Because Running Your Own Business Isn't Hard Enough
Radio 101 student, Owen Clifford, has always seen his mom, Cary, as not only his mom but also the owner of one of the most well-known coffee places in Winston-Salem: Camino Bakery. He grew up hearing about all of the struggles any entrepreneur faces: cash flow management, hiring employees, marketing strategy, choosing what to sell, etc. As he got older, his mom’s business grew and expanded. Some of the challenges she used to face went away and new ones arose, and yet one obstacle didn’t seem to go anywhere: the fact that his mom, the business owner, is a woman.
“I think occasionally men don’t take me as seriously as they would take a male, but it's hard to know. It’s hard to know what is because I’m a woman and what is because I wear like T-shirts or not business-owner-type clothes, and I like, try to be friendly and all of that stuff so maybe sometimes they get the wrong impression,” Cary Clifford explained.
According to Clifford, she receives “little comments” every now and then that, on the surface, seem harmless. These comments, however, are just a symptom of a much deeper issue.
“I had a salesman who called and said, ‘Can i please speak to the owner?’ and I said, ‘I'm the owner,’ and he said, you know, after a long pause, ‘Can I speak to the real owner?’ and I said, ‘I am the real owner.’ And there was another long pause, and he said, ‘May I speak to your husband?’ said Clifford.
A recent study from the Pew Research Center suggests that this idea of not thinking about women being in charge of a business is not an isolated incident. The study looked at Google image search results for common jobs and compares the percentage of women showcased in the search results versus the actual percentage of women occupying that position. The results showed that women are underrepresented (fewer pictures compared to the real percentage of women in those positions) for jobs like bill collector, medical records technician, and general manager, and overrepresented (more pictures compared to the actual percentage of women in those positions) for jobs like flight attendant, model, or mechanic. Moreover, the study showed that pictures of women often tended to appear at the bottom of the page.
According to Alyson Francisco, director of the Center for Women in Entrepreneurship and Business at Salem College, it’s harder for women to be taken seriously when it comes to business.
“If a woman and a man go into a bank asking for a loan, and maybe it’s not a bank but they go to an investor, and they have the same proposition, the same venture that they’re asking to have funding for... the male is typically more believed to pull this to success,” explained Francisco.
Without access to capital, starting a business becomes next to impossible, and according to Francisco, this just perpetuates the cycle of women not being believed to be successful.
“The more success women have, the more success they will generate for the generations behind them, and that’s the only way we are going to break the cycle. With success comes believability. More venture capitalists will be willing to invest without the gender barrier,” said Francisco.
All the research seems to point out that we are still a long way away from gender equality in the workplace. According to Francisco, stories like Clifford’s are not going to magically fix sexisms overnight but they might help other women find the strength to push through the sexist comments and belittling, and that is all a Radio 101 story could hope for.