SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Running a business as a woman has a unique set of challenges.
“I had called an electrician to come and wire a piece of equipment that I had just purchased and he proceeded to give me unsolicited advice on what I should be doing to grow my business successfully and market,” said Maya Madsen, owner of Maya's Cookies. “I thought to myself, if the tables were turned and my husband was the business owner, would this electrician come in and start telling my husband how he should run his business?”
According to the Census, women now own more than 12 million American businesses. That's an increase of 2 million in the last decade. Compared to men, their workforces and revenues are growing more quickly.
Like Madsen, Bertha Orea recognizes the challenges of running a business as a woman.
Orea, who is a mother of four, sells, cobbles and repairs shoes.
“I had to work 12, 13, 14 hours at that point. I had no options. I had no choice. Either I would go out, work and look at a better future for them, or I would stay at zero,” Orea said.
“I have that extra layer of being a woman of color,” Madsen added. “Just as recently as last week, we received messages and emails about our Black history collection and why we need to highlight that and our 'woke agenda.'"
Hurdles have already existed, none bigger in recent years than the COVID-19 pandemic. It forced a greater percentage of women-owned businesses to close or cut staff.
Elizabeth Schott is the CEO of Accessity, which gave loans to Orea and Madsen at the height of the pandemic.
“Access to capital, while the conversation has shifted and there’s a lot more focus on that, I think there hasn’t necessarily been a systemic change to the level that we need to see it moving forward,” Schott said.
“When I was in the pandemic, it was a very difficult time, very uncertain," Orea said. "I had no other income, another entry of money. It was just this business."
Things are looking up for Orea and Madsen at the other end of the pandemic thanks to the growing networks of support to enable leaders to shine.
Madsen said that initial encounter with the electrician helped her find her voice.
“I was just getting extra hot listening to him. And I finally interrupted him and said, ‘I don’t want your advice right now. Could you please just perform the tasks that I hired you to do?’ It was a turning point for me,” Madsen said."