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Solopreneurship, gig economy perfect storm for women EDITORIAL

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Hello and welcome! As a new contributor to NJBIZ I am proud, excited and daunted to find myself in the position of bringing NJBIZ readers my personal insights, interesting anecdotes and fresh perspectives on women in business with a unique focus on New Jersey.

My only goal is for you to gain value from what I write here. To ensure that I share information that is relevant and meaningful, I invite you to email me or call me with your own ideas and suggestions for future columns.

Now for my “debut.” I’d like to take on the role of devil’s advocate this month, looking at the plight of women in business through a different lens, predicting perhaps a different outcome than the current situation indicates.

For so many years I have measured the progress of women in the workplace versus their male colleagues by reviewing critical statistics that include parity in salaries, number of C-suite decision makers and presence as leaders in a range of industries. But quite frankly, the numbers have for the most part painted a bleak picture. 

The data speaks for itself. For example, according to Fortune magazine, “As of January 2018, there are 27 female CEOs on the list [of Fortune 500 companies] but by April 2018, that number will drop down to 24, as HPE’s Meg Whitman, Avon’s Sheri McCoy and Staples’ Shira Goodman have all announced that they are stepping down from their roles this quarter.”

And in a 2015 World Economic Forum report, it was predicted that “economic and social equality of the sexes on a global scale would not arrive for another 177 years.” This claim was reinforced a year later when the Institute for Women’s Policy posed that, “American men would significantly outearn American women until 2058.”

These numbers are discouraging to say the least. But I would like to take a somewhat different approach, looking at different data and considering trends that could turn the workplace as we know it upside down.

First of all, more women are starting businesses than men. As Fast Company notes, “From 1997 to 2013 the number of women-owned businesses rose 1.5 times the national average for all businesses.”

Women are starting companies but nonetheless the numbers show us they are not making substantial progress getting to the highest levels of authority and power in the corporate world. Why is that?

First of all, as Entrepreneur.com indicates, “Women-owned businesses receive just 7 percent of venture capital investment money, which is highly disproportionate to their role in the economy. Additionally, loan approval rates for female entrepreneurs is 15 to 20 percent less than it is for men.”

Secondly, women in business often have a long list of outside (often family-driven) obligations to juggle, making it difficult to address the demands inherent in a traditional corporate leader’s role.   

So instead of focusing on the lack of progress for women striving for a CEO seat in Fortune 500 companies, I'd like to look at the quick rise of women's solopreneurship.

But we know that the number of women business owners is accelerating. So where are they? I would suggest that many are entering the business community today as solopreneurs and as such, may be flying under the corporate radar screen.

So instead of focusing on the lack of progress for women striving for a CEO seat in Fortune 500 companies, I’d like to look at the quick rise of women’s solopreneurship, combined with the powerful trend to a new gig economy, both of which I think could create a perfect storm for women in business. 

In his article “What is a solopreneur?” freefrombroke.com blogger Glen Craig writes, “A solopreneur is an entrepreneur who works solo. … Now just because the word solo is in there doesn’t mean to think small — always think big. Thanks to the online marketplace there has been an explosion of solopreneurs.  Operating a business from the privacy and comfort of home appeals to thousands of people and the Internet helps to facilitate this goal. Depending on the type of business, not only is this simple to do but very little capital is required to get things off the ground.”

Let’s just think about that for a minute and mull over the change that solopreneurship could precipitate.  As the corporate world shifts, more disruption will occur and companies like Uber will have to adapt to an economic platform where full-time employees make room for, or are even overwhelmed by, independent contractors (aka solopreneurs).

Did you know that in November 2017, Uber reported it had 7 million drivers working for them? These independent-minded workers are reshaping the business community with their growing demands for flexibility and independence and willingness to forgo status as a company employee.

What does that sound like to you? To me, that seems like a workplace where women leaders can thrive.

The influence of the gig economy and the growing millennial presence in the workplace are bringing the winds of change that could result in that perfect storm I mentioned. As millennials continue to be the largest segment in the business world, their demands for a flatter environment, more teamwork, and collaboration and mobility (enabled through technology) will bring together the power of gender and generational change, ultimately forcing the corporate world to embrace innovative attitudes and game-changing processes. This evolution will only further serve to emphasize the valuable role that everyone can play today and, as importantly, in the future.

Fasten your seat belts!

Sally Glick is principal of the firm and chief growth strategist at Sobel & Co. LLC and is president of the Association for Corporate Growth in New Jersey.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@njbiz.com

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