Female entrepreneurs on the rise

Bean Tree Cafe owner Lisa Jones is one of many women who own businesses in Monroe County. (James “Tal” Moss photo)

Across the nation, female small business owners are making strides, and they are even a few steps ahead in Monroe County.

According to a 2017 report on women-owned businesses commissioned by American Express, last year women owned 39 percent of businesses in the United States. That is 11.6 million companies, up from 9.9 million in 2012.

That data is extrapolated from the 2012 United States Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners, the most recently available data.

In Monroe County, the numbers may not look quite that good, but they are on the rise.
According to data from the 2012 Survey of Business Owners, about 32 percent of businesses in Monroe County are owned by women.

That number goes up to nearly 48 percent when businesses equally owned by men and women are factored in.

“I think that women-owned businesses are on the increase and fairing very well,” Monroe County, Illinois Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Edie Koch said.

While women may own less than a third of all businesses in the county, two local female business owners said they do not feel discriminated against because of their gender.

“I don’t feel that way at all,” Roseberry Farms owner Deb Lebryk said. “I think there was a time that was the case, but I really feel that there are so many opportunities for everyone now, especially women. One of the things we see in Monroe County is there’s a lot of women-owned businesses. I think that speaks to how the community embraces women-owned businesses and supports women-owned businesses.”

Lisa Jones, owner of Bean Tree Cafe, said she does not think being a woman has impacted her at all. 

“I really don’t feel like being a woman has played into anything in a positive or negative way,” she said. 

Koch said that may not be the case for all female entrepreneurs in Monroe County.

“I don’t have any particular conversations to cite, but I think the women striving to head up businesses in this area struggle with the same obstacles as seen nationally: gender bias, balancing home and work expectations, equal pay, lack of proper mentorship, etc.,” Koch said. 

Those reasons may contribute to some disheartening numbers for female business owners. While they may own 39 percent of businesses nationwide, female owners account for 8 percent of private sector employees and 4 percent of business revenues.

In Monroe County, they fare slightly better, accounting for almost 15 percent of employees and 14 percent of revenues.  

A trend Monroe County does not buck is the types of businesses women own. 

According to the report commissioned by American Express, half of all women-owned businesses are companies like nail salons, pet care businesses, home health care services, day cares, public relations firms and accounting offices. 

Koch said that was often the case in Monroe County, as women often trend toward the service industry. 

Data from a State of Small Business survey shows that 51 percent of female entrepreneurs chose their professions to pursue their passion, at least partly.

That was the case for Lebryk and Jones. 

“It’s always been my dream to own my own business,” Lebryk said. “What I love about owning my own business is just connecting with people and helping them with their home décor and helping them with their creative needs that they have.”

Jones said she found that her business fit her personality, perhaps in part because she is a woman. 

“I think women tend to be a little more of nurturers,” she noted. “I just feel like women are wired a little bit more to look out for other people and take care of other people and that just lends itself well in the service industry.”

Regardless of industry, Koch said female entrepreneurs help her corporation achieve its goal of creating jobs and increasing business investment. 

“Any business, regardless of its ownership, will help us to achieve that goal for the area,” Koch said.  “A study by SCORE has found that women-owned businesses are just as successful as men-owned businesses in job creation, number of starts, increased growth and number of years in business. We would always embrace that type of performance regardless of the gender of the leadership.”

SCORE is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground.

Koch also said the number of female entrepreneurs are on the rise locally. 

“We have met and had the chance to work with increasing numbers of strong women eager to create and lead their own businesses,” Koch said. 

Nevertheless, according to the Census Bureau, women made up more than 58.3 percent of the labor force in 2012-2016. So, women have a significant way to go before the number of women workers compared to women owners matches up. 

“Women entrepreneurs have come a long way over the course of the last 20 years but there are miles to go,” the American Express-commissioned report concludes. 

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