Women Entrepreneurs Support Families, Economy

Two new studies of women business owners indicate that they started their businesses for a good reason: to support their families. The data also indicates that they support their local economy and are in fact vital members of the business community.

Marsha Firestone

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)-The first report of its kind on women in business here indicates that women are vital to the economy of the world's business capital and that more than half of the women business owners are the top breadwinners in their households.

The survey's results mirror similar finding of women business owners in Maine, which also indicated that women entrepreneurs there were contributing to more than half of the household income.

In the New York survey, 80 percent of the businesses that responded were started in the past 10 years and 40 percent in the past five years. More than one-third of the respondents' businesses grossed more than $500,000 in 1999, according to a report on the survey's results released in June.

“Women contribute extensively to the economy of New York City,” especially in terms of revenue and the tax base and in terms of employing New York residents, said Marsha Firestone, founder and president of Women Presidents' Organization, a nonprofit membership organization for select women presidents. It is an invitation-only group whose businesses have grossed at least $2 million in annual sales or $1 million a year for a service-based business.

The report also said that as the women business owners “should serve as an important resource and as leaders in business and the community.”

First Such Survey of Big Apple Women Business Owners

It is the first such survey of women business owners in New York City, said Firestone, also co-chair of the New York Women's Agenda, which jointly conducted the survey with the office of New York City Comptroller Alan Hevesi. The group plans to conduct the survey annually, however, it may take as long as two years to design and implement such a major research project.

The New York survey analyzed 662 responses to more than 36,000 questionnaires distributed to self-identified women-owned businesses by more than 40 organizations. New York City has about 167,500 women-owned businesses.

Most of the firms included in the initial survey were based in Manhattan. Current plans call for the inclusion of women business owners in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island, as well as businesses with a wider range of revenue.

The survey is “enormously important” but it left out a lot of small home-based owners and women of color, said Marie S. Nahikian, executive director of Queens County Economic Development Cooperation. Women from outside the U.S. own many of the small businesses she works with, she said.

Women-Owned Businesses Growing in Record Numbers Nationwide

The survey's results are similar to national statistics that indicate women-owned businesses are growing in record numbers across the country. Women-owned businesses grew 16 percent as compared to only 6 percent for all firms, excluding publicly held corporations, between 1992 and 1997, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Women-owned businesses comprise about 26 percent of all industries or 5.4 million businesses out of a total 22 million. The census defined women-owned businesses as privately held firms in which women owned at least 51 percent.

Coastal Enterprises Inc. recently conducted a similar survey of women-owned businesses in Maine, and it also found that women were contributing more than half of their household incomes.

Ellen Golden, senior program officer of Coastal Enterprises, a private, nonprofit community development corporation in Maine, said that the importance of women business owners needs to be documented through surveys such as these.

“There are still lots of instances where women business owners are not taken seriously,” Golden said. “Without statistics we are invisible.”

The Maine survey, not yet released, was sponsored by Fleet Bank. It used a database of more than 10,000 businesses to randomly select 301 businesses and then telephone interviews were conducted.

A summary of the New York findings:

  • The majority of women business owners, 83 percent, have an advanced degree and 91 percent started their business themselves.

  • The vast majority, 87 percent, of the respondents said their two primary motivations were the desire to be their own boss and personal fulfillment.

  • The 61 percent of the businesses owned by women are in the service industry, which is consistent with census department's data for the city and slightly higher than the national figure, 55 percent for women owned businesses.

  • About 7 percent have international locations in addition to their primary base, and about a third conduct business through a website.

  • The majority of owners, 61 percent, used personal savings as a source of financing to acquire ownership of their business.

  • Women in the survey said the top three choices for making their business more successful were lower business taxes, 23 percent; additional financing, 22 percent; and affordable health insurance, 20 percent.

Women business owners do not have much influence in politics at this time, Firestone said, adding that she hoped mayoral candidates would consider the survey with a view toward helping women get more contracts, credit and health insurance, among other issues.

Women-owned businesses received only 3.56 percent of government contracts in New York state in 1999, Firestone said. Similar city data is not available because the city does not separate data on men and women contractors.

Jessica McRorie is a journalist in New York.

For more information:

The New York City survey and New York Women's Agenda:

Women Presidents' Organization:

Women and minority census information:

Coastal Enterprises Inc.: