Celebrating Women’s History Month – March

Women have been the cornerstone of many well established businesses throughout time.  In US history’s early settlement era Taverns and Brothels were women owned.  The beginning of the 20th century also challenged women faced with managing factories that their father’s or husbands left behind while struggling to be respected as a responsible business owner in this male dominated arena.  Over the last hundred years, these pioneering women endured the test of time which brought on huge change for which many Gen Y and Millennial women can be thankful for.  Researchers believe these changes occurred due to; increasing acceptance of women in the work place, prominence and movement into a vast assortment of enterprises and the role of technology making entrepreneurship more accessible and affordable.

An Entreprenuers.com article on Women in History provides a detailed timeline worth checking out, here are a few highlights:  Women entrepreneurs helped to rebuild the economy by increasing the number of women-owned businesses from 600,000 in 1945 to nearly one million by 1950, after the Great Depression.

During the 1980s and 1990s, women who wanted to start a business or help it to grow got a major boost from the explosion in the number of new opportunities to network with other successful women entrepreneurs and learn about access to federal programs and resources. Organizations sprang up everywhere, such as the Women’s Business Development Center (1986) an organization still operating today, which hosts educational seminars, assists with government programs, financing and training opportunities. In 1988(ironically the year I got my first real job right out of college) , a milestone was reached when Congress passed The Women’s Business Ownership Act, ending discrimination in lending, eliminated state laws that required married women to have a husband’s signature for all loans and gave women-owned businesses a chance to compete for lucrative government contracts. Additionally, in 1989, President George H.W. Bush appointed Susan Engeleiter as the first woman to head the Small Business Administration, proof that woman entrepreneurs were finally an accepted part of the mainstream economy.

Here are a few fun facts found in a Business News Daily article by Shannon Gausepohl (August 2016), a list of 10 successful businesses that were started by inspiring female entrepreneurs.  See how many you recognize.

1. Bark & Co 6. Liquid Paper*
2. SlideShare 7. The Body Shop
3. Birchbox 8. Ruth’s Chris Steak House
4. Cisco 9. Build-A-Bear Workshop
5. Flickr 10. Proactiv

*Number 6 intrigued me, in 1950 Executive secretary Bette Nesmith Graham used white water-based tempura paint and a thin paintbrush to cover her typing errors, in 1956 she patented the idea and in 1979 sold the business Liquid Paper, and yes, she was the mother of Mike Nesmith of The Monkees.

The last century of women’s entrepreneurship is not simply a tale of triumph or of an incomplete revolution. It is a story of risks and rewards, of women who had an idea and believed in the possibilities; battled obstacles, gender bias and forged networks to make their dreams a reality. Sadly, not all of them made it and not all of those who did saw their ventures become major corporations in existence today.

The next century does have even brighter promise for women’s entrepreneurship. New technologies emerge daily to make business ownership more affordable, easier to manage and multitask while new financing opportunities are increasingly available. Experts predict that by 2018, women’s businesses will create more than half of the new small business jobs and a third of the nation’s total new jobs. Beyond that, anything is possible!