Where Are The Riot Grrls?

The Big Picture

Technology isn't the only trend shaping women-owned businesses. "Women-owned companies, on average, are smaller than firms owned by men," says Elizabeth Gatewood, director of the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Indiana University in Bloomington. "One reason may be that women tend to own service businesses," which are less capital-intensive.

Another potentially limiting factor is motive. "When we looked at the reasons people started businesses, women were more likely to cite internal reasons: `I've always wanted to have my own business,' or `I think I have the right skills,' " says Gatewood. "Men were more likely to cite external reasons, [such as] identifying a need in the market or an unmet consumer demand."

As a result, women were no less successful at starting and maintaining businesses. "But if women are paying less attention to market demand, they may be limiting the growth of their companies at some point," observes Gatewood.

Societal pressures may also play a role. Says Rimm: "We still tend to protect girls from competition; we protect them from losing. And in doing so, we take away from them the chance to develop the courage to take risks. Instead, we encourage perfectionism," which can be paralyzing in business.

Finally, women are subjected to a panoply of life concerns that make the single-minded pursuit of career success difficult. "Women's spotlights tend to be clouded by the need to be pretty and attractive to men," says Rimm. It begins in middle school and continues throughout a woman's life. No one expects Bill Gates to look like a supermodel. With women, looks are almost always an issue.

More serious factors weigh in as well. Balancing career and family remains a key challenge for working women. But then, so does the need to balance one's primary work with "outside" interests--creative endeavors, community work, spiritual issues. The popular theory that men's brains function differently--that the male brain is singular in focus while the female brain is multitasking--only reinforces what years of socialization have brought to bear. Men are raised to focus laser-like on their careers. Women, it might be said, take the wide-angle view.

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This article was originally published in the December 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Where Are The Riot Grrls?.

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