According to the 2006 Census Bureau between the years 1997 and 2002, woman-owned businesses grew about 20%. This fact demonstrate that female entrepreneurship is expanding at an impressive rate, but what types of women are taking the initiative to own their own business, and what challenges do they face? Our group believes that female owners face different obstacles than male owners, and are often held to higher standards. Women are expected to ignore their gender, while men in the industry are allowed to hold the women to higher standards simply for being female. Being a female entrepreneur, therefore, means trying to ignore gender even as it used to pass judgment on behavior and success. Our group expanded on the idea that it depended on what type of businesswoman was held to the already accepted male standard.
An article in Gender, Work & Organization, backs up our groups understanding of female entrepreneurship when it says, "Despite a commitment to a gender-neutral stance there was a clear awareness among the women involved in the entrepreneurial network that their business behavior was constantly open to evaluation and that all efforts should be made to ensure that the right impression was given" (Lewis 462-463). Through our interviews, we hoped to explore this claim, and assess whether or not the expectations differ according to the business sector a woman owns in.
Purpose of Research:
In many cultures throughout history women have been subject to adversity and although the feminist movement has made great strides here in the United States, masculinity still rules many aspects of our society, including the workplace. The purpose of our research is to show that women still face unique and challenging obstacles when starting and maintaining her own business. We have asked the women we have interviewed for guidance and advice so that other women can learn from their experiences. Therefore, our group seeked to not only display the challenges, but also explore how each woman overcame them. Overall, studied and documented different women’s perspectives on the American woman entrepreneur and wanted to answer the following: What are the difficulties of starting and running a business and how, if any, has your gender impacted this process for you?
When we interviewed Sherry Cox, she was very excited to talk about her accomplishments and hopefully inspire other women by example. Sherry Cox is a pronounced Owner and Interior Designer for Details Design Center, an interior design firm that was started in Watkinsville, Georgia in 1998. She has built her business up from a 500 sq. ft. interior design knick-knack shop to a pre-construction to finished product interior design center based out of a historic house. The first year was a huge success for the retail side of the business so she was able to move to a larger location within one year of beginning the business. By 2001 the business had outgrown its location again and moved to thehistoric house which was five times larger than the previous location and an increased staff of nine. The design side of the business has now grown so large that she has decided to eliminate the retail end of the business and is now based out of her basement which has been transformed into office space and a 3500 sq. ft. warehouse. She mostly works with upper middle income to high income women in her business but the majority of the timethe male counterparts are called in to help give the final approval. The most significant information we received from her was regarding her advice for other women hoping to own their own business:
1. Go slowly and don’t let excitement take over.
2. Money in the door is not money in your pocket!
3. Advertising is important, but don’t waste it in the wrong direction.
4. Treat every client like you want them to be your client forever!
5. Learn rules for treatment of employees.
6. Follow state and federal guidelines.
Sherri Clarke-The Madison:
The interview with Sherri Clarke was a great insight to the ups and downs of owning your own business as a woman in today's society. She was very excited to talk about her experience as a business owner and how it enriches her and her husbands lives. She owns a small business in downtown Madison, Georgia, where she both sells retail items from Vera Bradley and other novelties and has a cafe on the other side of the store where she sells mostly lunch items and desserts. Through the interview she shed light on how her customers are her favorite aspect of owning and running the store, especially the children. Sherri Clarke did mention, however, how difficult and trying it was to sometimes deal with her employees. She has to face their hardships with them, especially in their times of needs. One of the most interesting aspects of the interview was when she discussed when she first opened the store people in the area we skeptical about her role in the community. Once she established herself and proved that she was concerned with the same small town values as the rest of the community, they accepted her trust in the economy of downtown Madison, Georgia.
Vickie Bryans has from childhood dreamt of owning a business in the horse world. It was destined to come true and 15 years ago, it did. What was once a small hobby of teaching friends and family the hunter/jumper style of riding became a full time job and a dream come true. While most of her cliental are female, which she prefers because she sees them are more focused and driven in this sport, she is still very open to teaching either sex. Though there are a few men that come she says that they are not serious about the horses. She jokingly says, “I have always speculated that it’s all of the pretty girls that draw them [men] to our farm rather than the actual riding.”
Sexism and discrimination do not seem to serve much of a challenge in her chosen career, at least not directly. Mrs. Bryans does say that her gender has impacted the contracts that are necessary outside of the barn though. In regards to working with men at the bank and insurance companies, she says, “There are still plenty of good ole southern boys who don’t think us southern belles have enough sense to do anything outside of the kitchen!” Even women business owners have their trials and troubles with stereotypes. Even with the influence men may have on her career, she still believes that gender has not affected her business “itself”.
Time management she says is probably the most difficult aspect of her business. She handles barn management, the horses themselves, teaching the riding lessons, horse show planning and management (both hosting shows and traveling with competing students). In addition, she adds that book-keeping can be a full time job in and of itself. She also brings up issues of running a business from the private sphere: the home. Working from home means that you can't "leave" work, and can make for never-ending hours. When asked if she had any closing thoughts on women business owners she said, “I do believe that you must always be looking to the future, and be open to new and innovative ideas, because the world is changing – whether you do or not.”
Throughout conducting these interviews, we determined a few similarities between the experiences of the three women business owners. One distinction we made was that for each of the three women, a large portion of their clientele are women, although men are also a part of both Sherri Clarke and Sherri Cox's business, the women clientele had the greatest impact. A distinction that interior designer Sherri Cox made with her business is that men are usually involved with the final and financial decision making process with the interior design projects. Another connection between these three women is that their line of business is dominated by women. With the exception of the furniture industry that Sherri Cox works with as part of her business, interior design, small store and cafe owners and stable managers are most often women in today's society. All and all, the hardships and the highlights that women business owners face not only challenge them everyday, but also enrich their lives as independent and responsible women.
Through out the process of completing this group project, we have become more knowledgeable of the difficulties and successes of women owning their own business. We were surprised to discover that gender did not have as big of an impact on owning the business, but more so affected things such as getting a loan to start the business or buying the furniture as in Mrs. Cox's situation. Another thing that Vickie Bryans faced was the communities view of "southern bells not having enough sense to stay in the kitchen," which showed that a lot of people in her area do not think that women have the ability to do work outside the kitchen, let alone own and run their own business. In the end, all three women we interviewed said that every obstacle and success was worth owning their own business, and we as a group have grown to appreciate these women's ambitions of owning their own business and succeeding.