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Marketplace Morning Report

Are women business owners too optimistic about equal pay?

Jana Kasperkevic Aug 31, 2017
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A protester at the "A Day Without A Woman" demonstration on March 8, 2017 in Miami, Florida.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The year 2037 should be a good one for women. There will be more women bosses than men. Women will be earning more money than men. Women will own more small businesses than men. Cracks in the glass ceiling will become chasms … at least according to the women small business owners surveyed by Bank of America.

The survey of 1,020 small business owners, of which 375 were women, found that while women business owners were more optimistic about the local, state and federal economy than last year, they were still more skeptical than the men who were surveyed. They were, however, more optimistic about women’s roles in the workplace over the next 20 years.

For example, the survey found that:

  • Four in five women believed women would match or surpass the number of men in STEM — science, tech, engineering and math.
  • Two thirds of women believed that there would be an equal or larger number of women in C-suites roles than men.
  • Two thirds of women believed that the number of women-owned businesses would outnumber men-owned small businesses.
  • And 61 percent of women believed that women will earn equal or higher wages than men.

Earlier this year, the Economic Policy Institute released a report that found that Asian women get paid 88 cents and white non-Hispanic women earn 81 cents for every dollar that non-Hispanic white men get paid. Meanwhile, black women get paid 65 cents and Hispanic women get paid 59 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. The report was released in time for this year’s International Women’s Day when women across the U.S. gathered to call for equal pay. 

“We heard that women believe over the next 20 years that pay equality will come together so that women and men would be making equal pay over the next 20 years,” said Sharon Miller, head of small business at Bank of America, during a panel held to reveal the survey on Tuesday. “More interesting — and I have a daughter so I really like this — over the next 20 years we will see more women going into the STEM professions.”

Not everyone was as optimistic about women’s futures at work. Many women leave their workplace because they face many challenges as they attempt to climb to the top and end up being stuck in the middle, according to Marci Weisler, founder of Smart Women, Smart Ideas Media. Such challenges include women not being promoted because they may have a family or may want to start one, which some believe might prevent them from working the required hours. Lower pay is a byproduct of this lack of progress.

However, Weisler hopes that the survey is right and in 20 years women  will outnumber men when it comes to leadership roles.

“I think that particularly since women hold so much of the purse strings and they make the buying decisions across a variety of categories, having women in senior positions influencing how a company does business, how a company markets, what products they develop is really critical. I wish I was as optimistic as the survey results,” she said.

Weisler pointed out a recent case where a company tried and failed to get a woman into a leadership role: Uber.

“There was a concerted effort to find a woman to lead,” she said. Yet after an extensive public search for a woman CEO, Uber ultimately narrowed their search to three male candidates before selecting one of the three to lead the company.

CEO searches are not the only place women find themselves at a disadvantage. The panel went on to point out that women who lead start ups still struggle to get the same type of funding and support as male founders. Women should be realistic about what it takes to succeed, according to Susan Solovic, moderator of the panel and a small business expert.

“I speak at a lot of events and I hear some of my competitors on stage and they say: ‘You know, if you are passionate about what you do, you can’t help but be successful.’ And I think: ‘Yes, and I’ve got a bunch of bunk I am going to sell you, too.’ Yea, you gotta be passionate and you gotta love it, but it’s a lot of fundamental hard work and you need great partners to help you succeed,” said Solovic.

After the panel ended, Weisler told Marketplace that it was great to see that women business owners feel so empowered and are so dedicated to changing the ratio.

“The conversation is changing,” she said. “Three years ago, we didn’t talk about this so much.”

Around the time that Bank of America was releasing the optimistic survey results, the White House announced that it was placing a stay on a rule passed during President Barack Obama’s term requiring businesses to collect data on how much they pay workers based on race, gender and ethnicity, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“Ultimately, while I believe the intention was good and agree that pay transparency is important, the proposed policy would not yield the intended results,” said Ivanka Trump, president Trump’s daughter and unpaid assistant. “We look forward to continuing to work with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Office of Management and Budget, Congress and all relevant stakeholders on robust policies aimed at eliminating the gender wage gap.”

Advocates for women’s rights and equal pay decried the White House’s decision as an attack on women in the workplace.

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