Two of every five businesses are owned by women. Yes, that’s right; in 2006 women were majority owners of 40 percent of all businesses in this country. And between 1997 and 2006 their businesses grew at nearly twice the rate of all U.S. firms (42.3{099636d13cf70efd8d812c6f6a5a855fb6f8f27f35bea282d2df1d5ae896e2c2} vs. 23.3{099636d13cf70efd8d812c6f6a5a855fb6f8f27f35bea282d2df1d5ae896e2c2}).  During this same time period, employment among women-owned firms grew 0.4{099636d13cf70efd8d812c6f6a5a855fb6f8f27f35bea282d2df1d5ae896e2c2}, and annual sales grew 4.4{099636d13cf70efd8d812c6f6a5a855fb6f8f27f35bea282d2df1d5ae896e2c2}.

Pretty good record for a gender that really didn’t enter the workforce until 50 years ago!  But women still typically represent those fields associated with women – secretaries, teachers, hairdressers, child care workers, nurses, housekeepers and cashiers.

Will this trend change? Catalyst, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding opportunities for women in business, shows that in the business world finding a woman executive can be difficult.  Women make up 46.3{099636d13cf70efd8d812c6f6a5a855fb6f8f27f35bea282d2df1d5ae896e2c2} of the U.S. labor force, but few of them have either not chosen or not risen in the corporate world:

  • Percentage of female Fortune 500 corporate officers: 15.4{099636d13cf70efd8d812c6f6a5a855fb6f8f27f35bea282d2df1d5ae896e2c2}
  • Percentage of female Fortune 500 board seats: 14.8{099636d13cf70efd8d812c6f6a5a855fb6f8f27f35bea282d2df1d5ae896e2c2}
  • Percentage of female Fortune 500 top earners: 6.7{099636d13cf70efd8d812c6f6a5a855fb6f8f27f35bea282d2df1d5ae896e2c2}
  • Percentage of female Fortune 500 CEOs: 2.4
  • Number of female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies: 12
  • Number of female CEOs in Fortune 501-1000 companies: 10
  • Total female CEOS in Fortune 1000 companies: 22

Brevard County is little different.  Our major corporations do have women in leadership roles.  Interestingly, many Brevard women have risen in the ranks of nonprofits and business agencies, where their leadership is outstanding: Brevard Workforce, the chambers of commerce, Economic Development Commission, Brevard Cultural Alliance, Lead Brevard, and a host of community service agencies where they are doing tremendous things for this community.  Women are claiming political seats – 2 on the county commission, and a dozens more in local governments as well.  Florida Tech is seeing somewhat of an increase in women enrollment in science programs.

But the success of our Chamber’s Women’s Business Council tells me one thing – women are in need of receiving the same support and nurturing as businesspeople that women are known for giving in their personal lives.  Our group meets monthly and visits the workplace of a professional woman.  We learn about her struggles, her hard work, and the personal philosophies that have gotten her where she is in her career.

So which sex brings what skills to the table?  The book Leadership and the Sexes uses brain science research for its answers, and says that women are better at reading facial cues – a helpful skill at the negotiating table – while men will have shorter, more direct conversations.  Women may go off topic given their multi-tasking aptitude, but actually can stay more focused in a meeting.  Several other differences in how the sexes handle to world of work prove that one size does not fit all.

So why are there no “men in business” support groups?  An author/researcher believes that a woman’s life at work may not be in her comfort zone.  The book’s co-author, Michael Gurian, told “A lot of women will be sort of “competitive like a guy” in the workplace, but then when they go home, they realize that’s not fully authentic for them.  They would like to have a more expansive or more authentic relationship in the workplace around competition.  So the workplace is trying to alter women, and some of that’s great.”  “But,” he continued, “the workplace that wants to retain women…. has to understand how women compete and how they bond and it is different.”

There are a host of groups serving women – the Melbourne Regional Chamber’s Women’s Business Council, Zonta, BPW, Brevard Business Moms, the Women’s Business Center at Florida Tech, Space Coast Women, Brevard County Woman publication, American Business Woman’s Association, and I’m sure there are more. All of them mention “support” in their mission statements, as well as networking, business referrals and personal development.

So it may well be in a company’s best interest to encourage their women employees to supplement their workday experience with groups catering to women, supporting the full spectrum of their career needs and providing them with motivation.