There are approximately 12 million women-owned businesses in the United States right now – 114% more than 20 years ago! In fact, nearly 900 American women start a new business every day. Post-pandemic, those numbers are only expected to grow, especially considering how disproportionately women were expected to carry the burdens of caring for and educating children while meeting the demands of inflexible employers.
We’ve come a long way from not being able to vote, own property, or even open a checking account without a husband’s permission (this didn’t change until the 1970s!)…but we’ve still got so far to go.
So very far.
Yes, there are men/husbands/fathers who are excellent allies – and they’re working to make the world a better place for our daughters.
But since we, as women, are the only ones who can truly understand what we face on a daily basis, we can really only trust and count on ourselves. After all, we’re experts at anticipating needs and making sure everything gets done.
Here at A Case for Women, our founder and president Susan Knape has built a decades-long career, winning awards and changing the lives of thousands of women along the way. But it wasn’t an easy path. In the 1980s when flexible childcare and working from home were non-existent, she built a makeshift nursery for her daughter in the marketing agency she owned (pictured below).
You built a successful career and raised a healthy family simultaneously (so ahead of your time, bringing your daughter to the office in the 80s and making it work!) – what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were just getting started? How did this influence the way you raised your daughters and encouraged them in their own career choices?
Knape: Doing all of this before flexible schedules and working from home were possibilities was intensely difficult. I was always the last one to pick up my daughters from school and we were late to every function despite my best efforts! But they saw what a career looked like in the most intimate way and that has given them both a head start in their own careers. Happily, they are both now working for A Case for Women and doing amazing things.
Mentorship is a key element to professional success. Did you have any mentors that impacted your career in a memorable way? How do you practice mentorship now?
Knape: Honestly I did not have one mentor. There weren’t any women around. I was close to 60 before I was able to stop trying to work like a man.
Now I mentor several women who work for ACFW. It’s a whole different world.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing women in the workplace in 2021-22? How can we, as women, band together to overcome it?
Knape: Hire women, pay them fairly and be honest with them about performance issues. Women have this thing about not hurting each other’s feelings but ultimately it hurts us all if we are not honest. I have to remind myself of this all the time.
5 Ways to Support Women in Business This Year
This year as we observe American Business Women’s Day, let’s look at five easy ways to support women in business – making sure they don’t have to shut their doors or leave their jobs due to lack of resources, lack of support, or sexual misconduct in the workplace.
Buy their art, eat at their restaurants, and hire them when you need a contractor, lawyer, or accountant. Take a few extra minutes to ask for referrals from friends or do a bit of research to find a female-owned coffee shop, shoe store, or gift boutique you can support when shopping locally. If you’re buying these things anyway, put your dollars where they will do your sisters some good!
Mentorship is a critical piece of the puzzle when it comes to professional success. We didn’t break down doors and shatter glass ceilings just for ourselves – so don’t forget to hold the door open for other women on the proverbial elevator. Share what you’ve learned. Share how you’ve failed. Give them a hand up the corporate ladder.
This is a blend of the first two points. There are countless associations, cohorts, collectives, and organizations for women by women (both online and in-person). The connections you build there will benefit you and your fellow members both personally and professionally.
From educational institutions to the office, sexism and harassment are rampant. Fight to make sure your employer’s family leave and sexual harassment policies are clear and comprehensive. Don’t brush off your co-workers’ sexist behaviors just because “it’s always been that way” or because you had to endure it and now you’re “fine”. If a woman you work with has the courage to come to you for help or advice after an incident, don’t minimize it. Stick with them every step of the way until it’s resolved.
Talk to your daughters about their future professional success like it’s already a done deal. Keep tabs on their friends’ aspirations and offer to help in any way you can – from rides to ballet class to references for college applications. Encourage your work BFF to swing for that big promotion. Mention the names of your female co-workers when opportunities arise. We all need someone in our corner cheering us on from time to time – root for the women in your life, and they’ll root for you.