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A New Gap

Gender gap this, gender gap that--what about the gap between older and younger business owners?

Is there a generation gap among woman entrepreneurs? This question jumped out at me after my interview with one Gen X woman and one older woman for a point/counterpoint discussion on set-asides for the May "Women" column.

I set out to find information comparing female entrepreneurs of different ages. Surprisingly, no such data existed. So I decided to conduct an informal survey of my own, targeting women 18 and older who own a business.

The solicitation process was, in itself, the first big revelation. After contacting numerous colleges and entrepreneurial organizations, I gathered a respectable number of women 30 and older. But the initial beating of the bushes yielded very few woman entrepreneurs under age 30 and a miniscule number aged 25 and younger. This seemed especially puzzling in light of the expansive number of younger males regularly featured in Entrepreneur.

Elizabeth Carlassare, author of the upcoming book Dotcom Divas (McGraw-Hill), discovered "the founders of [the dotcom companies studied] fell into two categories: women in their late 20s who recently graduated with an MBA from a good school; or older, seasoned women who've had careers in the corporate world but, for a variety of reasons, decided to strike out on their own."

The findings in our own unscientific survey uncovered that 42.1 percent of all the businesses were Internet/technology-based service firms, but only 25.9 percent of these were run by women 18 to 29 years old. Women 30 to 39 years old dominated this ownership category at 48.1 percent, while women 40 and older owned 25.9 percent of these firms.

When it comes to start-up capital, 25 percent of all the businesses were self-funded; 14 percent were funded by the business owner and her partners; and 10.9 percent were funded with help from family and friends in addition to personal resources. As might be expected, older women were more inclined to self-fund their ventures. About 21 percent of entrepreneurs 30 and older fell into this category-almost double those under 30 who went this route.

More than half the women surveyed (52.3 percent) didn't find their gender to be a barrier, though 19 percent did say it made them work harder. When divided into age categories, the numbers shifted-62.5 percent of women 30 and older said they faced barriers or needed to work harder than male counterparts. Twice as many of those 30 and older (62 percent) found being a woman to be an occasional barrier as women 29 or younger (30.7 percent).

"The young, recent MBA grads don't seem to have the notion of the glass ceiling and gender bias," says Carlassare. "Older women see those barriers and have experienced gender bias in their careers. That's part of the reason they [start businesses]."

Obviously, this survey can't be used to draw broad conclusions, but it does pose an interesting question of its own: What parts will younger and older women play in the new entrepreneurial/Internet revolution, and how will those roles differ?

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This article was originally published in the July 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: A New Gap.

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