While women-owned businesses account for 29 percent of all businesses, they employ just 6 percent of the work force and take in just 4 percent of the nation's business revenues, according to a study commissioned by American Express.
"Women are afraid to hire," said Rebecca Harris, the director of the Center for Women's Entrepreneurship at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Pa. "That is the primary problem."
When women don't hire, she said, their companies can't grow because they don't have enough people to handle more business.
Suzan Lami, the majority owner of Lami Grubb Architects in Pittsburgh, Pa., said her epiphany on hiring occurred when she met with a panel of business experts who convinced her that the extra work in managing employees would be more than offset by the help they would give her.
Lami started her own firm in 1993. As the company grew, she moved into an office with other architects but still was handling many aspects of the operation. She said was afraid that if her staff grew, she would be handling logistics for all of them.
The truth was that by hiring more people, she could bring on people who played to her deficits, allowing her to focus on her strengths.
Lami Grubb now employs 38 people, and while Lami enjoys being a manager, she still meets with clients and contractors.
Based on her interactions with other women business owners, Lami said she thinks she knows why even as the number of women-owned companies have grown, their percentages of sales have remained flat: Many women start a business not to make a killing but to be able to fit work around their families.
According to the American Express report, which used statistics gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of women-owned businesses has grown from 26 percent of all firms in 1997 to an estimated 29.2 percent in 2012.
But that is down from 1987, when women-owned companies accounted for 30 percent of all companies, and 1992, when they were 33.2 percent of all companies.
Comparing these numbers, however, involves different data sets. In 1987 and 1992, companies were included that had $500 in revenues; in 1997 it was increased to $1,000. And in 1992 only publicly owned companies were included. In 2002 the ownership was determined by asking the gender of the top three owners, diminishing the number of firms owned equally by women and men.
(Contact Ann Belser at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)