VC Star, Guest Column by Kathy Odell: A Wave of Women Entrepreneurs

WEV CEO, Kathy Odell
Tuesday, March 8, 2022 is International Women’s Day. In recent years IWD has been a time to recognize achievements made by women and to recommit to the fight for equality — socially, politically, and economically. For a number of years, we have been able to point to slow, but steady gains in the workplace. By January 2020 there were more women in the workforce than men. Women’s participation in the C-suite, in senior management and on corporate boards had increased. Things were moving in the right direction.

But 2022 is different. You might have noticed — the news for women hasn’t been good lately. The pandemic wiped out many of the gains women had made in the workplace. As May 2021 only 56% of women in the U.S. were working for pay — the lowest level since 1986. Despite the recovery, it isn’t getting much better for women.

Of the 467,000 jobs added to the economy in January 2022, only 188,000 went to women. According to research from the National Women’s Law Center, men have recouped all their job losses since the pandemic began, while women are struggling to catch up. There are nearly 1.1 million fewer women in the labor force today than in February 2020.

And women who are employed report stress and burn-out at rapidly escalating rates. The pandemic layered extra childcare and household duties on women. Forty-two percent of women in a study done by McKinsey and LeanIn in 2021 stated that they are “often” or “always” burned out, with one in four working women considering downshifting their career or dropping out of the workforce entirely. For mothers with young children, that number is one in three. The Great Resignation is being led by women. Perhaps that’s a good thing.

The pandemic appears to be accelerating a generational mind shift for women. Greater work-life flexibility and personal control of their career has become the No. 1 issue for today’s working women — more important than corporate advancement, more important than pay. And if their current employer and work situation won’t or can’t provide flexibility and support, women appear ready to create it for themselves.

For more than 16 years the rate of new business formation in the U.S. has averaged 200,000 per month — approximately 2.5 million per year. The U.S. Census Bureau reports a staggering 5.4 million new businesses were founded in 2021. Women started 49% of those businesses, up from an average of 27% in prior years.

According to a survey by HR platform Gusto and the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), these business starts don’t just reflect necessity entrepreneurs, they represent women opting to take control of their personal lives and financial security.

These new businesses represent a cultural reset that might just change the American workplace.

These women entrepreneurs are walking away from workplaces that demand long hours to achieve any meaningful career progress, workplaces that fail to honor worker’s needs for childcare or family flexibility, and workplaces that all too often don’t reward increased corporate productivity with increases in worker compensation.

This wave of entrepreneurs is starting with a core belief that work should be rewarding — emotionally, psychologically, and financially. Work should enable us to care for and spend time with our families, and allow us to contribute to the health and well-being of our communities.

Think what our lives and our communities might become if these new entrepreneurs succeed.

Maybe this year’s International Women’s Day has good news to report after all.