About 47% of the American entrepreneurs are women, in Belgium 30%.
6 strong ladies in the world.
More than 10 million companies in the United States are led by women, with a turnover of 1.9 billion dollars. What motivates these women and what distinguishes them from Belgian women?
“The number of American women who start their own business increases by the minute. Because they have to,” says Erin Fuller, CEO of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), a big American organization of entrepreneurs that stimulates women in business. “In the States we don’t have subsidized nursery, no social security, no retirement fund. Women are forced to take their faith into their own hands. I certainly don’t want to criticize the Belgian solidarity system. To my opinion, you have a very good social system.”
‘The American Dream’ doesn’t only stimulate men to start their own company, but also women. Those who take the risk and work hard, can create a success story in no time.
According to Fuller, today’s information technology makes it a lot easier to start your own business. You can do it at home, behind your computer, with the help of Internet, ADSL-lines, websites and voicemails. Thanks to these new communication possibilities beginning entrepreneurs don’t need that much initial capital. The number of American companies that operate from home are increasing by the minute.
“Female entrepreneurs can easily start their own company at home”, says Erin Fuller. “That’s because women are careful managers. They try to avoid long distances and prefer conference calls. Women can easily combine several tasks. A home office is ideal if you want to combine your work and family life’. This way a lot of female American entrepreneurs develop a new ‘female entrepreneur style’. They are proud that they can achieve good results, not only for the company but also for their family.
Which company branches are American businesswomen active in? “Not all of them own a hair salon. That cliché doesn’t reflect reality at all. Our female entrepreneurs are mostly active in industrial branches, like construction, transportation and the production of goods. Because of the lack of statistical information concerning female entrepreneurs, we base ourselves on our own research institute. And the figures are impressive. In the States, the women in business have a large economical impact.”
“More than ten million companies in the United States are owned by women, which is about 47% of all American companies. All together they have a turnover of 1.9 billion US dollars. In 2004, they invested 103 billion dollar in IT, telecommunication, HRM and transportation of goods. The largest part of the American companies (about 75%) doesn’t have employees. 81% of women owned companies has no employees and outsources more. Women in business outsource more. On the whole, women owned companies employ about 12.8 people, with an annual budget of 546 billion dollars for salaries and other financial benefits.”
About one generation ago, women in the American business world were an absolute rarity. But during the last thirty years the quantity of businesswomen increased rapidly. “In the seventies, not even 10% of all company owners were women. During the seventies and eighties there were a lot of women entering the labor market. They went to university, they started to get experienced, they started networking, expanded their contacts and learned to undertake. If they saw an opportunity, they grabbed it. Nevertheless, the important positions in companies were still occupied by men. When women started their own company, they benefited from it financially, professionally and personally. The American women –like the European women- didn’t have role models to look up to. If they took things into their own hands, they usually succeeded.”
According to Erin Fuller a well-considered business plan is the key to success. Still, around fifty percent of women who start their own business, do this without any business plan. Meetings with other managers and the participation in a women’s network stimulate their business.
Female entrepreneurs work differently compared to their male colleagues: “Most women are willing to take risks. They think good business relations are more important than figures. They also ask experts and colleagues for advice.”
Hackle of Power Games
The number of female entrepreneurs is also increasing in Belgium, but not as fast as in the States: from 25% twenty years ago, to 30% today. According to Christine Van Nuffel, coordinator of Markant-Cezov, the slow growth can be clarified by the ‘glass ceiling’. “When young, competent women notice that they’re being passed by young men, they revolt. Why is it so hard to get to the top? Because at the top, there are still a lot of men who have masculine thinking patterns.”
“Several men like power games and meetings. Women hate these things. They want to be occupied with more substantial things. For most women money isn’t the final target. Women are occupied with self-development; they want to give meaning to their lives and work. I think women are often passed by people who are, according to them, less competent because they urge for other values. Men always see things larger and like to complement themselves. Changes of thinking patterns are only possible within a large group. With 30% women, there’ll be a change of mentality.”
Compared to American women, Belgian women aren’t very keen on entering the world of entrepreneurship. Why is that? According to Christine Van Nuffel it has got everything to do with the Belgian identity. Belgians are cautious. “They don’t like to take risks. Belgians are born like this. Above that employees are more protected as well. A lot of American employees don’t have a contract. There still are a lot of jobs in the United States. People can easily change from one job to another. In Belgium we have very favorable unemployment regulations. A family with two unemployed people can still count on assistance of the government. Such a system isn’t even known in Southern Europe. People there start their own business, just to survive”.
Like in the States, companies owned by women are smaller than companies owned by men. “Women often choose for liberal professions. They hardly employ staff. Several women start their own business at a later stage in their lives. Not because they dislike the masculine culture, but sometimes they are forced to do it. Older women get fired quicker than older men. Female entrepreneurs, who start their business when they’re older, don’t really have the urge to employ a lot of people.
Are small companies economically less profitable compared to larger companies? “ Every independent worker who takes care of himself is a surplus value to the government. The only thing is that these small companies are not that visible. Whenever the press is looking for businesswomen, they always look for large companies with a lot of employees. They only notice the number of employees and turnover figures. Those are pure masculine values.”
Bankruptcy is Disastrous
Also in Flanders women approach business differently compared to men. Flemish men take little risks, but women even less. “Most of the times they start their own small business without taking a loan. Women are as eager as men when it comes to business. Like their American colleagues, Belgian women invest a lot of time and energy in contacts with clients and co-workers. They don’t like to delegate their personal contact with suppliers. The pressure to succeed is much bigger in Belgium than in the United States. Bankruptcy for a Belgian company is disastrous.”
“ Women often have a social dimension in their work. Their social engagement is pretty strong. Women work more efficiently than men. They try to save working hours to reach a balance between their work and family life. The surplus value of this strategy has never been calculated. There isn’t any scientific study that analyzes the impact on partner and children. At this very moment there’s a discussion going on concerning pregnancy leave for working women. But they never ask the women what they prefer.”
Learning to do Business
How can we motivate women to do business? “Through education. Whatever they study, every student should learn how to make a decent business plan. Let them set up their own little companies. Governmental support is usually destined for bigger companies. But that can change. When women join networks for female entrepreneurs, it might be easier to get the correct information. Women have to get out more often. If you’re only focused on your work, you loose the overview of the larger picture. But don’t worry, women who’ve started their own business, don’t go back that easily. On the whole, they are pretty satisfied with the step they’ve taken.”
Owner of: Telecom Solutions Group, LLC, US
Function: President and CEO
Activities: outsourcing telecom, utility cost management
Training: University degree in business
Number of employees: 12
Turnover: about 1 million dollars
“I discovered the gap in the market”
“When I was nineteen, I started my career in a bank. But at that time I was already dreaming of having my own company. I had my children at an early age. Organizing daycare isn’t very easy in the United States. I wanted to take care of my children when they were ill. I realized that I wanted the best of both worlds: to be there for my children and to manage my own business. I started the company at my place in Memphis (Tennessee). After five years I had to move because of lack of space. In the meantime I already had a couple of employees. But not too many. Too many employees are redundant. You can save a lot of money with the right software. When I was doing my internship at a telecom and IT-company, I discovered that enterprises didn’t have software to control their phone, electricity and gas bills. It was a gap in the market. I really felt the urge to start my own company. I created a business plan. I hired a software developer and I started to introduce my product. With success. My first steps as a businesswoman were a bit risky, but I was raised that way. My father and two brothers have their own company. I wanted to have enough financial power to support my children. Starting your own company demands a lot of self-confidence and perseverance when things don’t go as expected.
Source: Vacature – Saturday, April 14, 2007
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About 47% of the American entrepreneurs are women, in Belgium 30%.