By Noelle Neader
Monday morning, 8A.M.
Hurried interns rush to their desks, shuffling papers and preparing searing hot cups of coffee for their supervisors. Account managers add the final touches to their presentations and take a few rounds of their ritualistic inhale…exhale before stepping into a conference room that they will soon command. A phone is already glued to the secretary’s ear as they coordinate, cancel and reschedule meetings for the day. Suddenly, the air shifts and a cool breeze comes with it as every office member sits up a little taller. The elevator dings, announcing the arrival of the CEO, who exits their corporate carriage with poise and confidence. They greet cubicles with a nod and a smile, answering questions as they come but maintaining laser focus on the clock that hangs over their office, seconds ticking until the weekly touch base meetings commence.
As this scene builds and fortifies in your mind, ask yourself this: was the CEO you imagined a man or a woman?
In the corridors of the contemporary business landscape, the echo of change reverberates. Spaces once dominated by men are now witnessing the rise of a new force—female entrepreneurs, whose ingenuity and determination are reshaping the professional terrain. In 2021, women stood at the helm of 49% of new businesses in the United States, a significant leap from the 28% recorded in 2019. This burgeoning wave is not confined to American shores alone; it stretches across the globe, painting a vivid picture of transformation. However, amid these promising statistics lies a complex narrative, one that is marked by hurdles and triumphs, challenges and victories.
In the U.S. alone, 12.3 million businesses are owned by women, generating a staggering $1.8 trillion annually. 64% of these new women-owned enterprises were initiated by women of color, reflecting a dynamic and diverse entrepreneurial landscape. Latina women-owned businesses witnessed an extraordinary surge of over 87%. These numbers underscore not only the resilience but also the innovation that women inject into the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
As the sun rises on this era of female entrepreneurship, it casts a spotlight on the disparities that persist beneath the surface. Despite the soaring numbers, women in business continue to face obstacles both vast and varied, diverging significantly from the challenges encountered by their male counterparts. Men, on average, receive loans amounting to $43,916, while their female counterparts are allocated significantly less—an average of $38,942; nearly $5,000 less. The gender gap in venture funding is equally stark, with women receiving a mere 7% of available funds for their startups, a testament to the entrenched biases that persist in the financial sector.
Yet, in the face of these challenges, female entrepreneurs have displayed an unparalleled tenacity, securing success through crowdfunding initiatives where they boast a 69.5% success rate. Furthermore, private tech companies led by women demonstrate a remarkable 35% higher return on investment, underlining the efficacy of gender diversity in fostering innovation and profitability.
In this exploration of the female entrepreneurial spirit, we delve into the stories of four remarkable women, each a beacon in her field. Their experiences echo the broader narrative of female entrepreneurs: tales of adversities overcome, barriers shattered, and dreams turned into reality. Through their voices, we gain a deeper understanding of the challenges they have faced, the victories they have celebrated, and the invaluable lessons they have gleaned on their journey to becoming influential ‘Girl Bosses.’
Kayla Stinnett – Empowering Women in Business
Seated in an office space that has become her own, both in spirit and decoration, Kayla Stinnett gazes over at a business card that is fastened on the wall. Many would bypass this 3.5 by 2 inch card as promotional decorum, but to Stinnett, her original business card from 2017 signifies much more. Her mind flashes to the nights spent alone in her apartment, wondering how she would pay for all of it; now, she’s leaps and bounds ahead of that moment. It reminds her of how far she has come, the obstacles she has maintained victory over, and the losses she has learned from. It reminds her of where she can still go; the possibilities that once appeared daunting are now memories, and her next pursuits are just the same.
There is no one, singular path that can define the journey that Stinnett has embarked on as a female entrepreneur. Stinnett is the CEO of Iron City Social, a marketing company that seeks to support, empower and educate small to medium-sized businesses in the Southeast. She also heads up Quake Plus Size, an online fashion resale business that caters to plus size women. Additionally, she is now in the visionary stages of curating a women-centered craft beer brewery to cultivate community in a male-dominated space. The thread that runs through all of her endeavors remains evident: creating safe environments for women to thrive in their authenticity.
“Owning your own business, especially in this climate, is not for the faint of heart. It would be a lie to say you don’t go back and forth and you don’t have hard days, because you do,” Stinnett said. Though the highly quoted statistic that most businesses fail within the first year of existence floats around in conversation, Stinnett looks back at the beginning of her journey with gratitude for the challenges she overcame.
“In the beginning, it is really feast or famine. When you first start your business, you really can’t say no to anything or anyone, even the clients you don’t like. That was probably the biggest hurdle that I had to get over initially, was just thinking that I have to pay my rent, I have to do this work,” Stinnett said.
While many aspiring business owners glamorize the lifestyle of an entrepreneur – the flexible schedules, the frequent vacations, the freedom – they often lack a sense of corporate literacy. Speaking to an accountant early on, structuring your business with legality in mind, defining your workflow and understanding how you operate as a business owner are all integral pieces to the puzzle of entrepreneurship that Stinnett soaked up along the way. “The problem is that we don’t really stop and take stock of our growth because it just happens so slowly.”
For women in business, the traditional struggles of starting a company come with an additional layer of hurdles to scale, specifically when it comes to safety and respect.
“Don’t ever accept a contract that you feel is not safe,” Stinnett advised. “I’ve heard a lot of stories from people lately who have gotten involved in marketing on more of a freelance level, and it has developed into a threatening situation, where they feel uncomfortable for their own safety. Definitely mind your own safety above all, don’t go out with clients at night if it’s just a one-on-one or if you don’t feel comfortable, say no, propose something else in a safer environment. Feast or famine, yes, from the standpoint of ‘I don’t want to sell dog food, but I’ll do a social media strategy for you.’ But not feast or famine at the expense of your own safety.”
While many are encouraged to “go the extra mile” on their journey to curating a successful business, women must consider such a feat from a perspective that factors in a heightened risk. According to Catalyst, in male-dominated workplaces, women cope by overworking, adopting masculine behaviors or leaving the industry. Additionally, women who experience sexual harassment are more likely to change jobs, often accepting lower-paying positions. These factors highlight the difficulties women encounter in such work environments, many of which hinder them from moving forward in the entrepreneurial journey.
“There’s a lot of times I’ve had to meet with someone that did not necessarily know who I was or had never seen a picture of me, so they did not know that I was a woman. I’ll walk into the room and will essentially have to prove myself like ‘Hey, I’m really good at marketing and I bet I know more about craft beer than you,’” Stinnett said. “It is difficult to have the mentality of needing to prove myself on a certain level, and not come off as defensive. A lot of times you get that trope of women are emotional, and it has nothing to do with my emotions at all, it’s just the fact that I have walked into this room and I am already four steps behind everyone else because of the fact that I am a woman, and a black woman at that.”
To the woman aspiring to claim her space in the sphere of entrepreneurship, Stinnett offered this piece of advice:
“Do some soul searching around that and always have that on your mind, but don’t let it poison your experience. That will not always be the experience; most people are lovely, but some of them aren’t. Don’t feel like you cannot defend yourself, and don’t feel like you have to defend yourself. If things like that come up, just know yourself, know your heart, know your skillset, and be able to read the situation and respond in your best interest.”