First Class

I was flying back from an event my coach hosted in Arizona when I noticed. Among the people sitting in the nine, first-class seats, I was the only woman.

It’s not the first time I’ve noticed the disparity between men and women in the front half of the plane but today it was particularly meaningful. I had just seen Cindy Eckert speak about founding a pharmaceutical company, selling that company for one billion dollars and then suing the buyer to get it back when they failed to bring the product she fought so hard to create to market, Addyi.

It was a journey that included death threats, rallying hundreds of women to share their personal testimonies and standing firm against the FDA’s blind spot on the science of women’s sexual health. Her talk also shed light on the fact that on average, only 4% of health research dollars are dedicated to women—I’ll save my outrage on that for another post—that women invest differently than men, and that when women become wealthy, they share it.

Although interior designers are surrounded by women in business, in the world at large, we’re still the exception. Over the course of nearly half a century, women have gone from owning 4.6% of all businesses to 40% and yet, these businesses account for only 8% of all employment and 4.3% of total revenues. Why?

According to The 2018 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, “women start their own businesses because workforce policies do not accommodate their caregiving responsibilities or their desire to have more control over when and where they work.” Higher barriers to advancement in the traditional workforce are causing more women, especially those of color, to step out on their own at a younger age.

We live in a country where the only federal law guaranteeing maternity leave is unpaid—you can legally take up to 12 weeks after childbirth or adoption—but that only applies to some employees. Although federal legislation made it illegal to pay men and women different wage rates for equal work as of 1963, the gender wage gap still exists. And don’t forget the ‘Pink Tax’. From haircuts to razors blades to children’s clothing, it often costs more to be female in the consumer space. Even though gender price gouging for services, such as hair salons and dry cleaning, is illegal in some states, no federal laws ban so-called gender pricing and many manufacturers and stores get away with the “woman tax” because women are willing to pay it.

The thing is women live longer, which means we will need not only the basic necessities of life for many more years but also the cost of healthcare, especially in the United States, one of the few industrialized nations in the world without universal health coverage.

The problem is that most businesses owned by women—88% of them—will earn less than 100K. Although that number has increased dramatically, up 46% over the past 11 years (vs.12% for businesses in general), only 1.7% of all women-owned businesses earns one million dollars or more. When they do get to that number, however, they make an outsized contribution to the economy and become economic powerhouses.

A million feels like a magical number for many women, one that is out of reach, or one that comes with even more constraints on their valuable time, with even more responsibility. But that’s not entirely the truth. For many women, the more money they make, the greater their capacity for ease, expansion and most importantly, generosity.

That’s because the way women spend their money increases the power available to other women too. The change that women choose to invest in, and the way that they invest, moves not only their sons, but also their daughters forward.

Understand this, at no time before us in history have so many women in North America been in business, nor have we had the access to create opportunity not just for ourselves but for others. Entrepreneurship gives women the flexibility they need and creates wealth for their families across generations.

Eckert’s mission is to make women, “really f*cking rich”. I’m in. You?

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