The Women-Driven Economy in Colorado

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Virginia Santy, Ph.D. | Editor in Chief

On Wednesday, February 21st, 270 women and 41 organizations participated in Denver’s first-ever Women’s Entrepreneurship Resource Showcase, an effort of The Commons on Champa’s Women on the Rise program to bring together women and the business resources available to support them. The attendance, interest, and energy the event generated is proof of Denver’s thriving women-driven economy. It’s also a demonstration that in many ways, when it comes to supporting women in business and entrepreneurship, Denver is doing it right.

I’m proud of my city and I’d like to see her, and our state, do so much more. I’d also like to see women demand more and frankly, we deserve it.

Women are 51% of the population and 51% of the professional workforce. They outpace men as degree earners and they control 85% of consumer spending. Women also make incredible contributions to economic growth. In the U.S., over half of the 9.72 million new jobs created in the small and medium size enterprise sector by the end of this year will be created by women-owned businesses. The same goes for our state: between 1997 and 2014, women-owned businesses in Colorado experienced an estimated 55.3% growth in number of firms, a 90.2% growth in firm revenues, and a 6.5% growth in employment, outpacing national figures in these areas significantly. If Colorado women earned the same as men in their fields, the state economy would grow by an additional $9.2 billion.

Women are a significant force in our city and state economy, despite the incredible odds and challenges in their path. After just four years, 50% of all new businesses fail. Throwing a woman-owned business into the mix makes things all the more challenging. Women are less likely to have the social networks and personal connections necessary to succeed in the startup sector, factors integral to startup success and positively correlated with innovation, financial performance, and job performance. Among the most successful startup firms, men launched their startups with six times more capital than women, and women’s access to capital has decreased significantly in recent years. In 2015, women received 15% of total VC funding; in 2017 that figure dropped to 2%. Only 5.05% of federal government prime contracts were awarded to women-owned small businesses in 2016.

 
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Time use surveys report women spend 18 hours per week doing housework and 14 hours per week providing childcare, while men spend 10 hours per week on housework and 7 hours per week on childcare. In other words, women spend twice as much time performing unpaid labor than men. That remains the case even in dual income homes, where woman and man are both breadwinners.

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Then there are the challenges women face as a result of policies, like a lack of parental leave policies for either parent, an issue that disproportionately effects the career trajectories of women. Even policies mean to protect women and help create an equal wage for equal work are incredibly flawed. The 2009 Federal Fair Pay Act contains so many loopholes its efficacy is minimum. An employer can use any reason to justify why a man is paid more, irrespective of whether the reason proffered has any relevance to business practices. In general, work place policies are based on the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, when a majority of women were not in the workplace and the standard for families was male breadwinner and female caregivers.

And finally, there are the challenges stemming from seemingly unrelated territory, for example, a woman’s public safety. One out of every six women has been the victim of a rape or attempted rape and 77% of women under 40 have been followed by a man or group of men in the last year. It may seem an odd connection to entrepreneurship, but when you don’t feel comfortable, when you are concerned for your safety as you walk down the street, you cannot perform at your best and are at a significant disadvantage compared to those who do not give such issues a second thought.

To review, women business owners and entrepreneurs represent incredible promise for local and national economies and women are delivering on that promise via economic growth, new jobs, and innovation. Women are responsible for contributing trillions of dollars to the national economy and an incredible influx of talent, resources, and revenue into our state and local economies.

And that success is in spite of the myriad of challenges women face daily when it comes to their professional success. When we consider these things in tandem—women’s investment in our economies and what they deliver in conjunction with what they overcome, a few questions come up. First, what could women do—what could women entrepreneurs and small business owners accomplish—if women didn’t have those things in their way? Second, what do our current places and policies and programs communicate about how we value women? It certainly doesn’t seem as if they demonstrate a recognition of the incredible asset women represent or do a great job letting women know we value them and the contribution they are making. Finally, what if women demanded an investment in themselves as a group equal to the value they offer? That value is considerable and it is time we recognize it and collectively reap the rewards of making strong investments in women.