Happy International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month! Today, we celebrate women's social, economic, cultural, and political achievements. From the labor strikes that helped International Women’s Day take root until today, women have had to fight for fair treatment and for their voices to be heard.
Today is a call to action for gender equality and a reminder that there’s still plenty of work to be done. In 2022, women — especially women of color — continue to make less than their male counterparts. There are also significant gender gaps in health, education, economics, and politics, which the World Economic Forum predicted in 2020 wouldn’t close for another 100 years. The pandemic further widened these gaps, with the organization now forecasting that closing them will take more than 135 years at the current rate.
At Invoice2go, a Bill.com company, we believe that a global, inclusive community is essential to innovation, strength, and greater prosperity for all. In support of women entrepreneurs, we’re thrilled to announce we’ve finished recording the first season of the Female Founders Network podcast. We’re pleased that our global community of ambitious women is now over 6,000 members strong.
… And this is still just the beginning.
Throughout March, we’re celebrating women’s history and highlighting women’s contributions to the world of entrepreneurship and small business. As a new year unfolds with greater optimism for small business owners worldwide, let’s look at the origin of International Women’s Day and some of the key reasons why we feel so strongly about supporting women:
A brief history of International Women’s Day
International Women’s Day sprang from labor movements in North America and Europe that started at the end of the 19th century when women were becoming increasingly vocal about low wages, long hours, and inhumane working conditions.
On March 8, 1908, 15,000 women protested in New York City. Many of the demonstrators were young immigrants who came to the US in search of better opportunities, only to face exploitation. They reiterated their demands for better working conditions, as well as for voting rights and an end to child labor.
On February 28, 1909, National Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time in the US. Then, on March 19, 1911, International Women’s Day was honored for the first time and marked by over a million protestors demanding women’s suffrage and an end to employment discrimination. Six years later, on March 8, 1917, Russian women earned the right to vote.
Women worldwide are transforming entrepreneurship and what it means to be a small business owner
In the more than 100 years since its inception, International Women’s Day has played a part in significantly shifting cultural attitudes about women and moving toward greater gender equality.
Women’s progress in the world of business and entrepreneurship has been phenomenal – especially when you consider the odds stacked against them. For example, before 1988, women in the US couldn’t get a small business loan without a male cosigner. Now, women own 40% of businesses in the US – and in the last 20 years, the number of women-owned companies increased 114%, according to Fundera.
Additionally, women of color are now one of the fastest-growing entrepreneurship segments – American Express found that they’re 4.5x more likely to start a business than other demographics. Black women-owned ventures grew 50% between 2014 and 2019, the highest rate of any female demographic, J.P. Morgan Wealth Management reported.
While women still struggle to gain access to capital and face countless challenges, it’s undeniable that their presence is growing and having an enormous impact on business and culture.
Women embody the resilient spirit of small business
Over the past two years, we’ve faced unprecedented challenges and were reminded of the grit it takes to keep a business alive. While starting and growing a business is daunting no matter who you are, women faced additional challenges this year – just as they have in years past.
Since COVID-19 has made existing inequalities even worse, it’s had a disproportionate impact on women – again, women of color in particular – due to labor market shifts and the unfair expectation that they bear the brunt of cleaning, childcare, and other forms of unpaid care-work. Moreover, women already struggle with everything from securing funding to being taken seriously. Nearly 63% dipped into their savings to finance their businesses, a recent Inc. survey reported, and many start businesses out of necessity. Almost half report a lack of advisors and personal mentors, per Inc., and juggle family responsibilities on top of running their businesses.
Despite these hurdles and setbacks, women are pushing forward and continuing to take risks in entrepreneurship. Black women-owned businesses grew by over 500% from 1997 to 2016, according to Inc. – and this growth is only expected to continue. Gusto and the National Association of Women Business Owners found that women of color have also driven the emergence of new businesses during the pandemic, creating their own opportunities amid financial hardship.
Women drive innovation, growth, and team performance
A Harvard Business Review article notes that if businesses want to tap into the $20 trillion market of female consumers, they need to get serious about leveraging female talent. Hiring women boosts the chances of success by 144% for companies focused on understanding female consumers. Companies that ensure women have equal opportunities to speak are far more likely to elicit breakthrough ideas and increase their market share. It’s clear that including women in business leadership isn’t just fair – it’s fundamental to innovation, growth, and overall success.
There’s a ton of scientific evidence that shows how gender and ethnic diversity improve performance. When you expand the backgrounds, experiences, and outlooks of the people on your team, you’re more likely to avoid echo chambers where inherent biases are normalized and groupthink sets in.
For example, research has found that diverse groups can solve problems better than homogenous ones. Additionally, a McKinsey report that covered 366 public companies in various countries and industries found that those with more ethnic and gender diversity performed significantly better than others.
Women managers also prioritize the well-being of their team members, which can help further maximize performance. According to a McKinsey and LeanIn.org study, they’re more likely than their male counterparts to provide emotional support to employees, help them navigate work/life challenges, and take steps to manage or prevent burnout.
Women’s contributions to all areas of society are undeniable – and warrant celebration today and every day. While there is no doubt that women will continue to face challenges in the world of business and beyond, we are committed to supporting them in creating companies that help them live life on their own terms.