Local women entrepreneurs are thriving, even though the playing field still favors men in many ways.

By some measures, Maryland is regarded as a state that supports women entrepreneurs.

Ranked by Zippia as the fourth most supportive state for women-owned businesses, Maryland is home to over 21,000 women-owned businesses that employ over 200,000 workers and bring in $32 billion in revenue.

These women’s accomplishments are even more impressive given that they have been reached in a world that still systematically still favors male entrepreneurs.

Aphaia Harper

“One of the biggest challenges for women entrepreneurs is accessing venture capital or loans,” said Aphaia Harper, strategic engagement manager for the Howard County Economic Development Authority (HCEDA).

The data on investment indicates a significant equity gap for women, agreed Wendy Bolger, founding director for the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Loyola University Maryland.

Wendy Bolger

Nationwide, women receive just seven percent of venture funds for their startups, according to research by Fundera updated in March 2020. Female entrepreneurs ask for roughly $35,000 less in business financing than men. Overall, men receive an average loan size of $43,916 while women receive $38,942.

“On top of that, inequality issues are significantly amplified for women entrepreneurs of color,” Bolger added.

Growing Expectations

Women entrepreneurs bring unique strengths to the table because many of them have been forced to navigate societal expectations placed on them simply because they’re female, advocates say.

Those expectations have grown bigger during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Bolger.

“Parents have an extra burden managing remote schooling and keeping their families safe. There is so much new research emerging about how the bulk of that caregiving responsibility is going to women, even if both partners work,” said Bolger, noting that it disproportionately impacts women owned entrepreneurial ventures.

Though Bolger hasn’t seen as much research on caring for elders during COVID, she suspects women carry more of that responsibility right now too – even if they also carry the title of CEO or founder.

With the service sector hardest hit by COVID-19, women entrepreneurs are also bearing a disproportionate brunt because their businesses often gravitate toward personal services, healthcare, wellness and fitness, apparel and accessories.

“It’s likely that established women entrepreneurs are taking a bigger hit than male counterparts just because the sectors they most often work in have greater exposure or more vulnerability because they are public facing and service-oriented,” pointed out Bolger.

Inspiring Entrepreneurs

If women entrepreneurs face significant obstacles, they’re also even more inspiring for it, she added. “Women entrepreneurs, like any other group that has been marginalized, have developed added resilience and wisdom beyond their years.”

Harper agreed.

“I think women entrepreneurs are able to excel at wearing multiple hats,” she said. “Women are very resourceful and comfortable juggling different tasks.”

Dr. Tammira Lucas, co-founder of The Cube, Maryland’s first co-working space that focuses on helping parents and entrepreneurs, echoed her colleagues on women and multi-tasking.

“Women can actually grow businesses much faster than men – that’s because as women we know how to multitask,” she said. “What I do know is that men don’t have the pressure that women entrepreneurs do – especially if you add on being a mom entrepreneur.”

She added, “We have more responsibility than men. Society has always elevated the man.”

Heather Yeung, an attorney with Kagan, Stern, Marinello & Beard, LLC, who often offers legal advice to entrepreneurs, agreed that sometimes women must work harder to gain respect from potential clients.

Heather Yeung

“Especially in male-dominated industries like IT, construction, and government contracting, I think that women can be underestimated,” said Yeung. “What stands out to me almost universally about my female clients is their intuition about when they need to ask for help and when they don’t, the faith they put in me as a trusted advisor, and the ease with which they engage in teamwork.”

Women entrepreneurs have access to more resources than they did in the past. From Video Lottery Terminal Funds that assist small, minority, and women-owned businesses located in targeted areas surrounding six Maryland casinos, to roundtable discussions with policymakers, the voice of women entrepreneurs is slowly being amplified.

More Role Models

Young women entrepreneurs also have more role models than previous generations. There are 114 percent more women entrepreneurs in the U.S. than 20 years ago, according to Fundera.

“Plus, this is not a group who tend to complain about the challenges they face, or let the slights slow them down,” Bolger said. “But eventually, very successful women will hit the glass ceiling. Even if you are your own boss, funders and board members and others with power, often unconsciously, perform gatekeeping roles and the message will be sent that you are not what’s expected.”

Lucas pointed out that supporting women entrepreneurs means more than just throwing money at them.

“If you’re not educating but simply providing the money, it’s not going to help,” she said. “Some women entrepreneurs may receive money but they don’t have the technical assistance to take what they receive and strategically place it in their business. We have to be very intentional.”

Those who work closely with women entrepreneurs also emphasized the importance of mentors.

“Find mentors and co-conspirators who will both keep you fueled and keep you honest with yourself and in turn with your customers and staff,” advised Bolger. “Take care of yourself or else you will burn out.”

Remember why you are starting your venture and stay true to that vision or passion, she added. “Be a sponge and expose yourself to lots of new ideas and people but listen especially to what your future customers have to say,” she said. “To women in particular, I would emphasize be ready to delegate and give up control well before you think it’s time rather than carry a chip on your shoulder. Use the fact that you might be underestimated as a woman to your advantage!”

Yeung said that almost every woman she knows – including herself – confronts “imposter syndrome” or feelings of self-doubt.

“I think that the key to overcoming that is to recognize it and to talk about it,” said Yeung, who also serves as a board member of the Business Women’s Network (BWN) of Howard County. “Networking with other women is particularly helpful.”

Through both her role as an attorney and her involvement with BWN, Yeung said she’s constantly amazed by the confidence and drive of the women entrepreneurs she’s gotten to know.

“Each one inspires me in my own life and helps me to be a better advisor to other entrepreneurs,” she said.

“I wish that there were more women entrepreneurs out there and I wish that more of them participated in women-focused networking groups,” said Yeung. “My participation in business women’s networking groups has been invaluable to my development as a professional woman.”

By Susan Kim | Staff Writer | The Business Monthly | January 2021 Issue