Women Climb Business Ladder

Feb 062006
Authors: Vimal Patel

Female ownership of businesses increased by 20 percent in five years, twice the overall national rate, according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report.

The report reinforces the trend of an increasingly successful female population that has already surpassed men in higher education.

"It started with the women's rights movement in the 60s and 70s," said Lori Peek, an assistant professor of sociology who studies the role of gender in society, about the rise of women in business and higher education.

In 2002, the nearly 6.5 million women-owned businesses generated $940 billion, a 15 percent increase from 1997, the bureau reported.

Women-owned businesses were defined as private firms in which a woman held at least 51 percent ownership.

Chris Linder, director of the Office of Women's Programs and Studies, said she's pleased with the increasing success of women in business, but that plenty of work remains.

"When you have a significant increase in percentage, the number was small in the first place," she said. "I don't think we're at a 50/50 rate."

Women had majority ownership in nearly 30 percent of privately owned U.S. firms in 2004, compared with 52 percent for men, according to the Center for Women's Business Research. The rest were equally owned.

Women fared slightly better in Colorado.

About 32 percent of the state's businesses were majority female owned, compared with nearly 48 percent for men, according to the center. Nearly 20 percent were equally owned.

But higher education is a different story. Not only have women closed the historically male-dominated gap, they far exceeded it.

In 2000, about 56 percent of all undergraduates were female, compared with only 42 percent in 1970, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the data-analyzing branch of the U.S. Department of Education.

Linder said the increased number of women in business can't be separated from class issues.

"A lot of women don't have a choice about whether they work," she said. "If they don't, their family doesn't make ends meet."

Anita Marie Murano, the state coordinator of Colorado's National Organization for Women chapter, said that a wage gap still exists between men and women.

"Women make approximately 77 cents for every dollar a man makes," she said. "It does come down to education. It comes down to making sure that more women are in positions to make as much as men."

With the changing role of women in society, Peek said, American families are changing.

"Women simply cannot be working full time and do housework and live happy and fulfilled lives," she said.

Linder agrees.

"I don't think women choosing to go into the workforce is a detriment to families," she said. "We need to look at how we can make the work load distributed more equally among everyone in the family."

Vimal Patel can be reached at regional@collegian.com

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