Phoenix is home to a tremendous group successful women business owners. As a member of the NAWBO Phoenix Chapter, we often lead discussions on a national level and are seen as an example for other groups of women to follow. Yet locally every time I read a headline about the economic future of Phoenix, women business owners are nowhere to be found. National articles and emerging research constantly touts the power of women owned firms and how they contribute to local economies.
Less than twenty years ago, in Phoenix, the options for networking and connecting with other women business owners where very limited. Susan Brooks, one of the founding members of the Phoenix chapter of NAWBO, stated the reason she started this chapter 20 years ago was because there was nowhere else to go to meet Phoenix women business owners. Now, every day I am asked to attend groups and events packed with them.
In the last year, research constantly shows two things. First, Women owned businesses are a powerful growing force in our economy. The Wall Street Journal reports, “Women consistently have been launching new enterprises at twice the rate of men and their growth rates of employment and revenue have outpaced the economy.” The second is that, there are still major gaps and challenges that women owned firms face that need to be addressed.
In Phoenix, I work with powerful women who want to get their business past the million dollar mark. However, every time they accessed the resources available to women business owners, they often found that did not help them the way they needed.
We have reached a tipping point. We have a number of groups and a strong community of women business owners. Now we need to organize and determine how we can achieve more through collaboration.
We reached out to other women business organizations, to leaders in the community and simple asked “Should all the organizations that support women business owners try and get together.” The response was overwhelmingly positive. “YES, lets do that”.
Most of the women that were there showed up because they knew someone who trusted me. I knew it could look like a lot of things, so I didn’t want to commit to a single vision which can make for a very vague event invite. Over 30 women from various organizations showed, plus various actual women business owners. It was awesome. We talked and very quickly I realized, we all already had the same vision. We already had a shared vision.
I am proud to say we committed to meeting again under one condition. That we get a very clear objective for the group. Women business owners are busy. We don’t need another group to attend.
Based on discussion, feedback and national research that I have conducted below is an outline of what a collaboration focused on the advancement of Phoenix women business owners could achieve:
Structure: A quarter meeting (with regular communication in-between) of leadership from various organizations in Phoenix that have a vested interest in the advancement of women owned firms.
- This meeting will be inclusive of all voices, positive and focused on moving women business owners forward (simple enough)
- We will share national research on women business owners and best practices for how to economically empower female lead organizations
- Share updates on our organizations and their initiatives to help leverage efforts and prevent overlap (again something that can be addressed through organization communication in-between face to face meetings)
- Open discussion about the challenges that women business owners and the organizations that support them are facing
Financial and business resources going equally towards women and male business owners. Every study on women owned firms has consistently found that access to capital is one of the many factors in why women owned businesses fail and or struggle to break the million dollar mark. It is not a simple fix but it needs to be addressed with new innovative solutions that fit the needs of women led firms. Also, we need to look at the millions of dollars being invested into business resources, economic development, education and incubator programs and advocate for women business owners receiving an equal share of those resources and hold those groups accountable for providing quality services to a diverse set of entrepreneurs.
Tracking data on Arizona Women Business Owners and their economic impact. The public policy chair of NAWBO National told me once “You don’t count until you are measured.” We live in a world of facts and data. I have tried looking up facts on a local level regarding the number of women business owners, the impact they make and IMPACT data on the resources that proclaim to support women business owners. It is challenging if not impossible for a single person to find. As a collective, we can separate out what data we need, have our individual organizations dig up the data that they are the best at digging up, and create a strategy to request the data that simply doesn’t exist yet.
Equal representation of female entrepreneurs at events and in publications. Not just women panels. I am talking every “economic summit” having equal representation of women business owners, not just one female banker. For every article about men, an equally business oriented article about a successful women. I know, I can hear the response now, “We can’t. There just aren’t enough women.” To that I say, maybe not now BUT we have to take small committed steps towards that objective.
Benchmark goals to Measure Effectiveness:
As I mentioned before, there is not an organization that is currently doing strong data gathering on Phoenix women business owners. Finding a way to start gathering this data will be imperative. Having an active voice in what data will be gathered will also ensure that we have a more applicable data to women business owners.
Traditionally, economic impact has been tracked by mainly four factors: jobs created, sales, businesses launched and capital. We need that data separated by demographic variables including gender. Currently, the majority of quantifiable data separated by gender focuses on participation. Consistently women business owners site that the challenge is not a complete lack of resources. The challenge is a lack of quality resources as well as sorting through them to find a resource that is applicable to them. We could join the national leaders that are now encouraging a focus on effective impact versus participation numbers.
Some of the benchmarks below are being measured and will be easier to aggregate then others. Organizations that are reporting that data should be celebrated and used as an example. The definition of success will also need to expand to include factors that measure the additional impact that women owned businesses give back to the community and internal measures of success that women business owner’s value.
Addition economic development benchmarks could include:
- More effective resources for women business owners, measured by women business owners reporting satisfaction when accessing resources and positive impact on their business.
- Businesses not only starting but growing and scaling.
- Women business owners being happier and more satisfied with their business
- A more vibrant and sustainable entrepreneurial community
- More Jobs for the local economy
- Attraction of high growth businesses
- Women reaching equal pay – across the board
- More female students engaging in entrepreneurial programs
- Respect and recognition for women business owners and the role they play in our community
Collaboration in order to achieve great impact is not a new concept. Locally, we have great examples of the possible impact a focused effort at community collaboration can achieve. Local First’s Kimber Lannging and One Community’s Angela Hughey are both shining examples. Both of those organizations were able to boil all of their objectives into a single, simple call action: Buy Local and Sign the Unity Pledge.
As we continue to develop objectives, I hope we are able to find a simple innovative call to action that will be the gateway to achieve all of the above objectives.
It will not be without its challenges. All groups face opportunities when dealing with community organizing, limited resources and complex social issues like gender. However, I am positive that in a community that has created female leaders that have shattered other much larger barriers, we can create great things.
What do you think? Let me know! Reach out, join us.
Our next meeting will be September 11th, at Sky Song. PLUS, NAWBO is hosting a panel discussion featuring several of the participants of PhXX Forward September 9th. If you are interested in more details email me:Kristin@empowered-lab.com