable option. Women are creating these cultures right now in the businesses they are building.
This is why reactions like Penelope Trunk’s baffle me. Women make personal and complicated decisions about family and career every day. We need to be supportive of their choices, especially because today nearly 40% of all businesses in this country are owned by women. The challenge they face is growth (collectively those women-led companies contribute less than 4% to the GNP). Imagine the impact that these businesses could have if we grew the number of women-led companies to 55% (and, in fact, the U.S. Census predicts it will happen by 2025) and increased the share of revenue they generated to 50%.
My mission is to make sure that more and more women understand that their great ideas can be great businesses if they want them to be, that they should follow their passion, and that there are many of us who support them and will do what we can to assure their success.
Women’s entrepreneurship isn’t a gender issue as much as it is a social and economic issue. If we women do our part, we can and should expect the same opportunities as our male counterparts to realize our dreams.