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Another Voice: In spite of bias, businesswomen see through glass ceiling

By Buford Sears

October is National Women’s Small Business Month and we’ve made great strides to reach gender parity in business ownership. Women now represent more than half of the U.S. workforce and according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in Buffalo alone, 35 percent of businesses are owned by women.

But representations of women business owners in society still don’t reflect the makeup of business ownership. When conducting a search on Google for “real life bosses,” for example, fewer than five images of women appear in the top 50 results, even though women occupy half of leadership roles in the U.S. It’s time to shift the narrative.

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

We can do better. Women in leadership positions and their champions must combat common misperceptions and biases about women in business through inclusive language, counter-stereotyping and mentorship. Together, business leaders can use their collective voice to advocate on behalf of all women in business.

According to a recent survey from Key4Women, a community network dedicated to helping women succeed in business, 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 than their male counterparts.

While women absolutely can capture funding opportunities that lead to high growth companies, 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 in leadership.

Arguably the richest resource to advance women business owners is an activated professional and personal network. Together, we can celebrate success of women business leaders and open doors for investment and opportunity.

Buford Sears is the Buffalo region market president for KeyBank.

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