There's been a lot of discussion about women in business based on concepts of fairness, ethics, civic-minded virtue, and various other do-gooder notions. But the obvious question remains (even though it isn't polite to ask); are women owned businesses really any better or any different from men owned businesses? And should we have set-asides and quotas to encourage growth of women owned companies? Aren't we past that already?
I had a conversation about this with Nell Merlino. She was the creator of Take Our Daughters to Work Day, and she's currently president of a not-for-profit called Count Me In. With sponsors (like American Express, Google, MetLife, Cisco Systems and private donors) her organization has launched Make Mine a $Million Business; it's a program to provide money and marketing support for a million women entrepreneurs to grow their businesses to a million dollars or more in revenue by 2010 (so you can figure out where she's coming from regarding my questions, but then if I want to argue a point, why talk to someone who won't argue back?).
I was in a mood to drop the politically correct BS. How many guys have gone on how many job interviews or bid on how many projects (in the US) over the last 20 years and gotten the message (directly, indirectly, or in between the lines) that their chances of getting the job would be a lot better if they were women or members of some minority group? As a co-worker of mine once said, "There aren't any quotas for middle-aged, middle-class, slightly balding, Polish-Irish-American guys."
How Women Owned Businesses Might be Different from Men Owned Businesses
I asked Nell what were the effects on the economy of women owned businesses and how they were different from the effects of men owned businesses. Here are the main points she made. She said women owned businesses tend to be more flexible when it comes to work/life balance; that's because often they are started by women after they have their second child and the need for flexibility becomes unavoidable. She said women owned companies tend to be more community minded; women who start them intend to stay in their communities and raise their kids, so women are more invested in improving local schools, health-care, and cultural amenities that raise everyone's quality of life.
She said women tend to be more focused on family well-being and spend their money on things that benefit their communities and families while men tend to spend their money at bars, casinos and ball games (I didn't have the presence of mind to ask which sex spends more time at malls buying yet another pair of shoes).
Regarding technology, she said women tend to be more interested in practical uses and results and less interested in the details of how the stuff works. For example, she told me when her organization selects woman owned companies to work with they get a shopping spree at Dell and a networking package from Cisco. These women aren't that interested in the technical details of the gear they get; instead they think about how to use it to solve problems they have. She told a story about one woman business owner who held up her Blackberry and said, "This is a delegation device." The woman didn't care about all the various features of the device, but she was interested in how she could use it to delegate work to employees in her company and stay in touch with them to make sure things got done and help out if people ran into trouble (this brought to mind how guys want to know what's under the hood of a hot car and women just want to ride around in it; guys want to know the specs for a cool home entertainment system and women just want to turn it on and watch something).
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