Women in Business: still newsworthy?
As we started working on this year’s Women in Business stories, a fundamental question kept coming up: do we still need to highlight women-owned and women-operated businesses in this day and age, or has it become so commonplace it’s the norm? Are we perpetuating a storyline about overcoming obstacles that’s no longer relevant?
So I sought advice from two people who work all day every day with small businesses in this region — Julie Spiro is executive director of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, and CeCe Hipps is the president of the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce.
I know both very well, and both have a sincere passion for helping entrepreneurs of all types. So I knew I could get a boots-on-the-ground opinion from two people who deal daily with these questions.
“I understand what you are saying about if it’s still necessary to highlight women in business, because it truly is the norm now and not really the exception,” Spiro told me. “Having said that, you can always highlight anyone (male or female) in business that has overcome obstacles and has succeeded in spite of it (or because of it). So I would say don’t let gender get in the way of a good story.”
In Jackson County, 49.3 percent of chamber businesses are owned or managed by women. That’s much higher than the national average of 39 percent.
Hipps can recall when being a woman on a chamber board or a woman in some other kind of professional setting came with its own set of challenges.
“I remember times when I would have an idea or make comments and some of my male board members would chuckle or joke about it or have sidebar conversations while I was talking. It takes courage and experience to address these situations,” Hipps said. “I feel women have to work much harder to be taken seriously, to have a voice and overcome social expectations.”
Both Spiro and Hipps pointed out the different mindset women bring to the workplace.
“Women face many challenges in the workplace while trying to balance a career, family and home with limited hours per week. I do not know of many women in business who work from 8 to 5,” Hipps said. “Women have to work twice as hard to be respected and accepted. They also tend to take on more responsibilities and still do not receive the same pay and benefits.”
“I also think women have learned that we can do anything, but not everything. Over the years, we’ve become better at balancing our professional careers by working smarter and more efficiently without compromising the quality of our personal lives,” she said.
Finally, Spiro believes women bring a nurturing attitude to the workplace that can lead to success for their businesses and satisfaction for their employees.
“I feel that many women have a managerial style of being both caregivers and leaders, and that combination is often what fuels their success in business,” Spiro said. “We tend to nurture our business. After all, doesn’t everyone just want to be treated with kindness?”
Women-owned businesses in the US
• More than 11.6 million firms are owned by women, employing nearly 9 million people, and generating $1.7 trillion in sales as of 2017.
• Women-owned firms account for 39% of all privately held firms and contribute 8% of employment and 4.2% of revenues.
• One in five firms with revenue of $1 million or more is woman-owned.
• 4.2% of all women-owned firms have revenues of $1 million or more.
— “The State of Women-Owned Businesses 2017,” from American Express