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Women Entrepreneurs: Own Your Power
by Rieva Lesonsky
June 21, 2023
owner of a clothing store at the entrance of the new business with the tablet in hand

A call for economic empowerment was at the core of Betty Friedan’s landmark, earth-shattering book The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963. Friedan wrote, “Women are people, no more no less, and therefore demand our human right to participate in the mainstream of society, to equal opportunity to earn and be trained and have our voice in the big decisions of our destiny.”

Much of Friedan’s anger stemmed from the idea that American women were imprisoned in their roles as housewives and weren’t pursuing career opportunities.

Gail Collins, the first female editorial page editor for The New York Times, noted in the introduction of the 50th-anniversary edition of the book that Friedan was obsessed with women getting jobs. The Feminine Mystique, she writes, “is a very specific cry of rage about the way intelligent, well-educated women were kept out of the mainstream of American professional life.”

Why was Friedan so angry? Partly because in 1963, women earned 59 percent of what men did. While those numbers have improved, today, women are making about 81% of what men earn—still nowhere near equal.

And as I noted several months ago, the COVID-19 pandemic has economically impacted women harder than men. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reports more than 5.4 million women left the workforce in 2020.

And many women business owners have struggled as well. According to CNBC, “The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women extends…to the venture capital funding of female entrepreneurs. During the past year, the amount of funding to women-led startups and startups led by co-ed teams declined, as the overall amount of venture dollars poured into startups inched higher.”

In 2019, startups with all-female founding teams drew a record-high 3.4 percent of all venture capital dollars in the U.S., according to Crunchbase. CNBC reports that investment declined to 2.4% in 2020, and that percentage has remained consistent through the first two months of 2021 (February numbers are subject to change as more data becomes available.) And PitchBook reports the average size of a VC deal for all-female teams was $6.8 million in 2020, compared to $18.7 million for all-male teams.

And yet, we women continue to forge ahead. As we head toward economic recovery, try embracing the three Ps—passion, power, and profitability.

First comes passion because it’s something most women entrepreneurs already have in abundance. Many businesses are born from that passion—fueled by ideas for doing something differently or better. I know it’s been a challenging year, but you can’t let go of your passion because it’s what will get you through.

Owning Your Power

Power, on the other hand, is not something all women feel comfortable embracing. But if we’re to rebuild our businesses, we need to own our power. All too often, women use speech or body language that devalues who we really are. (Do you overuse the one word that undercuts your power? My guess is you do; I know I did. It’s time to stop.)  

In her book Believe It, Jamie Kern Lima, the founder of IT Cosmetics, talks about how she, already filled with self-doubt, also had to overcome skepticism from others. She was told, “No one is going to buy makeup from someone who has your body.”

In a Forbes Ask the Expert interview, Lima, who made Forbes’ richest self-made women list, said she was hesitant to embrace that title, because, “As women, so many of us [learned] to play it small, and call it being humble, and call it humility. We learned to dim our light to get along. I realized I was dimming my light and calling it being humble and thinking that was the right thing to do.”

But Lima says one of the most critical parts of being successful is, “When you learn how to hear yourself and trust yourself. I had to go through the journey of learning to believe that my own success was real and was possible.” In other words, Lima learned to own her power.

If you don’t feel it at the moment, fake it. Research shows that when we act confident, it changes how others react to us, which actually builds our confidence.

And, of course, we cannot be successful unless our businesses are profitable.

The Path to Profitability

There are so many paths to attaining profitability, and revenues play a big part. That’s why it’s frustrating that, according to a survey released last year by Biz2Credit, the average annual revenues of women-owned businesses in 2019 was $384,359, compared to $752,154 for men.

One way to improve that—get a mentor. A report from SCORE shows working with a mentor at least five times greatly increases an entrepreneur’s likelihood of business success. If you don’t have one, you can find a SCORE mentor here.

Although the coronavirus pandemic particularly challenged women in business, we know we’ve accomplished a lot since Friedan first wrote The Feminine Mystique. In 1997, Friedan said, “It’s awesome to consider how women have changed the very possibilities of our lives and are changing the values of every part of our society.”

And we will continue to fight on.

About the author
Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is president and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog
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