Why Women Make Better Business Owners

Last Updated Oct 27, 2010 3:33 PM EDT

According to the Department of Commerce, the number of women-owned businesses increased 44% from 1977 to 2007 and added 500,000 jobs. Meanwhile, the number of men-owned businesses increased just 22% and lost 2 million jobs.

This trend comes as no surprise. The Center for Women's Business Research has been tracking it diligently for years, and I've been writing about it for years. Forget the banking crisis, ignore the deficit: this is the business story of our age. Why?

Women do more with less. This is the rule for today's economy -- but women have been doing it for decades. Attracting far less in the way of institutional and venture funding, women build more businesses and more jobs than business on average. They're more focused on profit than revenue, extremely thrifty and allergic to waste.

Women-owned businesses are customer-centric. Aren't all businesses? Well they should be, but they aren't. We all know (and sometimes have to do business with) companies that hate their customers. But women love their customers -- not least because they don't regard service as demeaning. Women are the market, responsible for 85% of consumer spending. For some men, that's the butt of jokes; for women business owners, it's the source of success.

Women business owners are exceptionally motivated. I've lost count of the number of guys who, starting their companies, have said they can always return to corporate life if they fail. I have never heard a woman say this. More often than not, women start their companies out of rage -- because they're fed up with not being taken seriously in traditional corporation -- or desperation, seeking in their own businesses the flexibility they can't find anywhere else. They have no safety net. This gives them a quality of determination that strikes fear into the hearts of observers.

Women thrive in complexity. For years business author Sally Helgesen has argued that women's minds are web-like, adept at dealing with non-linear, disruptive patterns. They don't think that there is just one answer to any problem, and they readily appreciate that, in business, relationships are everything. It isn't that men never do this, but women thrive on it.

Such women have a lot of psychic skin in the game. In this respect, women entrepreneurs remind me of a wave of immigrants: driven out of a land they found hostile, taking big risks in their determination to create a new world where they can succeed on their own terms. America was built by such pioneers, and today its economy continues to be enriched by the fresh thinking of women who don't easily accept defeat.

So what happens as women become the mainstream? When we finally overtake men in the number of companies we own, and eventually in their value, too. Will we succumb to the comforts of orthodoxy? When we are no longer on the edge, will we lose our edge?

Image courtesy of Flickr user Esparta C.C.2.0

  • Margaret Heffernan On Twitter»

    Margaret Heffernan has been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom. A speaker and writer, her most recent book Willful Blindness was shortlisted for the Financial Times Best Business Book 2011. Visit her on www.MHeffernan.com.

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