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Women in Business, You’ve Come a Long Way!

In October 1988, President Reagan signed House Bill 5050 into law. Known as the Women’s Business Ownership Act, the legislation provided increased federal support for women-owned businesses and provided enhanced opportunities for women entrepreneurs to start businesses. October is now National Women’s Small Business Month, a time to highlight the benefits women contribute to the small business communities throughout the Nation.

In 1972, women-owned businesses were difficult to find. Just 4.6% of all businesses were female owned that year. In many communities, women who wanted to start a business needed to have a male partner in order to get funding. For those of us who have made business marketing a career, our historic portfolio of work can be the best testament to just how far our culture and our profession has progressed. Once popular slogans like, “You’ve come a long way, baby” punctuated the ad-waves during the era of the women’s liberation movement. The Phillip Morris Company used the slogan to capitalize on the movement to advertise the Virginia Slims brand of cigarettes. Thankfully both the reference to women as “baby” and the habit of smoking is flirting with extinction in this new century.

According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, more than 12 million businesses are now owned by American women who collectively employ nearly 10 million workers and generate $2 trillion in revenue annually. In 2019, an American Express Report revealed that women owned businesses accounted for 42 percent of all small businesses in America, giving more than ample evidence that, in fact, women entrepreneurs have come a very long way. But a 2019 Bank of America Spotlight study found that 60 percent of respondents reported difficulties in obtaining funding in comparison to male counterparts.

National Women’s Small Business Month is a time to champion the benefits and achievements women are bringing to the business community. Throughout the month, organizations, businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs can share resources and advice that support women-owned businesses. The Small Business Administration (SBA) will be supporting and promoting events, webinars and giving a voice to women-owned small businesses, which are defined as those with 500 employees or less.

It is also a good time for successful women business owners to inspire others to succeed. “I was more than willing to put in the work to create my own reputation for being a hardworking, honorable businessperson in my own right,” said Allison Gutterman, CEO and president of Jelmar. “To overcome this, I have had to learn to build my confidence and overcome my negative self-talk.” The Forbes list of the richest, self-made female entrepreneurs, executives, and entertainers in the U.S. now tops 100 members. Michelle Ruiz, president and CEO of Ruiz Strategies, says, “We need to get women to the point where they aren’t apologizing. It is time to take ownership of our success.”

“It’s great to see the percentage of women-owned business go from 4.6% in 1972 to more than 40% in 2021,” comments Julie Gareleck, CEO & Managing Partner, Junction Creative. “I applaud those early women entrepreneurs who led the charge, built a business, and showed generations of women a path to become part of the 42%.”