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Does Size Matter?|A Question For Female Biz Owners

October 4, 2010

“What’s Holding Back Women Entrepreneurs?” This provocative headline, from The Wall Street Journal, was the lead for a well-written and researched article by Sharon G. Hadary, Former Executive Director and Founder of the Center for Women’s Business Research, on why women-owned businesses are, on average, much smaller than men-owned firms.

by Andrea Levy, from WSJ article

Size Matters

The adage “It’s not the size of the ship but the navigator that counts” is not an adage that Hadary agrees with. She’s concerned that if the average revenues of majority women-owned businesses continue to remain around 27% of the average of majority men-owned businesses then (1) the health of the American economy suffers and (2) women business owners aren’t reaching their full potential.

Both concerns are important issues; but for me, it was one of the causes Hadary cited for the small-biz-size phenomenon that was particularly thought-provoking.

Self-limiting Thinking or Good Choice?

Hadary states that a primary cause for the lack of women running substantial, growing businesses is their self-limiting thinking regarding their businesses and themselves. She follows that by saying that women, compared to men, set smaller goals for growth and that research shows high goal setting is the significant predictor of business growth.

My questions are:

  1. Couldn’t some women simply want to have smaller businesses and it have nothing to do with self-limited thinking?
  2. Do women business leaders/entrepreneurs have to behave and make the same decisions as male business leaders in order not to be considered as self-limiting in their thinking?
  3. Since there’s a wide range of variability within each gender, is it wise to make broad brush statements for women or men in business?

Hadary went on to say:

“Research also shows that the differences between women and men entrepreneurs begin with their own reasons for starting a business. Men tend to start businesses to be the “boss,” and their aim is for their businesses to grow as big as possible. Women start businesses to be personally challenged and to integrate work and family, and they want to stay at a size where they personally can oversee all aspects of the business.”

My questions are:

  1. Does choosing to start a business that is personally challenging and provides a work/life balance, and therefore tends to keep the business smaller, ipso facto mean the business person has self-limiting thinking?
  2. Should women, who make what could be called traditional choices (i.e., considering her children and family),  be labeled as weak business leaders for not living up to what others say is their full potential?
  3. Why would attaining full potential be defined or determined by the present male standard of business size?

I want women and men to have equal opportunity to accomplish what they desire. That includes a woman choosing to scope the size of her business based on the personal challenge, her family and a desire for work/life balance without any suggestion of not living up to her potential. It also includes men having the opportunity to choose a smaller business size for the same reasons without their manhood being questioned.  By the same token, equal opportunity means that women can choose to be “the boss” and grow their businesses as large as they can.

What I don’t want is for women to be seen as not reaching their potential because they didn’t choose to do something the way a man did. That would be moving backwards not forward.

What do you think reaching full potential for a woman entrepreneur means?

14 Comments leave one →
  1. October 4, 2010 3:41 pm

    Bravo! I own a fitness business and work diligently to not let it become TOO big. My family of a husband and 3 elementary aged children are my priority right now. My business will all too soon be my focus but right now I am certainly not limiting myself because I’m choosing to maintain a balance. Very good questions, Cherry. I certainly don’t think that we, as women, should be considered “self -limiting” in our thinking simply because we control the speed at which our business grows for personal goals.

    • October 5, 2010 8:25 am

      Thanks Shannon. Congratulations to you for finding a work/life balance and recognizing that the balance may tip another way in the future. Your choice.

      What I didn’t say in the post is that I also think many Americans are having health problems and stressing themselves too much by not establishing a better balance in their lives. All work and no play makes Pat a dull person. Cherry

  2. October 4, 2010 7:06 pm

    Yes, to all the points you make here challenging the notion of “self-limiting thinking” in women. This penchant for comparing women entrepreneurs and their motivations with men is simply meaningless to me. The big question to me is, “Now that women are choosing entrepreneurism and finding the success and satisfaction THEY wantin it, what are the insights that they can share?” I’m less interested in someone’s idea of what women could be attaining and more interested in what they are experiencing. Excellent post, again! ~Dawn

    • October 5, 2010 8:28 am

      I always apprciate you stopping by and your insights. I liked and agree with all that you said, especially the question: “Now that women are choosing entrepreneurism and finding the success and satisfaction THEY want in it, what are the insights that they can share?”

  3. October 4, 2010 9:42 pm

    An interesting comparison would be number of hours invested/profit realized. If female entrepreneurs are putting in the same amount of hours as male entrepreneurs, but not getting as much return, then I could be convinced that they are engaging in some self-limiting thinking. But if women are choosing to work fewer hours and less frantically, for instance, so they can spend more time with their children, then hooray for self-limitation!

    • October 5, 2010 8:30 am


      Good question/point.
      Also agree with hooray for balancing work and life. Cherry

  4. October 5, 2010 11:15 am

    Hi Cherry!

    You have posed some excellent questions on this topic! I have recently begun to realize that the way men and women do business is different – and that’s okay!

    I hang out with guys more often than with gals – and they are usually men who own their own businesses. This is usually who I go to networking events with, who I talk business with, etc. And I’ve just recently realized that a lot of the pressure and frustration I’ve experienced around building my business is a direct result of constantly being around the very male mindset these guys have.

    The truth is, I’m not comfortable networking and selling like they do – but I’ve felt like I *should* or like *that’s the way to do business*. Realizing that as a woman and a unique individual, I can do business the way that is authentic and comfortable for ME has been a huge mindset shift! :)

    It all comes back to living and speaking my truth, being my authentic self, and building the life that I want – not letting someone else dictate all of that! :)

  5. October 5, 2010 11:45 am

    I love, love, love this discussion, Cherry. As always, you take your laser focus and cut through the information presented to consider the filter the author uses and that each of us brings to the conversation.

    To echo some of what Dawn said, I know for certain that women entrepreneurs define success differently. It’s my life’s work to have mom entrepreneurs define success in a way that includes all their priorities in life–our businesses being but one of them.

    It’s true I could work longer, and even harder, and very likely make more money since I would be able to spend more time coaching (earning money) and creating new products, programs and services (to earn more money). But I would be a complete failure in my own eyes if I didn’t help the kids with homework and put a healthy, home-made dinner on the table most nights. Having 10x my current income would come at the expense of ever being present in the life I lead outside of my work. Again: Failure.

    I believe limits and boundaries are critical support structures for business owners. If you set them to support your belief system, your values and your priorities (rather than setting them based on fear of failure, uncertainty, etc.), then you’ll be successful, on your own terms.

    • October 6, 2010 3:10 pm

      I’m glad you like the discussion. When it comes to limits and boundaries on our work, perhaps women who balance family and career/business should be the benchmark. Cherry

  6. Pam Ralston Hunt permalink
    October 6, 2010 12:21 am

    If you feel like you have it all, what’s limited about your thinking? My business provides rewarding, intellectually challenging work, time to dedicate to my family, and a reasonably attractive income while I’m combining the two. Which is exactly what my goals were when I started this gig 14 years ago. I agree it would be interesting to compare hours invested/profit realized, but I would factor in my personal benefits of time, freedom and flexibility. I’m not sure most men would do that.

    • October 6, 2010 7:57 am

      I agree with you Pam. I know that the author of the WSJ article has done a lot of research and perhaps some women expressed wanting bigger businesses but were afraid to go there. I don’t know. But I also think there remains a bias in our country about bigger is better and that there’s something honorable about working crazy long hours.
      Thanks for stopping by. Cherry

  7. October 6, 2010 3:08 pm

    Feels darn good to be inspirational. Thanks Jess


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