Women entrepreneurs face daunting challenges, but they’re making progress. That’s the sentiment of Margot Dorfman, CEO of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce.
About 10 million women-led businesses in the United States generate $1.6 trillion in annual revenue. Almost every major industry sector — including technology, services and construction — has seen increases in women-led companies, Dorfman said.
However, the total revenue generated by women-led firms accounts for just 4.8 percent of all business revenue in the United States.
“If you were to strictly look at the numbers — 10 million women-led firms in the country — it’s very good. But if you look at the revenues, it’s very challenging,” Dorfman said.
The increase in the number of women becoming business owners can be traced back almost 20 years, as women began leaving corporate America for better stability and workplace practices, as well as wanting to have greater control over their careers and lives.
From 1997-2007 women-led companies in the United States grew more than 44 percent.
“Women wanted greater control. Yes, they’d end up working longer and harder hours due to running their own company, but there was much more freedom,” Dorfman said.
Women own 123,829 of the 339,305 businesses in Oregon, representing 36 percent of all companies in state. However those businesses produced 5.4 percent of all annual business revenues in the state — $18 billion of the total $333 billion, according to a 2012 Census Survey of Business Owners. In 2007, there were 103,553 women-owned businesses in Oregon, producing $14 billion in revenues.
Dorfman pointed to the Great Recession as having a significant negative impact on businesses owned by women. Women-owned businesses, as well as minority-owned businesses, were hit much harder during the recession than other businesses.
“Take a look at the economic downturn. Our (women-led) firms were hit pretty hard and did not make it. During the recession, women-led firms had their lines of credit pulled,” she said.
Dorfman said the economic downturn is just one of the barriers women entrepreneurs face when opening and operating their own business. She discussed anecdotes she’s heard throughout the years. The war veteran in her 30s who was asked to have her father cosign any potential loans, or the countless stories of a woman being asked to have her husband sign the loan papers, even if he would have no role in the company.
When Nicole Miller, owner of Word’s Out PR in Stayton, started her business she was a young mother and was a part of a networking group in Portland called the “Mamapreneurs.” The group was dedicated to supporting mothers who wanted to own their own business. On carpool rides to get-togethers in Portland, Miller and two other Mid-Willamette Valley entrepreneurs would share business secrets, tips, and secrets. Most of the conversations centered on how to navigate being a business owner with the “young ones in tow.”
She has not encountered the issues Dorfman spoke to.9
“I have not encountered discrimination; my challenges as a woman entrepreneur are in the work-life balance issue, trying to find childcare and manage my motivation to work and grow my professional life with my desire to be there for our children. My biggest issue is my hours available to run a business,” Miller said.
Miller said it could be her chosen profession, public relations, that has allowed her to succeed as a women business owner.
“It could be that in my industry, PR and strategic communications, that women are more readily accepted. As a PR person, I am outgoing, naturally comfortable talking with others, creative. I could see how this may not be the case in other industries,” she said.
Statesman Journal 5:40 p.m. PST November 13, 2015