Three in four female small business owners say glass ceiling still exists

Bank of America survey also shows 28% of women owners feel they have less access to capital, borne out by 2014 study that they receive only 4.4% of loans

The US may have the first female presidential nominee of a major political party in Hillary Clinton, but the glass ceiling for American women is far from shattered. According to a new survey, three in four female business owners believe women and minorities face almost insurmountable barriers to the top jobs.

A Bank of America survey of 1,000 small business owners found that 77% of female business owners believe women and minorities receive fewer advancement opportunities, and 46% of female business owners felt limited by the glass ceiling. Small business owners were defined as having a revenue between $1m-$5m and fewer than 100 employees.

“Until recently, within lifetimes of many people in this room, women really were not allowed to open businesses on their own,” Maisha Walker, president-elect of New York’s chapter of National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), said.

“That’s why NAWBO was founded because in 1973 – three women tried to join the Chamber of Commerce and they were not allowed to,” Walker said. “It’s so shocking to think that that was so recent. They couldn’t sign for business loans without a man.”

Over the past 40 years, women had a lot of catching up to do, she added.

“There are lot of industries where men are just entrenched and that’s just the way things are,” Walker said. “That doesn’t mean they aren’t changing and that we can’t make that better. It is what it is and it’s important to recognize the environment that we are operating in.”

One of the main reasons women start a business is to be their own boss. However, being the boss is not always all it is cracked up to be. While about half the respondents said that being a female small business owner made them feel empowered and successful, about one in three also said it made them feel stressed.

Being a female business owner can be especially stressful when you consider the fact that despite owning 30% of small businesses, women receive just 4.4% of funds paid out in small business loans. According to a 2014 study conducted by congressional Democrats, women received about 16% of all conventional small-business loans but they were smaller than the ones given to their male counterparts; for every dollar loaned to a female business owner, a male business owner received $23.

About 28% of female small business owners feel that they have less access to capital than male business owners, according to Bank of America.

Melba Wilson, owner of Melba’s restaurant in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, who spoke on a panel in New York to launch the survey, said she was not an ideal loan candidate when she was first starting out on her own. Wilson said she was lucky she saved money because “there is not a bank that would have given me a loan”.

“First of all, restaurants are one of the riskiest businesses out there. One out of every five fails,” she pointed out. She added that back in 2004, Harlem was “not the Harlem we all know” and opening a restaurant there at that time was not the most sound business proposition.

Instead of going to a bank and asking for a loan, Wilson peeked under her mattress, where she has been putting money away as long as she can remember – just like her mother and grandmother did.

“Do any of you guys know about the mattress?” she asked the audience. “When I went to open up Melba’s, nobody was giving me a loan. It just wasn’t going to happen. So I said, let’s check under my mattress and see how much money I have under there. I have never touched the money. I never counted it. It was just there. So, I started counting [and] I ended up saving a little bit over $300,000.”

“I now bank at a more reputable institution,” she said.


Jana Kasperkevic in New York

The GuardianTramp

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