Utah women are performing well under entrepreneurial pressure, according to new research published earlier this week.
The Utah Women and Leadership Project hosted by Utah Valley University released a six-page research and policy brief on the status of women and entrepreneurship in the state of Utah throughout the past year on May 5.
According to the study — co-written by Women’s Business Center of Utah State Director Ann Marie Wallace, Utah Women and Leadership Project Research Fellow April Townsend, and Orin R. Woodbury Professor of Leadership and Ethics Susan Madsen — women make up half of the American workforce and serve as the primary or sole breadwinner in 40% of households with children in the U.S.
Traditional views of women in entrepreneurial roles still consist of women starting lifestyle businesses as a means to supplement income; however, the research and policy brief found 62% of women entrepreneurs used their business as the primary source of their income.
Since a similar brief was published in 2016, women-owned businesses have increased in number and revenue. A “women-owned” business is defined as one that is at least 51% owned, operated and controlled by one or more women, according to the study.
In 2015, there were 9.4 million women-owned businesses that employed 7.9 million people with $1.5 trillion generated revenue. At that time, women-owned businesses made up 30% of all U.S. firms. By 2019, women-owned businesses had increased by 37%, with 12.9 million businesses owned, operated and controlled by at least 51% women, making up 42% of all U.S. firms. By that time, women-owned businesses employed 9.4 million people and generated $1.9 trillion in revenue.
Over 22% of the almost 13 million women-owned businesses in 2019 exist in the “other services” industry sector, according to the research. Healthcare and social assistance as well as professional, scientific and technical services are the other two industry sectors that fall within the top three industries with the highest percentage of women-owned businesses, falling at 14.9% and 12.5%.
Comparatively, Utah has 287,803 small businesses that employ 572,888 people, which is almost half of the state’s workforce, according to the brief. In 2016, Utah ranked eighth for women-owned businesses and 30th for growth by employment, while only three years later, in 2019, the state was ranked sixth in economic clout for women-owned businesses and 10th in employment growth.
In today’s economy, there are a number of challenges women entrepreneurs face that their male counterparts don’t necessarily experience. Fair access to capital, access to mentors, access to affordable childcare, and lack of awareness of business training and resources are some of the barriers aspiring female business owners face on an almost daily basis, according to the study.
Women, especially, feel more comfortable learning from other women entrepreneurs. Wallace said this is because male mentors can intimidate them or they feel there is a disconnect between what a woman’s experience or priorities are and what the mentor believes is important.
However, Wallace said one of the most significant hurdles remains obtaining access to capital.
“Even though it’s 2020, it’s still really hard for women to get money when compared to a man,” she said. “There’s a lot of reasons for that, but a few of them are that women are less likely to dare to get a loan in the first place and on average would ask for less money than a man would. Women are a little bit different from men in their approach to capital.”
For Utah women, specifically, the most impactful challenge has been finding the courage to take themselves — and having others take them — seriously. Wallace said a sense of prejudice exists against home-based entrepreneurs who are seen as less legitimate than office-based businesses.
To help combat these hurdles, the study encourages creating connections, adopting a “bigger is better” attitude, changing perceptions and collecting and using data. The Women’s Business Center of Utah is partnering with organizations across the state to help women do just that.
Wallace began her journey with the Women’s Business Center as an aspiring female entrepreneur hoping to find resources to help her make her dreams a reality. Only a year after successfully starting her own business, Wallace was promoted from client to business adviser.
Now, she is the state director.
The center is a resource for all business owners or aspiring entrepreneurs, regardless of gender, but most of its clientele are women. The Women’s Business Center helps entrepreneurs understand financing options, learn about marketing, and connect with other female mentors.
The center has created an online resource hub for all entrepreneurs, and the list of resources is broken down by county. In Utah County, aspiring entrepreneurs can reach out to Braid Workshop, Orem Business Resource Center at UVU, Orem Small Business Development Center, and the USTAR Utah County Satellite Office.