My dad didn’t see gender as an issue when it came to playing catch and talking sports. As a kid, I knew every player on the New York Yankees and their respective batting averages. What I didn’t know was that most girls didn’t know stuff like this. Because I was brought up to ignore gender barriers when it comes to education, work goals, or equal opportunity, it still saddens me when women business owners tell me how hard it is to find funding for their businesses or share the prejudices they encounter as they compete with male-owned businesses.
In January of this year, the Obama administration announced executive action requiring companies with 100 or more employees to report to the federal government how much they pay their employees, broken down by race, gender, and ethnicity. The proposed regulation is being jointly published by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Labor to root out discrimination and reduce the gender pay gap, which, according to the White House, leaves women in full-time jobs earning an average of 79 cents for every dollar a man earns.
And what about women business owners? The 2014 State of Women-Owned Business Report states today women own almost 29 percent of businesses in the United States and the number of women-owned firms has grown 68 percent since 2007, compared to 47 percent growth for businesses overall. Unfortunately, according to the Economic Policy Institute, women business owners earn a mere 25 cents for every dollar earned by male-owned companies.
Do we still have a long way to go when it comes to equality? Yes. But I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom. In fact, as a woman business owner and advocate for other women business owners, I hear many inspiring stories of successful women making their mark in the entrepreneurial world. In honor of Women’s History Month, here are three stories to encourage and ignite your entrepreneurial passion.
Small Business Lesson #1 from Sally Waite: Get Inspired
When Sally Waite started her jewelry company Sally Jane (@sallyjanebuzz) in 2012, she was 31, seven months pregnant with her first child, and had been diagnosed with cancer. After learning about her advanced-stage cancer, she and her aunt put the company’s launch on hold for over a year to focus on her recovery.
When Waite was ready to return to her business, she did so inspired to do what she loves and to make it worth her time. She launched the company’s “Buy 1 Give $1” program, which donates $1 for each purchase to Massachusetts General Hospital’s research campaign for immunotherapy and to Friends of The Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, which provides supportive care for patients and families.
Waite also created a jewelry line featuring bees that inspires the wearer to Bee Courageous, Bee Bold, Bee a Survivor, and Just Bee!
Small Business Lesson #2 from Lori Caden: Make It Personal
When Lori Caden, the founder of Belly Bandit (@BellyBandit), was out shopping for cat food, a store employee offered to help her carry her purchase. Caden realized the employee thought she was still pregnant even though she had already given birth. The incident sparked the inspiration for Belly Bandit, a line of shapewear designed to help new moms reclaim their pre-pregnancy shape.
Steered by her motto, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you,” Caden grew Belly Bandit so fast venture capitalists began courting her. Now Belly Bandit is a multimillion-dollar company with products available in 900 stores and 55 countries. The line has cultivated a huge celebrity following, including Christina Aguilera, Christina Applegate, Selma Blair, Julie Bowen, and Molly Sims.
Small Business Lesson #3 from Gerri Becker: Put Your Passion to Work
Gerri Becker, owner of California Wine Club (@cawineclub), has a passion not only for wine, but also for family-owned and boutique wineries – especially wineries in California and the Pacific Northwest. Starting out as the California Wine Club’s in-house marketing director, she served as its COO for more than 10 years. She was so passionate about the product and the company she eventually purchased the company from its founders.
California Wine Club is a monthly subscription wine club with more than 10,000 subscribers. Members receive two bottles each month and can select from various levels, even a prestigious aged Cabernet Sauvignon option. Because the wineries she represents typically produce fewer than 10,000 cases a year, they might not have national distribution. So when Becker selects a winery for inclusion in a monthly shipment, it often changes the economic landscape of that winery – and can make its year.
Overcoming her fear of failure by identifying her worst-case scenario, Becker created a plan to survive that empowered her to go forward, take a risk, and ultimately succeed. Her best practice? Taking time to be selfish. In order to give everything she has to the business, customers, and employees, she also makes sure she takes time for herself. Once she relaxes, reflects, and reenergizes, she can be at her most creative and productive.
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at [email protected], follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website SmallBizDaily.com to get the scoop on business trends and to sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.