Growth of Women-Owned Firms Continues, But Keeps Pace Only Until 100 Employee and $1M Revenue Marks

A new analysis of recently-released Census data on women-owned enterprises in the United States finds that the growth in the number of women-owned firms continues at rates exceeding the national average, and that growth in revenue and employment keeps up the pace with all firms, but only until women-owned firms reach the 100-employee level or the $1 million revenue marks.
State of WOBs 2011 report cover
Women-owned firms are now estimated to number just over 8.1 million, generating nearly $1.3 trillion in revenues and employing 7.7 million workers. The new report, The American Express OPEN State of Women-Owned Businesses Report: A Summary of Important Trends, 1997-2011, also provides estimates of the number and economic contributions of women-owned firms by industry, by state, and by revenue and employment class of firm.

Womenable conducted the analysis, basing the 2011 estimates on an analysis of the 1997, 2002, and 2007 Census data, the latter having just been released in December 2010. Learn more about and download the 53-page report free at and read the full study news release here.

Rich Industry and State Data

The report offers rich insights at the industry and state level. For example, the analysis shows that:Share of WOBs within Industries

  • Women-owned firms continue to diversify into all industries, rendering the term “non-traditional industries” virtually meaningless today. While there remain some predominately female industries (52% of all health care and social assistance firms are women-owned, for example) and while just 8% of construction firms are women-owned, most other industries come close to the overall 29% share of women-owned firms in the economy;
  •   Between 2002 and 2011, the fastest growth in the number of women-owned firms has been in education services (up 54%), administrative and waste services (+47%) and construction (+41%);
  •  The states with the fastest growth in the number of women-owned firms between 1997 and 2011 are Georgia, Nevada, Mississippi, Florida, and North Carolina; while the states with the lowest rate of increase in the number of women-owned firms are Alaska, West Virginia, Iowa, Indiana, and Vermont. 

New Insights on When Growth Falters 

We’ve all heard the finding that “the number of women-owned firms is growing at twice the national average.” This new analysis shows that the rate of increase in the number of women-owned firms still tops the national average, but the ratio is now 1.5:1 – a 50% increase in the number of women-owned firms between 1997 and 2011 compared to 34% among all U.S. firms.
Revenue Growth of WOBs by Firm Size
We also know that growth in revenue and employment in women-owned firms has always lagged the national average overall, but a more in-depth analysis of growth by business size shows that – in actuality – women-owned firms keep up the pace with the revenue and employment growth of all U.S. firms, but only until a certain point. With respect to revenue growth, women-owned firms match the revenue growth of all firms on a percentage basis all along the business size spectrum – until the million-dollar revenue mark.  With respect to employment, again women-owned firms match percent growth along most of the business size spectrum – but falter after the 100-employee threshold is crossed.

This new analysis should dispel the notion that women-owned firms start small and stay that way. In point of fact, they are progressing along the growth spectrum at a pace matching all firms – and even exceeding that of men-owned firms – and start to lag only as they approach the upper echelons of business achievement.

More work needs to be done to better understand what barriers are standing in their way, and how they may be overcome. This new report provides a much deeper understanding of growth and invaluable signposts to help guide the way.

Growing into New Markets: The Power of Procurement

After a decades-long battle, a Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program is now in place at the US Small Business Administration. Truth be told, the 10-year fight to get the law calling for this program implemented was just the tip of the iceberg. Way back when women business owners and their organizations (NAWBO and AWED (now defunct) chief among them) fought for the passage of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988, they tried to get language inserted referring to access to government contracting programs, but were told that it would sink the entire bill if it were to be inserted – so it was left out.

In the mid 1990’s, then, a 5% goal was established, requesting but not requiring federal agencies to target at least 5% of their spending with women-owned small businesses. Well, as we womenablers know, that goal has never been reached on a government-wide basis – due in large part to the “big kahuna” status of Defense Department spending. In actuality, as of fiscal year 2008 year, 14 federal agencies spent more than 5% with women-owned firms. (Read more about it in this fact sheet from the National Women’s Business Council.) Kudos to them!

And kudos to everyone who kept the pressure on, especially during the stonewalling years of the Bush Administration, to see the day come – February 4, 2011 – when the program was finally put in place. It’s still early days, as they say, but hundreds of women business owners and other womenablers gathered on March 2 to raise a glass to the program’s success. Thanks, WIPP, for throwing the party!

Anyway, we’re writing today in the wake of these positive developments to share some information that was gathered – by Womenable for American Express OPEN’s Victory in Procurement for Small Business initiative – to better understand how women and men small business owners are faring in the federal procurement marketplace. There are three reports publicly available that have come from this research:

What do these reports show – especially about women business owners? Here are some key findings:

  • It takes time and money to get into the federal procurement marketplace – 20 months of trying for the first contract win and an average $86,000 annual investment – but it took women business owners no longer, and a somewhat lower annual investment, to be successful;
  • Once they have become active federal contractors, women match their peers with respect to their business’ size and the total value of the contracts they’ve won to date;
  • However, both women and minority business owners are much more likely to be left at the starting gate. While 28% of active contractors are women and 24% are firms owned by persons of color (close to the national average among all firms), fully 39% of inactive contractors (defined as firms that are registered on CCR but that have either never performed or are not currently performing on a federal contract) are women and 48% are minorities.

We hope you’ll take a few minutes and read through one or all of these reports – and take advantage of the programs that are out there to help you break into the federal procurement marketplace, including: