The FINANCIAL — The rules of business are changing, and women entrepreneurs are at the forefront of the transformation, according to the 2017 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight, an annual study of more than 1,000 small business owners.
Women in the small business community see gender equality in the workplace on the horizon, as the study found that women entrepreneurs envision significant strides for women in the workforce over the next 20 years, with a majority believing that women will match or exceed men in a number of areas:
Eighty percent of female entrepreneurs foresee greater or equal representation of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields compared to men in STEM.
Sixty-eight percent believe women will match or exceed men in executive leadership or C-suite role representation.
Sixty-six percent believe there will be more women-owned small businesses compared to those owned by men.
Sixty-one percent of women believe their wages will be equal to or greater than those of men.
Women entrepreneurs also believe there will be greater support for state-enacted paid maternity leave policies over the next 20 years. Seventy-one percent of women business owners believe that at least 25 states will have such a policy within the next two decades. As of August 2017, five states and the District of Columbia have a paid maternity leave policy in place or planned to take effect.
“Women entrepreneurs have articulated an inspiring vision for the small business community over the next 20 years – one of equal pay, leadership opportunities and greater support for those with families,” said Sharon Miller, managing director, head of Small Business, Bank of America. “Within the context of a growing economy, this bodes incredibly well for the future of women in business.”
Women business owners report work-life balance, though still lag behind men
While 61 percent of women small business owners report working more than 40 hours each week, 78 percent believe they have managed to find good balance between their work and home lives, though they still trail men by 7 percentage points (85 percent).
Overall, women mostly feel positive about their work, primarily using words such as “interesting” (52 percent), “fulfilling” (48 percent) and “enjoyable” (46 percent) to describe the average work week. Still, a sizable number also say an average week is “demanding” (46 percent) and “stressful” (33 percent), and more than one in five say it’s “exhausting” – 8 percentage points higher than men (13 percent). Despite this, a majority report success in preventing work from interfering in their personal life, with 64 percent of women saying their role as a business owner does not regularly cause tension in their personal relationships, identical to their male counterparts.
Women are increasingly upbeat about the economy, though taking a wait-and-see approach on revenue, growth and hiring
Women small business owners have shown significant increases in optimism toward the economy improving in the year ahead – including confidence in their local economy (45 percent in 2017 vs. 37 percent in 2016), the national economy (44 percent in 2017 vs. 25 percent in 2016) and the global economy (32 percent in 2017 vs. 16 percent in 2016). Even with women entrepreneurs’ robust economic outlook, male small business owners are more optimistic that the local (54 percent), national (58 percent) and global (37 percent) economies will improve over the next 12 months.
Despite a substantial boost in economic confidence, the number of women small business owners who plan to grow their business over the next five years has declined (54 percent in 2017 vs. 60 percent in 2016), as has the number of women anticipating a revenue increase over the next 12 months (44 percent in 2017 vs. 54 percent in 2016). Nineteen percent of women entrepreneurs plan to hire in the year ahead, on par with 2016. Regarding their business outlook, women were largely in line with their male counterparts in terms of hiring (17 percent) and long-term growth (57 percent) plans, as well as revenue expectations (51 percent).
Economic concerns overall drop, while health care costs remain top worry
In addition to greater confidence in the overall economy, women entrepreneurs’ positive outlook was also reflected by a drop in concern over a number of economic factors. When asked about potential economic concerns over the next 12 months, less than half expressed worry over:
Consumer spending (49 percent)
Corporate tax rates (45 percent)
Strength of the U.S. dollar (44 percent)
Commodities prices (42 percent)
Compliance with government regulation (41 percent)
A minimum wage increase (30 percent)
Even the cost of health care, which consistently ranks as the top economic concern, fell to 68 percent from 74 percent one year earlier.