Behind the Boost in Bucks for Women Entrepreneurs

Thanks to one of my mentors, Morra Aarons-Mele, I’m playing against type today: What’s with all the money going to women entrepreneurs?

This question originated with me reading her Harvard Business Review column, “More Women Starting Businesses Isn’t Necessarily Good News,” a column published, ironically, within hours of the announcement that $800,000 of Cleveland Foundation grant money would go to projects that benefit…women entrepreneurs. From Crain’s Cleveland Business:

The foundation also provided $400,000 to the Economic and Community Development Institute, a microlender that the foundation recruited to Cleveland in 2012. The funding will support a center to help women-owned businesses. Since July 2012, the institute’s Cleveland office has provided $2.7 million in loans to 97 businesses.

JumpStart also received $400,000 to support local entrepreneurs and to launch a Community Development Financial Institute, which will “provide capital and services to existing tech and non-tech companies that are not able to access traditional funding,” according to the news release. The services will be targeted to reach women and minority populations.

The Plain Dealer eventually featured the ECDI effort, which will dedicate $100,000 to creating a “full-time women’s business center.”

Now, this is truly awesome, timely, needed and valuable. But what about Morra’s take, that it is the inability of the traditional workplace to meet the needs of women in business, that has powered the boom in female business owners, and it’s ultimately a canary in the corporate coalmines, signaling a lack of health there?

Look through the lens of stalled progress, and perhaps it’s not surprising that so many women choose to go freelance, consult, or start small businesses. The push factors of work-life conflict combined with pull factors of more autonomy and potential for real engagement and reward feel tough to beat. And yes, starting your own company is a great solution for many women, but it also creates a brain drain for many industries and increases economic insecurity for most women entrepreneurs. I bet many women would love to remain in companies, earning more money, working with more autonomy, and playing a leadership role.

Not so crazy, eh? What do you think?

PS And just so no one would worry that I’ve softened my critiques when looking at gender parity issues, the ECDI Cleveland Board is composed of seven people, two of whom I know, one of whom I know well and have worked with successfully. But? You know what’s coming – just one woman. So let’s not forget, Justice Ginsburg still rules (from The Daily Beast):