Today, more and more women are making inroads into the entrepreneurial landscape. In fact, women-owned businesses account for 39% of all U.S. firms and rake in more than $1.7 trillion in revenue, according to a study by American Express OPEN. But lost in these numbers are the fresh ideas coming from female entrepreneurs — women who bring distinct experiences and intuitiveness into disrupting conventional category myths and rethinking the rules of how to engage customers.
A New Kind Of Leader
The ascendance of female entrepreneurs coincides with widespread demand for a new kind of leader. Five years ago, while writing our book, we noticed a shift in the leadership traits people singled out as crucial to an open, social and transparent economy. We surveyed over 64,000 people in 13 countries and found a widespread dissatisfaction with leadership. In our surveys, 86% said they want leaders who are expressive, reasonable, flexible, loyal, patient, collaborative, empathetic and selfless — all traits that they tagged as “feminine.” And 66% of adults said “the world would be a better place if men thought more like women.”
But gender wasn’t the story here as much as mindset. In a recent survey we conducted on behalf of Deloitte, employees said the most effective leaders embrace “soft power,” which they defined as giving credit where it’s due (90%), listening attentively (89%), being accountable (88%) and starting projects with a purpose (78%).
These skills and qualities are now bringing a distinctly new outlook to business and entrepreneurship. While trillions of dollars are being poured into sectors from consumer products to fintech, female entrepreneurs are changing many rules that were largely designed by men, even in fields that catered exclusively to women. Think about it: Men have often been designers and decision-makers in women-centric industries — from cosmetics to feminine hygiene products to fashion.
Take the finance industry, for example. In a recent study we conducted with PIMCO, more than half of the women surveyed say the industry isn’t set up to meet their needs, with 53% saying “the system doesn’t reflect their lifestyle or realities.” In response, female entrepreneurs are taking control of industries that serve them and equating empathy with innovation to glean customers’ needs. Here are just a few examples:
Bridging The Divide
Entrepreneur Kate Ryder witnessed firsthand how gender imbalance in health care boardrooms negatively affects care for women. So, she founded Maven, a digital health clinic app designed by women for women. As it stands today, only about a fifth of executives in health care are women and yet, approximately 80% of health care decisions are made by women.
To bridge the gap, the app provides on-demand access to a network of over 1,000 women’s and family health providers, offering appointments by video, text or in-person. Ryder saw a discrepancy between the industry decision makers and consumers and identified a business opportunity in bridging that divide. The lesson here? Always aim to meet consumers where they are.
Female entrepreneurs are also disrupting common myths about women in certain industries that are creating barriers to access. The insights from the PIMCO report challenged common stereotypes about women and investing, revealing that it’s not that women aren’t interested in investing, it’s that they have a more holistic life view than the current system allows. The PIMCO report found that 78% of women say they “would be more interested in talking to a financial advisor if they focused on improving their quality of life, versus just beating the market.”
Take founder and CEO Sarah LaFleur, for instance, who was fed up with the common stereotype that all women are shopping-obsessed. That’s why she founded MM.LaFleur, a service that helps women who hate shopping and don’t want to dry clean their wardrobe but want to look their best to achieve their career goals. The company sends curated “bento boxes” of clothing made to fit certain corporate environments, so women can spend more time being the boss.
Confronting a stereotype and debunking convention, as LaFleur did, allows business leaders to innovate for a counterculture market and engage new customers.
Female entrepreneurs are making their mark on industries around the world and reimagining routes to success that honor women’s realities today. Entrepreneur Anna Auerbach recognized that women don’t want separation between work and life but rather integration — a proven truth among women today.
The majority (92%) of women say that health and wellness practices are as important to them as their financial longevity, according to the PIMCO study. In response, Auerbach founded Werk, an app that helps women find jobs that advance their careers while still meeting their work-life balance needs. Werk enables companies to create executive-track jobs in a variety of flexible formats, such as part-time, remote and no-travel. The app has since raised $3.9 million from investors and is actively changing the way companies approach and provide flexibility to employees.
A major takeaway from Auerbach’s success is to rethink solutions to long-standing issues — work-life balance, in her case — as doing so can offer novel business opportunities.
Beyond revenue generation, the impact of female entrepreneurship can be felt in jobs creation as they employ nearly 9 million people, according to the American Express OPEN study. And as the female entrepreneur community continues to evolve and innovate, so too will the industries in which they work. Lethargic companies unequipped for a systems-change must adapt or risk being left behind. Like the aforementioned entrepreneurs, businesses can adapt to an ever-evolving marketplace by constantly identifying opportunities to innovate, reimagining existing solutions and identifying and catering to your core customer base.
Today, more women are taking the plunge — consequences be damned — and going after their dreams. And with 60% of the women surveyed by PIMCO saying they “want to be rich and are not apologizing for it,” they are more ambitious and optimistic than ever before.