From the July 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

It's a Cinderella story for the '90s--a former computerphobe becomes a top Web site designer.

In 1986, when Orit started her communications agency, New York City-based O Design Group Inc., the biggest equipment decision she made was going from rubber cement to wax. "When I heard about fax machines, let alone computers, I thought `Oh, that's not going to take off,' " she recalls.

So when clients started talking about new media a few years ago, Orit knew not to trust her instincts. "I thought the Internet would fade after a year," she says. "But after my [off-target] hunches on faxes and computers, I realized if I felt that way, the Internet was here to stay. And I started making it a priority."

Of her leap from X-acto knives to the Web, Orit says, "If you're good at what you do, things just happen."

Anything They Can Do . . .

Deflating the myth that women's leadership abilities are not equal to those of men, a recent study shows that women outperform men in 28 of 31 categories, such as maintaining high productivity, meeting schedules and deadlines, recognizing trends, resolving conflicts, adapting to change, and generating new ideas.

The study, conducted by software company Advanced Teamware Inc., proved that women not only excel in relationship-oriented areas, "but they're also good in the more analytical, hard-edged aspects of business," says Janet Irwin, co-author of the study. "In fact, they're even stronger in the logical, intellectual areas than they are in the interpersonal skills, though they haven't gotten credit for [these strengths] in the past."

Men and women tied in only one category--delegating authority--and men outperformed women in just two areas: coping with frustration and handling pressure. Yet while men were not rated considerably higher in any of the areas measured, women outperformed men at a statistically significant level in 25 of the 31 categories.

The bottom line, says Irwin, is that women tend to have across-the-board skills. "This is the first hard evidence we've had in the United States about this," she says. "A lot of women aren't sure they have what it takes to be successful. And this study says they do."

Growing Strong

The good news: Women-owned firms are growing quickly. The better news: They're growing even more quickly than we thought. A recent U.S. Census Bureau survey shows that women-owned businesses with employees accounted for 18.5 percent of all firms with employees established between 1991 and 1994, up from 12 percent before 1980. This is the first time the Census Bureau has researched this group, which represents less than 20 percent of all women-owned firms but accounts for about 90 percent of their sales and receipts.

The Bureau found that "women are continuing to start a higher proportion of the new businesses," says Eddie Salyers, chief of the Census Bureau's company statistics branch. Salyers also indicates this study gives a truer picture of business ownership than did previous surveys, as it separates businesses into three categories rather than two: male-owned, female-owned and equally owned between men and women. The new method revealed that businesses either entirely owned by women or equally owned by women and men made up 35 percent of all businesses, up from 26 percent in 1992.

Though women-owned firms tend to be smaller than businesses in general (84.6 percent of them employ between one and nine people, compared with 79.8 percent of all firms), Salyers says they are surprisingly mature in terms of having expansion plans and access to capital. In fact, the Census found that the women business owners' answers mirrored those of men. Nearly matching the men's numbers, 12.8 percent of the women-owned firms reported their ability to operate or expand had been hampered by credit difficulties, compared with 11.5 percent of male-owned firms. And 43.2 percent of both men and women said they planned some type of expansion by 1998.

According to Salyers, seven federal agencies contributed to the funding for this report and are helping to assure the funding for the 1997 report. That 1997 survey, which will include information on all women-owned firms, should be released in the year 2000.

Contact Sources

Advanced Teamware Inc., 30423 Canwood St., #134, Agoura Hills, CA 91301, (818) 707-0779;

U.S. Census Bureau, (301) 763-7234, http://www.census.gov

O Design Group Inc., (212) 727-1140, http://www.odesign.com