Debunking Myths About Women in Business

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women in business

Thankfully, we’ve said goodbye to many tired myths about women in the workforce. While a great deal of progress has occurred over the past 50 years, several myths about women in business continue to permeate work culture in the U.S. If we don’t intentionally call out these misconceptions, we run the risk of reinforcing internalized stereotypes. Today, we’re setting out to debunk some of the most common myths we see repeated about women in the workforce. 

Myth: Most Women Become CEOs Via a ‘Glass Cliff’ Situation

The glass ceiling, which used to refer to the invisible limit that prevented women from assuming positions of power, has seen a new variation in recent years. The glass cliff, a term derived from its predecessor, refers to the trend of women being promoted to positions of power during a crisis or downward trajectory for a business. Famous examples of the glass cliff include Marissa Meyer at Yahoo, Mary Barra at General Motors, and Meg Whitman at Hewlett-Packard, all of whom were promoted to CEO in what critics decried as lose-lose situations. 

Truth: Women Are Striking Out as CEOs on Their Own Terms

While it’s true that only 7% of Fortune 500 companies are helmed by women CEOs, women occupy more leadership positions when you look at the larger scope of private sector businesses. According to a 2018 American Express report on the state of women in business, women own a controlling share in 40% of total private sector businesses. Between 1972 and 2018, the number of women-owned businesses increased by 31 times in the USA. 

Myth: Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Because They Don’t Think They’re Qualified

If a man has 60% of the qualifications necessary for a job, he’ll apply. A woman won’t submit an application unless she has 100% of the necessary qualifications. You’ll hear this statistic quoted by everyone from Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In to a friend eagerly encouraging you to apply for a new job. The explanation that we’re given is that the fault lies with women. They don’t have enough faith in themselves. They should have more confidence. They should be more willing to fail. But like any argument that suggests women alone are responsible for solving their disenfranchisement, this doesn’t tell the whole story. 

Truth: External Factors Play a Role

Two key factors often get excluded from this discussion. First, just because a woman isn’t likely to apply for a job, that doesn’t mean she thinks she isn’t qualified for the position. In a study, the most commonly cited reason for not applying was “I didn’t think they would hire me since I didn’t meet the qualifications, and I didn’t want to waste my time and energy.” Thinking that you’re unlikely to get the job is very different from thinking that you’re not qualified. This reticence may represent a fair reading of the gender bias in hiring, rather than a lack of self-confidence among female applicants, which brings us to the second factor that shouldn’t be overlooked: gendered language in recruiting materials. 

When a job posting includes gendered language, it limits the applicant pool. According to a ZipRecruiter study, postings with gender-neutral language received 42% more responses. Gendered language doesn’t necessarily mean overt words like “he” or “she”—it’s often more subtle. Even masculine-coded words like champion, decisive, and confident, or female-coded words  like affectionate, considerate, and honest can be read as gendered language. The statistic about women applying for positions they were 100% qualified for doesn’t account for gendered language in the posting, so we don’t know how that could have affected job application decisions.

Myth: Entrepreneurship Is for Women in Their 20s

We tend to think of entrepreneurship as a young person’s game. This narrative has been bolstered by the media focus on tech wunderkinds a la Mark Zuckerberg. The perceived pressure to achieve landmark accomplishments early in life is even more intense for women, who are subjected to messages that youth is tied to their intrinsic value. 

Truth: Successful Entrepreneurs Start Their Businesses Later

According to American Express, the most successful women entrepreneurs start their businesses later in life, “once they have accumulated business experience, connections, and financial capital.” Almost half (47.8%) of women business owners are between the ages of 45 and 64. An additional 19% are 65 or older. They’re in good company. While the stories we tell might be fixated on young entrepreneurs like Kylie Jenner and her billion-dollar lip kit empire, the Harvard Business Review found that the average founder age for successful startups is 45. 

Myth: Women-Owned Businesses Can’t Get Funding

This misconception is tied to another: that venture capital is the be-all and end-all of business funding. It is true that women are receiving a dismal percentage of venture capital. According to Pitchbook, only 2.2% of venture capital went to businesses solely owned by women in 2017. 

Truth: Funding for Women Is on The Rise

While that venture capital statistic is dismal, women are faring better through small business loans, which allow them to get the capital they need without giving up equity in their businesses. 

That’s not to say that women have achieved equity when it comes to small business loans. According to a 2016 report from the Federal Reserve, 64% of women reported a funding gap for their businesses. According to Lendio data from over 8,500 business owners, women-owned businesses accounted for only 24% of small business borrowers. 

The good news is that this gap appears to be closing, thanks in part to online lending. South Dakota, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and North Caroline topped the list of the best states for women seeking access to capital. States with the largest growth in the percentage of women receiving business funding included Nebraska, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Idaho, and Hawaii. 

Myth: Women Don’t Negotiate

We hear this one all the time. Women aren’t as likely as men to negotiate their salaries. The wage gap, it’s implied, could be corrected if only women could find the courage to ask for more money, the way men do. 

Truth: Women Aren’t Always Rewarded for Negotiating

The truth is that women tend to ask for raises just as often as their male counterparts, but they don’t see the same results. Recent research shows that 15% of women who ask for a raise will receive it, compared to 20% of men who receive a raise after requesting one. It’s not all bad news, though. Among younger workers, the percentage of male and female workers who received raises were virtually indistinguishable. It’s possible that this indicates a change in negotiating behavior—or the response to it—that’s a net positive for professional women.