Womenable’s Top Ten

For the fourth straight year, we devoted our end of year e-newsletter to a review of the most noteworthy womenabling events of 2012. Just in case you don’t subscribe to our quarterly e-news (CLICK HERE  if you’d like to do so), we’ve repeated here our list – in no particular order – of the ten most important research reports, events, and emerging trends of the year:

  1. Numbers go visual: There’s been quite an increase in the use of infographics to share data and research in a visual way. We’re proud that our 2012 report on The State of Women-Owned Businesses has been named by PR Week as a finalist in the ‘Best Use of Analytics’ category. The communications this year included a large social media campaign, including infographics. Here are some of Womenable’s favorite infographics, on a Pinterest board.
  2. Data portals: There’s been a great leap forward this year in the aggregation of research information on women’s economic empowerment. Most particularly, the World Bank this year launched a Gender Data Portal, which grants widespread access to a plethora of statistics, including the ability to compare countries and regions, as well as to look at trends in a number of measures over time. It’s nirvana for womenablers everywhere!
  3. Data at hand: Speaking of data nirvana, there are now a number of smartphone apps that can place statistical information literally at your fingertips. Check out the US Census Bureau’s America’s Economy app, the World Bank’s Data Finder app, and the visually-appealing Women of the World iPad optimized e-book from Fotopedia and the World Bank. (Another great e-book, which we mentioned in last year’s list, is the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report, Gender Equality and Development.)
  4. Telling stories: Even those of us who are quantitatively focused recognize the value of personalizing research, and using profiles and stories to impart knowledge, stir emotions, and spur action. There’s a new player in this space, who’s building a fabulous community of womenabling stories, The Story Exchange. Check them out – and also learn more about their 1,000 Stories initiative. Here’s one of my favorite stories from their website of high-quality video vignettes:
  5. The “Having It All” myth re-exposed: In late 2010, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg made a splash with a TEDWomen speech during which she essentially told women to “man up” (my paraphrasing) if they wanted to get ahead. The YouTube video of her remarks has gotten nearly 2 million views. (Not as many as Gangnam Style, but pretty high for something related to women’s empowerment!) An equally big, if not bigger, splash was made this year by Ann-Marie Slaughter, Princeton professor and former senior official in the U.S. State Department, in a July cover story in the Atlantic magazine, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” exploring the family pressures that led to her departure from the federal government. It lit up the blogosphere, and certainly showed that, while women have made a lot of progress, it’s not been without sacrifice and there are a lot of heated opinions on the many facets of this issue.
  6. Making headway in high tech?: Speaking of Sheryl Sandberg, the topic of women in tech has a similar “push me-pull you” dialogue going on about how to get more women in STEM fields. Do they just need to toughen up and push ahead, or should existing paradigms be shifted to be more accepting to the differing leadership styles and professional goals of women in the field? Modeling the former modus operandi is new Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer – who caused a kerfuffle when revealing her pregnancy shortly after taking the helm, but getting right back to business soon after giving birth. Taking a different tack is Harvey Mudd College president Maria Klawe, who has singlehandedly changed the environment – and increased the success – of female engineering and technology students on campus. So, too, new social networks such as Girls Who Code and Girl Geeks chart a different path by creating a collegial environment for women in a still very male-dominated field. It remains to be seen which approach will lead to greater success, but perhaps you can guess which side we come down on!
  7. Increased focus on access to markets: Last year, we pointed out that an increasing number of corporations are investing in the development of women’s business enterprises as suppliers – shifting their emphasis from “corporate social responsibility” to “value chain development.” International trade is an important element of market access, and a valuable link in this value chain is the International Trade Centre’s Access! initiative for women business owners in Africa, and their Global Platform for Action on Sourcing from Women Vendors – which included a trade exhibition and forum in Mexico City just last month. In addition, the 2nd quarter 2012 issue of their Trade Forum magazine, Empowering Women, Empowering Trade, focused entirely on access to trade issues for women-owned enterprises.
  8. Gender equality – continued Nordic dominance: For the past seven years, the World Economic Forum has released a Global Gender Gap Report. While some nations rise and fall in this global ranking of gender equality in the areas of health, education, political leadership and economic participation, one region has dominated the rankings since the beginning – the Nordic economies of Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden. Read more about the trends and download the current and previous reports at THIS LINK.
  9. Increasing the robustness of indices and lists: While the Global Gender Gap Report remains an important source of data on gender equality, its rankings are based on relatively few variables, none of which include business ownership or self-employment. There are now other players in the game, increasing the robustness of global rankings. First, the OECD has updated and expanded its Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI), which evaluates 100 economies on a number of measures that impact gender equality. The variables included in the rankings include existence of domestic violence legislation, women’s mobility and discriminatory inheritance practices – highlighting the sometimes hidden ways that inequality is perpetuated. Secondly, the Economist Intelligence Unit, author of the Women’s Economic Opportunity Index, is partnering with the Inter-American Development Bank’s Multilateral Investment Fund (IDB-MIF) to produce WEVentureScope, an analysis of environmental factors that make it easy – or more difficult – for women to start and grow businesses. This soon-to-come index will finally add women’s entrepreneurship into a country ranking equation – at least for Latin America and the Caribbean. Viva!
  10. Recognizing the contributions of unsung heroines: Most business awards and lists focus on economic impact – who generates the highest revenues, employs the most workers, or has grown the fastest in either or both of those areas over a period of time. The International Alliance for Women has done things a little differently, and we think that’s all to the good. For the past five years, their World of Difference Awards have focused on recognizing women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial enablers who are making a difference to the triple bottom line – largely without fanfare. We need more of this, so we’re adding it to our Top Ten list to shine a light on this approach, and perhaps to plant a seed for others to follow!

And, just for good measure, here are links to some other Top Ten lists you might be interested in:

Did we miss any critical items? Think we’re off the mark on any of the above? Let us know! Curious to compare this list with our previous Top Ten lists? Click on the following links to read our Top Ten womenabling events of 2011, 2010, and 2009.

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New WEF Global Gender Gap Report Shows Both Progress & Persistent Gaps

For the seventh year running, the World Economic Forum has published its Global Gender Gap Report, taking a look at 135 world economies and measuring the extent of gender equality (or inequality) in four main areas:

  1. health and survival
  2. educational attainment
  3. economic participation
  4. political empowerment

As we and others have oft lamented, it’s a shame that economic participation doesn’t include any entrepreneurship measures – but there are a lack of consistent, comparable data measuring the number of women-owned firms in countries around the world. Economic participation remains an area with persistent gender gaps. And political empowerment remains the area with the consistently widest gender gap.

Be that as it may, the 2012 report again shows the continuing dominance of the Nordic countries in gender equality across these measures. Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark have all ranked in the top ten in all seven years of the report – with Iceland topping the list since 2009.

Three other countries have made it to the top ten in all seven years of the report as well: Ireland, New Zealand, and the Philippines. Rounding out the top ten are Nicaragua and Switzerland, both well improved from their 2006 rankings of 62 and 26, respectively.

Given that there is now a 7-year trend to examine, it’s interesting to note where there have been significant improvements. In addition to the remarkable progress in Nicaragua, several African countries have made great leaps forward:

  • Madagascar, which has advanced from 84 to 58 on the list due to improvements in the political empowerment of women,
  • Malawi, which has lept from 81 to 36 due to improvements in economic participation, and
  • Uganda, which has advanced from a ranking of 50 to 28 over the past seven years on the heels of advancements in health and survival.

At the other end of the spectrum, there has been some backsliding in some countries, most notably in eastern Europe, where:

  • Croatia has fallen from a ranking of 16 to 49, due mainly to a decline in political empowerment,
  • Macedonia has slipped from 28 to 61, with declines in economic participation and political empowerment, and
  • Moldova has declined from a ranking of 17 to 45 as a result of slippages in political empowerment, economic participation and educational attainment.

And, as we’ve seen in every year of the report’s publication, there are some countries in which persistent gender gaps exist in more than one area. Yemen, Pakistan, Chad, Syria and Saudi Arabia have remained at the bottom of the list since 2006, when 115 countries were evaluated and ranked. As has been mentioned by more than one political and social commentator, the Arab Spring has most certainly not resulted in any pervasive progress for women in the MENA region.

New Statistics on Economic Clout of Women-Owned Firms in US

Attention all womenablers – updated intelligence on the state of women-owned businesses in the US is now available. The 2012 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by American Express OPEN and prepared by Womenable, reveals that:

  • As of 2012, it is estimated that there are over 8.3 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating nearly $1.3 trillion in revenues and employing 7.7 million people;
  • Comparing trends in the number and revenue accomplishments of women-owned and all firms by industries finds that women-owned firms are exceeding overall sector growth in seven of the 13 most populous industries, and there are several industries in which women business owners are standing toe to toe with their competitors in terms of revenue accomplishments;
  • How women-owned firms are faring depends on whether the point of comparison is all firms or all privately-held firms. Women-owned firms are holding their own, meeting or exceeding average revenue and employment growth, when compared to all privately-held firms – falling short only when their growth is compared to the very largest publicly-traded firms; and finally
  • While we learned last year that the growth of women-owned firms falters as they reach the 100-employee threshold and the million-dollar mark, a new analysis shows that the relative strength of million-dollar women-owned firms is greater now than it was a decade ago. Further, we may be losing a full accounting of the economic clout of women-led firms as they “outgrow” the 51%+ definition of being women-owned.

The 73-page report also contains state-level data as well as information on the 25 most populous metropolitan areas in the country. Learn more about this new must-have report, and download a copy for your womenabling reference shelf, at the link above. More blogposts will soon be available on OPENforum.com. You may also wish to read the study news release on BusinessWire, and read the lead article covering the study which appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

Navigating the Federal Procurement Maze Pays Off for Many Women Entrepreneurs

Accessing new markets is an important avenue for business growth for all businesses, large and small. For many women business owners, federal agencies provide an excellent opportunity for market expansion and business growth. As many are aware, the U.S. government is the world’s largest single purchaser of goods and services, spending just over $535 billion in external contracts in fiscal year 2011. And with a 5% federal spending goal for agency spending with women-owned firms, and a newly-implemented Women-Owned Small Business Procurement Program, federal procurement is a market ripe for expansion by growth-oriented women entrepreneurs.

recent survey conducted among women and men small business owners who are active federal contractors1 shows that women-owned firms that are active in federal contracting have achieved the same level of business and procurement success as their male peers A new report from this second annual survey, Women and Minority Small Business Contractors: Divergent Paths to Equal Success, focuses on key trends among women- and minority-owned firms in federal contracting. This report, published by American Express OPEN’s Victory in Procurement (VIP) program, finds that while business and procurement achievements do not vary by gender, procurement strategies do vary, as do success rates.

Notable survey findings include:

  • Women-owned active contractors have achieved the same level of procurement and business success as all active small contractors. Over one-third (35%) of women active contractors have received $1 million or more in federal contracts to date, statistically identical to the 38% of all active contractors who have reached the same level of procurement success. In addition, 19% of women contractors employ 50 or more workers and 42% have $1 million or more in annual revenues, virtually the same as the 18% and 47% seen among all active small business contractors.
  • Investments made in seeking contract opportunities have risen over the past year, but remain lower for women. On average, active contractors invested $103,827 in staff and financial resources seeking federal contracting opportunities during 2010. During that same period, women contractors spent 17% less —a total of $86,643. Both generally and among women, however, procurement investments are up this year over last — 23% among women and 21% overall.
  • Women business owners are more likely than average to have obtained a special designation or certification. Over eight in 10 (82%) of women-owned firms have one or more of these designations, compared to 70% of all active contractors. The most helpful certifications for women are getting on the GSA Schedule (24% are on the schedule, 41% of them have found it very or extremely useful) or taking advantage of veteran or disabled veteran status (less than 10% of women-owned firms have these designations, but nearly 40% of those who do have found it to be very or extremely useful to them).
  • Bidding activity and contracting success rates have declined, more so for women than the average small business contractor. Comparing the most recent three-year contracting period (2008-10) with the previous period (2007-09) finds that the number of prime contract bids and participation in bids as a subcontractor are down: 47% for prime contracts and 48% for subcontracts. Among women-owned firms, there has been a 55% decline in prime contract bids and a 30% decline in subcontracting participation. Success rates have also declined: down 8% among all firms and 17% among women for prime contract wins, and -27% and -34%, respectively, for subcontract wins.

Finally, it’s interesting to note that women business owners do not yet find the women-owned firm designation to be very helpful to them in obtaining federal government contracts. However, as this survey was taken, the WOSB Procurement Program was just getting underway. Tracking the improvements that program will have on the number and value of federal contracts going to women-owned firms will be f great interest to the women business owner community.

This report is the second in a series of four reports that will be published from the second annual survey among active small business federal contractors. The first, Trends in Federal Contracting for Small Businesses, focused on the overall situation for small firms in the federal marketplace today as well as key trends seen over the past year. Other upcoming reports will focus on how strategies and outcomes change with level of procurement experience, and what lessons can be shared from firms that focus on subcontracting as a procurement strategy. To download and read the entire 11-page report click here, and to learn more about American Express OPEN’s VIP program, visit www.openforum.com/governmentcontracting.

A separate Womenable-authored blogpost focusing on the findings from the perspective of minority-owned businesses can be found on OPENforum.com.

1 An active contractor is defined as a business that is registered on the Central Contractor Registry to do business with federal agencies and is either currently performing on a federal contract or has performed on a contract within the past five years.

Women’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation

I’m just back from an event at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, where the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) held a series of meetings focused on innovation policy. One item on the agenda was a discussion of women’s entrepreneurship and innovation – more specifically the sharing of the results of a two-year effort studying how women and men business owners view and implement innovation in their enterprises.

The analysis is based on a 6-country survey of women and men business owners (in Brazil, Jordan, Sweden, Switzerland, Uganda and the United States), all of who own established firms with employees and with between $10,000 and $10 million USD in sales. Womenable helped to design the survey, conducted the comparative analysis, and authored the report for UNCTAD. That report has not yet been published (this meeting produced a draft report that is now out for comment among UNCTAD stakeholders – we’ll let you know when it’s publicly available), but here are some of the most intriguing findings:

  • Personal motivation is a key driver for innovative behavior within both women-owned and men-owned firms, but women are found to be much more likely than men to innovate in order to address a social need they see in their communities or in the marketplace;
  • There are more similarities than differences between women and men business owners in the operationalization of innovation within their firms, including trademarking, intellectual property protection, and investment in research and development, and in the orientation toward risk;
  • Differences in risk tolerance are much more likely to be seen by development context than gender, with owners in the developing economies studied being much more cautious about risk;
  • Access to finance is the most important barrier to innovation in all countries and among both women and men, but cultural constraints are an additional constraint – not only to innovation but to business growth in general – for women in Jordan and Uganda.

When it’s published, you’ll see that the report contains an extensive series of recommendations for policy and programmatic action, including:

  • consideration of innovation-focused business exchange programs (regional, national or international) – as well as greater gender diversity in the composition of trade fairs and trade missions;
  • establishment of targeted training and technical assistance to encourage innovation in social enterprises; and
  • the creation of mentoring and role model efforts aimed at increasing innovation among women business owners.

The report also contains an extensive bibliography of related research and links to organizations and web sites related to women’s entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as summaries of each of the six country-specific reports.

To download and review the PowerPoint presentation I gave at the UNCTAD meeting, CLICK HERE. For more information about the full event agenda, CLICK HERE. And here’s a link to another interesting UNCTAD report, Applying a Gender Lens to Science, Technology and Innovation.

Federal Contracts Requiring Larger Investment for Small Businesses

A new survey conducted among small business owners who are active federal government contractors finds that their investment of time and money seeking contracting opportunities has increased by 21% over the past year, as federal contract spending has declined 12%.

This and other facts come from Trends in Federal Contracting for Small Businesses, a new report authored by Womenable from a survey conducted by us for American Express OPEN’s Victory in Procurement for Small Business program.

The survey was conducted online in October 2011 among small business owners who are registered on the Central Contractor Registry (CCR) and are either currently performing on a federal contract (prime or subcontractor) or who have done so within the past five years.

Other findings from this first of four reports drawn from the survey include:

  • On average, active contractors invested $103,827 in time and money last year seeking federal contracts, up from $86,124 in 2009;
  • Larger firms invest more seeking contracting opportunities, but so do firms owned by persons of color. Women invest somewhat less time and money seeking federal contracting opportunities than do their male counterparts;
  • On average, small firms submitted an average of 4.4 bids before they won their very first federal contract – the lesson being, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, and try again;
  • Over the long term, experience pays off. Average bidding success rates – 38% overall – are significantly higher among firms with 10+ years of contracting experience compared to those firms with three years or less contracting experience.

The other three reports will focus on special trends among women and minority business owners, how strategies and outcomes change with level of procurement experience, and what lessons can be learned from firms that focus on subcontracting as a procurement strategy.

To learn more and download a copy of the report, read this Womenable-authored blogpost on openforum.com. Look for the next report from this survey in about a month; it will focus on the key findings among women and minority business owners.

A Womenabling Manifesto

Last week, during Global Entrepreneurship Week, I kicked off the FastTrac Global Women’s Summit at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City with an opening address focused on the key global and domestic trends in women’s entrepreneurship today. So, naturally, I touched on some of the most recent knowledge from the World Economic Forum’s 2011 Global Gender Gap report, the latest Women, Business and the Law report from the World Bank’s fabulous Gender Law Library, and US trends from the American Express OPEN State of Women-Owned Businesses Report (which I authored) that was published this past spring.

But I couldn’t stop there. Given that the audience numbered 200, and the address was webcast to countless numbers of others around the world, I closed this trend-focused keynote address with a bit of exhortation focused on what we all need to do next, which I called the Womenable Manifesto. In brief, here’s what I think we womenablers need to focus on in the coming months and years to REALLY advance women’s economic empowerment, entrepreneurial development, and thought leadership.

  • Words matter, changing our lexicon: Discussions and definitions of business growth are currently conducted using a very male-defined, testosterone-charged dictionary. When held up to this lens, women business owners often fall short and are described as “risk averse,” owning “lifestyle businesses,” or lacking the ambition to grow. Instead of thinking of women as falling short of a male-defined yardstick, let’s develop our own measures and descriptors, including thinking of women as more aware of risk as opposed to averse of it. Also, many women don’t want to grow just for growth’s sake, which causes some to see them as lacking in ambition. We need to talk more about growing businesses as a means toward a broader end of making an even bigger difference, impacting more lives and making the world a better place – that would be much more attractive too more women than a currency-based growth exhortation. And, importantly, “growth” is not a zero-sum game. It’s not either-or, and the term “high growth potential business” should not just be used when referring to multi-million dollar, equity-backed ventures. Yes, it’s true that only 2% of women-owned firms have crossed the million-dollar threshold, but only 5% of men-owned firms have as well. So we need to make thinking and growing bigger – not just huge – a more central part of the conversation.
  • Policies with possibility, not proscription: Our public policies also do growth-oriented women – and men – business owners a disservice. Entrepreneurship support from many state and local governments – as well as the SBA – is the equivalent of primary school: they will only get a business owner so far along the educational process. While some may say that the government’s role should only be to provide a kick-start and that other players should pick up later in the journey – I would say that it is in a nation’s best interest – for international competitiveness and for sustainable economic growth – not to drop support when it’s needed the most. A case in point are the “golden handcuffs” of the SBA’s Women’s Business Center program. More about that later – and it’s covered in much more detail in my full remarks – but suffice it to say that the legislative marching orders for the program, and the tone that’s set in its management, do not support growth-oriented clients. This needs to change.
  • Building an entrepreneurial road/canal system: I used one chart in my presentation (see slide #22) depicting the canal system around Birmingham England, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution – to make the point that it was only when this canal was built did the revolution truly take off. We need an analogous system for enterprise development: one that provides multiple pathways for an entrepreneur to start and navigate her journey; one that provides super highways as well as local roads, off ramps and on ramps, and scenic routes as well as straightaways. One size does not fit all in entrepreneurial development assistance, so there should be a variety of routes to business growth as well.

Of course, there’s a lot more than this to be done, and each of these ideas deserves a deeper discussion in and of themselves. However, I believe that many hands make light work and we’ve got to start somewhere – AND we have to invest in areas that will have a broad and lasting impact.

What do you think about the elements of this manifesto? Any others to add? Am I off the mark on anything? Let’s get a dialogue going about how we can all work together to embrace, empower, and legitimize women’s entrepreneurial leadership in ways that allow for growth “in a different voice” and through multiple pathways.

If you’re interested, the slides from the PowerPoint presentation accompanying my remarks is available on Womenable’s SlideShare page, and the archived webcast of my address will be posted on the FastTrac Global Women’s Summit web page very soon.

Three cheers for the triple bottom line power of entrepreneurial women – hip, hip, hooray!