The Glass Ceiling

One of the hidden benefits of the recession is that more and more people are starting their own businesses. People are taking this opportunity to pursue industries and ideas that have not previously fit in to the standard business models. Sustainable small businesses that separate recyclables and specialized health food stores are just two examples of the diverse new industries that are popping up everywhere.

From the beginning of time, women have worked at home, as well as outside of the home for the well being of family. Even in colonial America, women worked in the manufacture and sale of goods. In 17th and 18th century America, women worked at home with their husbands. Employment opportunities for women were scarce. When cities and towns emerged, women became shopkeepers, artisans, and merchants. Post-revolutionary America found women working at home again.

Society embraced the idea of the ideal woman and diminished the expectation for a woman’s contribution to family financial health. Instead, men assumed the burden of sole provider while women stayed at home more and more. But during World War II, women again entered the workforce in great numbers. In response to a need for new workers and new production, six million women went to work during the war.

Today, women enter business only to encounter the glass ceiling. Women only rise to a certain point. Thankfully, access to higher education and professional programs is changing that.

Women have taken their place in accounting, architecture, engineering, medicine, journalism and psychology professional. Still, they remain stymied by the glass ceiling. In medicine, for one, only about 10 percent of women faculty members are full professors while almost a third of their male colleagues are full professors.

The result: by establishing their own businesses, women entrepreneurs can avoid the discrimination that impairs their success in a male business world. Entrepreneurs create their own schedule, work from home, and even restrict the number of projects they take on at one time. These benefits are especially meaningful for working mothers, a particularly fast-growing sector of the entrepreneurs club.

It is big news then to learn that Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington will make her first Cleveland-area speaking engagement April 25 at the inaugural Female Entrepreneur Summit.

The conference, presented by Cleveland Business Connects magazine and Ursuline College, will feature eight prominent businesswomen. Marked by morning and afternoon sessions, the event is scheduled from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 700 Beta Banquet and Conference Center in Mayfield Village.

Huffington is an entrepreneur extraordinaire. In addition to being the president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group, is a nationally syndicated columnist and the author of 13 books. Time magazine named her one of its 100 most influential people in 2006 and 2011. She was declared by Financial Times to be one of the 50 people who shaped the last decade, and she is one of the most influential women in the media, according to Forbes.

Nearly 40% percent of all U.S. businesses are women-owned, and by 2025 the Census Bureau projects it will rise to 55%. The trend is new, dating back just to the 1980s, but its impact is already felt. Not only are women achieving empowerment and bettering their lives in many different ways, but the beneficial affect on the economic well-being of the entire country is also clear. Given 85% of young women want a job that can help them “achieve something significant”, we can hope the twice-as-many female founders of the future will not only grow women’s enterprise, but also social enterprise. The next decades could be the boom of the “for benefit” sector, building profitable businesses that solve problems from the Non-Profit World, with gender-balanced boards and staff.

The Female Entrepreneur Summit is designed to educate and connect mid-level female entrepreneurs as they strive to escalate their businesses through planning and strategic processes. Huffington is not the only prominent female entrepreneur in the summit lineup. The morning session will consist of presentations by:

* Lee Ann Howard, chief executive office, Howard and O┬╣Brien Associates
* Dawn Hanson, president, The Fairmount Group
* Heather R. Ettinger, managing partner, Fairport Asset Management
* Candace Klein, founder, Bad Girl Ventures

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