Denise Povolny: Celebrating women in business

Denise Povolny: Celebrating women in business

October is National Women in Small Business Month and we’ve made great strides in the U.S. to reach gender parity in business ownership. There are more than 11 million women-owned businesses to celebrate and women represent more than half of the U.S. workforce. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 20 percent of New York-based businesses are owned by women.

However, when conducting a Google search for “real-life bosses,” fewer than five images of women appear in the top 50 results, even though women occupy half of leadership roles.

It’s time to shift the narrative about real-life bosses and celebrate contributions from women in leadership positions.

LET BIASES BE BYGONES
When starting a small business, entrepreneurs invest significantly to turn their vision into a reality. From ideation to execution, aspiring business owners strive to identify and showcase what makes their business unique to stand out among the competition. This is especially true when seeking investors.

According to recent data from KeyBank, most business owners — men and women — are confident in the financial health of their business (64 percent). But when looking for outside capital investment, studies show that investors ask men and women different questions when discussing funding opportunities in relation to their business objections. Typically, men are asked “promotion” oriented questions (hopes and dreams) and women are asked “prevention” oriented questions (responsibility and carefulness), which presumes women must focus on the potential downside while men can put their energy toward gains and growth.

In some cases, there are guardrails in place to mitigate financial inequality among female business owners. For example, the U.S. government has created the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting program to award at least five percent of all federal contracting dollars to women-owned small businesses each year.

We can do better. Women in leadership positions and those who champion them must combat common misperceptions and subtle (or not-so-subtle) biases about women in business through inclusive language, counter stereotyping and mentorship. For the millions of female-owned and operated businesses today, they are a leading example of how to achieve inspiring careers. Together, business leaders can use their collective voice to advocate on behalf of all women in business.

THERE’S NO ‘I’ IN TEAM
According to a recent KeyBank survey, 65 percent of female business owners have experienced gender-based barriers to success and almost half believe the media portrayal of women in business is one of the leading barriers. What’s more, business loan approval rates for women are 15 to 20 percent lower than they are for men, while men receive 16 times more venture capital funding than companies run by women. Whether conscious or not, it’s no surprise that under these circumstances, female entrepreneurs may be more risk-averse, perpetuating a slower growth cycle in their business.

Women absolutely can capture funding opportunities that lead to high-growth companies, but it is critical for female entrepreneurs to seek out mentors, overcome self-doubt and embrace leadership opportunities, especially in industries like technology, banking and manufacturing where women are underrepresented.

ADVOCACY, CONNECTIONS AND EMPOWERMENT
Whether fighting external factors or looking inward, women entrepreneurs and supporters are leading the charge to move our business world in the direction of gender parity. And arguably the richest resource to advance women business owners is an activated professional and personal network — not just for support and guidance, but also for loans and investments.

Since 2005, Key4Women has been helping women leaders and entrepreneurs through advocacy, connections and empowerment to help their careers and businesses grow. The program seeks to connect even more women to other like-minded entrepreneurs, both in the Hudson Valley and across the nation. By scaling the Key4Women program and creating platforms for women in various cities to connect, we are broadening the conversation and sharing more female perspectives to shift perceptions and representations of women in business.

Denise Povolny is senior vice president and business banking sales leader of KeyBank’s Hudson Valley market. She may be reached at 914-333-5731 or denise_a_povolny@keybank.com.