By Marsha Bailey, CEO & Founder, Women’s Economic Ventures
2015 Speech at WEV’s Annual Empowerment is Priceless Breakfast
What do you want to be when you grow up? When I was young, this was a question asked almost exclusively of boys. Boys had choices. If I was unclear about my future, there were plenty of clues. Here are a few I found under the Christmas Tree:
If you were a boy, you were more likely to find something like this:
We are all, to some extent, products of our environment. There’s no question that the messages about what girls can be have changed. The question is, have they changed enough?
Mattel makes a series of Career Barbie Dolls which includes a nurse but not a doctor, a rock star but not a computer programmer.
When we’re young, if we’re fortunate, we have dreams. We believe we can grow up to do anything or be anything. But it’s more common to believe our choices are limited. My parents grew up during the Depression. It taught them to be frugal, to crave security and – above all – to avoid risk. This was reflected in their parenting.
My parents never said “you can do anything and be anything” because they didn’t believe it. They wanted me to conform to a stereotype that was familiar and – to them – safe.
As we grow older, our dreams are too often crushed, one by one, by parents who believe we’d be happier if we had lower expectations, by teachers whose encouragement is filtered through their own gender, color and class biases, by employers who only promote people who look like them, and by a media culture that bombards us with stereotypes from birth.
Remember the Army’s slogan? Be all that you can be. I bet the tune is running through your brain right now. But do you really believe an Army recruiter is going to say, “Kid, you don’t want to be in the Army, you could be a brain surgeon. The Army wanted you to be all you could be — in the Army.
For many women, the message is still: Be all you can be – after you pick up the kids, make dinner and clean the house.
Women worry constantly about how to balance work and home. But what if men were routinely asked how they planned to balance their work and family responsibilities?
It’s up to every family to decide how to divide the work, but if we at least asked the question, how might it change our perspective? Working a second shift at home, a shift that is not shared equally with a partner, reduces the hours available for a woman to work on her business or in her career.
Women own 30% of small businesses and are starting new ventures at one and a half times the rate of the general population, but women receive only 4% of conventional small business loan dollars and only 2% of equity investments.
One of the results of the lack of time and capital investment is that women-owned businesses generate only 25% of the annual revenues of their male counterparts.
Women start businesses with roughly half as much money as men. (Kauffman Foundation)
Many women assume they won’t be approved for a bank loan. As a result, they don’t even apply. If they do apply and are turned down, they are much less likely than men to reapply.
At WEV, we’ve long been puzzled as to why more of our training clients don’t approach us for a start-up loan. When our lending staff started meeting with training clients, they learned that many women didn’t think they were ready for a loan and were surprised when we assured them they were.
WEV’s goal is to increase our lending to $1 million per year within the next three years. This month alone, we have raised three new investments totaling $450,000 from Rabobank, Pacific Western Bank and California United Bank. These new commitments, combined with an existing half-million dollar investment from Wells Fargo Bank and contributions from the Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara, the Rotary Foundation, the Santa Barbara Foundation and the CDFI Fund at the U.S. Department of Treasury, will make it possible for us to reach that goal.
Women have less than great expectations.
Studies of hiring patterns indicate that men are hired for their potential while women are hired for their accomplishments.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that women underestimate their own potential. It’s hard to believe in yourself if those around you don’t. When men and women owners of high-growth potential businesses were asked to predict their growth over a 3-year period, 24% of men predicted growth of over 30%. Only 16% of women predicted that level of growth. (Kauffman Foundation)
But looking back at those same companies 3 years later, actual growth was higher among the women-owned businesses. 58% for women and 53% for men.
Women lag men in the area of self-efficacy, that is, the confidence that they have the necessary skills to succeed in creating a business. When women underrate their own potential, they also underestimate their capital needs, which slows down their rate of growth. Top-ranked male-owned businesses use six times as much capital and employ four times as many people as top-ranked women-owned businesses.
If women started businesses with the same amount of capital as men, they would create an estimated 6 million jobs in the next five years. (Babson College)
Economists have speculated that if women entrepreneurs were able to be fully engaged in their businesses, it would raise GDP by 7 – 9 points.
What if we gave women permission to fail?
Fear of Failure is a major impediment to the launch and growth of women-owned firms, yet successful women entrepreneurs say the lessons they learned from failure contributed more to future success than the lessons they learned from succeeding.
In psychology class we learn that there are three types of learning: Learning from repetition, learning from others and what they call “one trial learning.” One trial learning is what happens when you put your hand on a hot stove. Although the first two types of learning are preferable, sometimes we have to risk getting burned.
Surviving failure gives us confidence in our own resilience and strength. If we are not allowed to fail, we will not take the risks that are necessary to succeed.
At WEV, we give women the opportunity to try, and if they fail, the encouragement to try again.
25 years ago we asked ourselves what if?
- What if women had access to the business education, capital and support networks they needed to create successful businesses
- What if women were encouraged to dream big and ask for what they want?
- What if women believed they could do anything and be anything?
Today, we have some answers to those what ifs:
We know that combining education with capital yields greater results.
Clients who completed our core training program and got a loan from WEV had four times the annual revenues of those who participated in training only.
Clients in our Thrive in 5 program who also have a WEV loan have revenues nearly fifteen times greater than those who participate in our core training program alone.
And we know that combining education and capital with a learning environment that affirms and supports women is transformational.
“You have opened the door to what else I might be.” (WEV client)
At WEV, we have great expectations of women.
It is 2015. The question should no longer be What if? It should be Why not?