Beyond the glass ceiling: How female business owners can lead the way forward

Nov 16, 2016 | Uncategorized

Bizwomen; Nov 16, 2016

Teresa Meares (Chair, NAWBO) and Jill Calabrese Bain (Head of Merchant Services, Bank of America)

At the 2016 National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) Conference, we heard the inspiring story of Dr. Tererai Trent, a now world-renowned speaker and small business owner who overcame unimaginable adversity growing up in rural Zimbabwe. As a child, she dreamed of getting an education and actually taught herself to read by doing her brother’s homework. Societal pressures forced her to marry early, and she had three children by the age of 18. Despite having to overcome incredible odds, she went on to earn multiple college degrees – including a Ph.D. – and give thousands of children access to education. Dr. Trent’s story was a painful reminder of the disadvantages women still face in our world and a remarkable example of what women can do despite these conditions.

The theme of this year’s NAWBO conference was “Leading the Way.” After hearing Dr. Trent’s life story and learning about her ongoing work to empower rural communities and provide universal access to quality education, it’s obvious why she was chosen as a keynote speaker: Dr. Trent personifies leadership. Throughout the conference, we asked attendees to embrace Dr. Trent’s example and lead the way as women business owners. Now that the conference is over, we can’t lose sight of our goals and slip back into the hectic chaos of day-to-day life. With this in mind, we want to leave you with one enduring challenge: Define how you can lead the way at work, at home and in your community.

We are making a difference and can do more

Overall, women small business owners are doing better than ever before. We’re opening businesses at double the rate of men, we feel much more confident than men about our revenue and we generate more than $1 trillion in sales annually. If that weren’t enough, if women around the world engaged in the labor force full time, it’s estimated that we would add as much as $28 trillion to the global economy by 2025.

Still, there’s a lot to accomplish. The inaugural Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight found that 77 percent of women reported that the glass ceiling still limits women and minorities from advancing, and unfortunately, almost half say they have been impacted by the glass ceiling at some point in their careers. Additionally, many female small business owners feel they are not equal to male business owners in terms of access to clients, opportunities and capital.

Despite the challenges we face, the most successful small business owners persevere. We ask for help. And ultimately, we find a way over, under or around the obstacles in our path.

Find your version of “leading the way”

How can we reach $28 trillion? How can we turn “Wow, how do you juggle it all?” into “How’s business these days?” We need to work together to support each other, both financially and socially. If you’re a CEO, hire women, mentor them, and support their growth and development. Empower diversity of thought in your business and find ways to create and pursue new opportunities for women. Take advantage of your unique skill sets and help others to achieve dependable education and employment.

Look to NAWBO for support: Whether you need assistance with resources, mentorship or capital, help can be found. Programs such as the NAWBO Circle or Virtual Connect & Learn webinars – as well as the virtual NAWBO Institute for Entrepreneurial Development, NAWBO’s 501(c)(3), that was unveiled at the conference – are good places to start. Likewise, Bank of America supports women business owners through programs such as The Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program, which connects women entrepreneurs in the U.S. to affordable loans, our Global Ambassadors Program, which helps women leaders hone their skills and realize their economic potential through vital mentorship, and the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, which connects women entrepreneurs in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America to mentoring expertise that enables them to advance their businesses. And, earlier this year, Bank of America announced its relationship with The Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women (an organization with NAWBO roots) to support women entrepreneurs in Rwanda and Afghanistan.

Facing challenges most of us will never experience, Dr. Trent transformed her own life and has dedicated herself to helping others. As business owners, we have the potential to improve our lives, our colleagues’ lives and ultimately the world. Charitable giving will always be essential to improving our world, but progress and sustainable support will come from our businesses and our ideas. Work with your female colleagues, foster collaboration and blaze new trails for everyone. Pursue your passion and ask for help when you need it. Together, we can lead the way.

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