Supporting Survivors in Business and Entrepreneurship

Supporting Survivors in Business and Entrepreneurship

By Sarah Gonzalez Bocinski and Alona Del Rosario

Women-Owned Businesses in the United States

In United States in 2012, 35.8 percent of businesses were women-owned compared with 53.7 percent that were men-owned, the remaining 10.5 percent or jointly or publicly owned. While the proportion of businesses owned by women has steadily increased, the proportion of women-owned businesses has remained stagnant at four percent. Approximately 90 percent (89.5 percent) of women-owned businesses are sole proprietorships, with women of color having even higher rates of ownership of non-employer firms.

Economic Empowerment Spotlight

A 2016 American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor survey found women-owned firms that generate an income reported average annual earnings of $63,590. While only a fraction of women business owners report earnings, those earnings exceed the 2015 median annual income for full-time working women of $39,900. Further, women who are established business owners report higher levels of well-being than women who are not entrepreneurs.

Many women-owned businesses are concentrated in industries that tend to employ more women than men. For example, 61 percent of health care and education firms are women-owned, but women own only 35 percent of businesses in professional, scientific, and technical services; 32 percent in finance, insurance, and real estate; 25 percent in manufacturing; and 14 percent in transportation and warehousing, all traditionally male-dominated industries.

Women’s entrepreneurship also varies greatly from state to state. The District of Columbia, Maryland, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Georgia have the highest shares of women-owned businesses, while South Dakota, Idaho, Arkansas, Montana, and North Dakota have the lowest. For more information on women’s business ownership in your state go to IWPR’s Status of Women in the States website.

Obstacles for Women Entrepreneurs

Women entrepreneurs may encounter significant obstacles to developing successful businesses. Research indicates that women have less access than men to business counseling and training, fewer opportunities to build networks and work with mentors, and less access to capital. Historically marginalized and underserved populations face the additional challenges of racial discrimination and stereotyping in the labor market.

Women’s entrepreneurship has grown in recent years. From 1987 to 2013, women-led small businesses grew from 4.1 to 8.6 million in the United States according to a 2014 Majority Report of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. While women-owned businesses have been growing quickly, women of color, Black and Latina women in particular, represent the fastest growing segments of the small business community. Since 1997, the number and share of firms owned by women of color has nearly doubled, from 17 percent of women-owned firms in 1997 to 32 percent in 2014, with African American women-owned businesses having increased by an estimated 296 percent.

Supporting Entrepreneurial Survivors

Like many women entrepreneurs, survivors of sexual and domestic violence often face many misconceptions about their strength, ability, and resilience. When it comes to the day-to-day reality of living with and/or managing a relationship with an abusive partner, however, many advocates suggest that survivors employ the same skills exhibited by the most successful CEOs–calculated risk taking, thoughtful action, tough-mindedness, the ability to read people, problem solving, and determination.

Survivors may face additional obstacles to starting a business as a result of years of economic abuse. Abusive tactics that damage credit, deplete resources, and prevent completing education and training put survivors at a disadvantage by limiting their personal and social capital. These challenges can be exacerbated by additional obstacles, such as the immediate and long-term effects of trauma, legal issues, and ongoing threats of violence.

Growing interest in entrepreneurship as a pathway to economic security and independence has led some domestic violence programs to develop trauma-informed business development programs that provide an array of supports such as small grants or loans, training and education, business planning, networking and mentorship, while providing supportive counseling and advocacy. Alternatively, some programs may build partnerships with business development agencies can help provide survivors with guidance and support. Whatever the approach, being mindful of survivors’ safety needs, addressing impacts of abuse and trauma, and taking steps to mitigate the risks, must be priorities.

This project was supported by Grant No. 2014-TA-AX-K433 awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women.

Equal Pay Day: What You Need to Know about the Gender Wage Gap in 2017

Equal Pay Day: What You Need to Know about the Gender Wage Gap in 2017

Equal Pay Day 2017 is Tuesday, April 4, marking how far into the year that women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. Women make up almost half of the workforce, are the sole or co-breadwinner in half of American families with children, and are graduating from college at higher rates than men. Yet, on average, women continue to earn considerably less than men. In 2015, women working full-time, year-round made only 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 20 percent.


Women, on average, earn less than men in nearly every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data for both men and women to calculate an earnings ratio. In middle-skill occupations, workers in jobs mainly done by women earn only 66 percent of workers in jobs mainly done by men. Outright discrimination in pay, hiring, or promotions continues to be a significant feature for women in the workplace.

According to IWPR’s research, if change continues at the same slow pace as it has for the past fifty years, it will take 42 years—or until 2059—for women to finally reach pay parity. For women of color, the rate of change is even slower:

  • Hispanic women will have to wait until 2248
  • Black women will wait until 2124for equal pay

wage gap projection by race

IWPR’s Status of Women in the States project tracks the gender wage gap across states, by race/ethnicity and by age. In 13 states, progress on closing the gender wage gap is so slow that a woman born in 2017 will not see equal pay during her working life. If current trends continue, women living in North Dakota, Utah, Louisiana, and Wyoming will not see equal pay until the next century.

Reasons for the gender wage gap are multi-faceted. IWPR’s research shows that, jobs predominantly done by women pay less on average than jobs predominantly done by men, even despite similar skill requirements. Millions of women work in jobs that are seen as “women’s work” and are in fact done disproportionately by women, such as teaching young children, cleaning, serving and caring for elders — essential jobs that, despite requiring physical skill, emotional labor and often, postsecondary education, offer workers low wages and scant benefits.

Women have made tremendous strides during the last few decades by moving into jobs and occupations previously done almost exclusively by men, yet during the last two decades there has been very little further progress in the gender integration of work. In some industries and occupations, like construction, there has been no progress in forty years. This persistent occupational segregation is a primary contributor to the lack of significant progress in closing the wage gap.

Persistent pay inequality can have far-reaching economic consequences. According to an analysis of federal data, equal pay would cut poverty among working women and their families by more than half.

Have you ever found yourself discussing equal pay with a wage gap skeptic? Find more research-backed, fact-based information from IWPR:

  • The 80% wage gap statistic is not misleading. Indeed, it is actually a moderate estimate of gender pay inequality. Read and share IWPR’s fact sheet, “Five Ways to Win an Argument about the Gender Wage Gap.”
  • Women tend to work in female-dominated fields, while men tend to work in higher paying male-dominated fields. Why do we value jobs traditionally done by women so much less than those traditionally done by men when they often require comparable skill and effort? Read the Q&A with IWPR Program Director on Employment & Earnings Ariane Hegewisch.
  • Why should we take the gender wage gap seriously? If women were simply paid the same as men who are the same age, had the same level of education, worked the same number of hours, and had the same urban or rural status, poverty among working women would fall by more than half, according to a new analysis IWPR prepared for the Lean In Foundation’s 20 Percent Counts campaign. Learn more at

To view more of IWPR’s research, visit