Everyone’s mother is either the worst baker in the world or the best baker in the world, except mine really is — she’s irrefutably the most gifted purveyor of cookies and cakes, churning out more favors than Equifax gives out social security numbers.
Her nights are seldom spent with shuteye, but rather with wide eyes, refining each intricately iced weave of a basket, carefully placing pearls in pistils of the perfectly petaled flowers inside — flowers she’d molded from chocolate or hand-painted with the bristles of a brush dusted in edible shimmer. For as long as I can remember employing myself as her self-proclaimed taste-tester, compensated with the remnants of rainbow Venetians and stray red hots, she’s breathed baking.
She’s an entrepreneur — though that’s nothing new. It wasn’t until 2017 that my mother registered her business, but she’s been working the kitchen since she was just 12 years old, when she’d help my great grandmother, and she’s been taking orders for birthdays, graduations, showers and every occasion in between since 1987.
Like a wealth of women, she’s always worked for herself.
That said, the “new entrepreneurial face,” according to Forbes, is indeed the business woman. Why? The most recent U.S. Census data suggests that nearly 10 million women own businesses, which accounts for roughly 36 percent of all firms in the country and rakes in over $1.6 trillion in revenues. That’s “new” because women-owned businesses have witnessed a notable 45 percent increase between 2007 and 2016 — a rate that remains five times the national average. Since 2007, nearly 1,100 net new women-owned firms have been launched each day — in fact, women of color, in particular, now own nearly five million businesses in this country.
And it’s not just in the States where women are seizing opportunities. In Australia, the most opposite corner of the globe, women make up over a third of all business operators and there’s been a 46 percent increase in the number of females founding companies in the past two decades, according to the Australian Government’s Office for Women 2015 report, A Profile of Australian Women in Business.
Evermore women everywhere are forging entrepreneurial paths—mostly opening successful businesses in categories like salons, pet care, health care and child care. But let’s take a step back and actually define “entrepreneur.” As far a Merriam-Webster is concerned, an entrepreneur is “one who organizes, manages and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.”
By the textbook, it’d seem that women are not the “new” face of entrepreneurs; rather, a woman is the sheer definition of an entrepreneur.
Women, like my mother, have, societally, been primary caretakers running their households, managing at-home businesses and enterprises since the beginning of time — though many women actively choose to stay home, as my mother had, a lot of women were never afforded the choice to be anything but an entrepreneur.
Though the workforce is indubitably improving with regards to gender diversity, women have been historically deprived of equal opportunities; even as of 2017, men still make up more than half of the U.S. workforce, and as women continue to earn just 70 cents to the male dollar, they’ve always found other creative ways to fill the wage gap and supplement their incomes.
If you don’t consider those women’s efforts to be entrepreneurial, let’s talk about the third of small business owners in the U.S. — women — who receive just 10 percent of venture funding. According to a 2016 report from CrunchBase, which examined the gender dynamics at top venture capital firms and how their money is distributed, only a mere seven percent of VC partners are women, and research suggests that the gender imbalance fuels a systematical bias against female entrepreneurs. Companies pitched by men are about 40 percent more likely to receive funding than those led by women, for example. While venture capitalists invested more than $58 billion in startups last year, women only got two percent of that money, according to a new study published in the Harvard Business Review.
But even if women were offered equal access to capital, would we dare call them entrepreneurial?
The answer is probably not. Simply, as a society, we’ve little faith in women’s success. In fact, even the kinds of questions female entrepreneurs get asked focus on prevention and loss, while the kinds of questions male entrepreneurs get asked focus on potential gains, according to another study aptly titled, We Ask Men to Win and Women Not to Lose: Closing the Gender Gap in Startup Funding.
With regards to income, for example, venture capitalists ask women, “How long will it take you to break even?” And they ask men, “How do you plan to monetize this?” With regards to projections, they’ll ask women, “How predictable are your future cash flows?” And they’ll ask men, “What major milestones are you targeting for this year?”
When speaking to men, the research found that investors use words like "gain," "hope," "ideal," "accomplish," "achieve," "aspire," "obtain," "earn," "expand" and "grow." But female entrepreneurs hear a different kind of language — words like "accuracy," "afraid," "anxious," "avoid," "careful," "conservative," "defend," "fear," "loss," "obligation" and "pain."
Almost 70 percent of men in the study were asked about their aspirations about making money for investors. Meanwhile, the women were asked about how they planned to avoid losing investor's money.
Dana Kanze, the study’s author, says women are set up for failure right from the start. It’s especially problematic because startups raise $16.8 million on average when investors predominantly ask promotion questions. When investors ask mostly prevention questions, startups raise just $2.3 million on average.
In short: Patriarchy still plagues the workforce, and society’s unconscious bias governs who works where, for whom and for how much. So women have always both chosen to and been forced to spearhead their own endeavors, whether they are funded fairly or not. They’re not the “new” face; they’re the original. We just refuse to accept them as such.
And as women continue to enter the workforce in droves, marrying later in life and bearing children at older ages, it’s a no-brainer that they’re only now being recognized for their entrepreneurial efforts. It’s as though female business owners are only recognized as entrepreneurs when their companies become on par with or beat out their male competitors. The business woman is only deemed a “new” face of entrepreneurship, simply, because it’s not a man’s face.
So why does the media continue to call women the “new face of entrepreneurship” time and time again?
Like calling powerful women "girl bosses" instead of what they are (bosses), talking about women in the workplace has become trendy. Headlines boasting women’s progress garner clicks because they’re feel-good. But the language in which it’s covered is dangerous. To be “new” is to be trendy and, as all trends do, this one will fade.
Perhaps it’s time the media, instead, makes the effort to talk about and to more female entrepreneurs themselves. The Women’s Media Center’s The Status of Women in Media 2017 report suggests that men still claim the bulk of bylines and are interviewed as sources far more than women, but if we saw more names like Sherly Sandberg and not just Mark Zuckerberg, or Melinda Gates and not just Bill Gates, or Sara Blakely, or Susan Wojcicki, or Indra Nooyi and the millions more women baking from their homes or starting salons or putting up posters for their dog sitting services, perhaps, suddenly, women entrepreneurs won't seem so “new.”
And the next time we tout women’s efforts in the workplace, perhaps we won’t undermine their entire history of hard work — and the sheer negligence of society to recognize that work — at the same time.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.