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What Do Women Want?

By Karen E. Klein The country's female entrepreneurs are both more optimistic and more likely to be happy in their jobs than executive counterparts who work for someone else, according to a poll by the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE).

The survey of 400-plus participants at the group's annual conference last month showed 64% of women business owners remain more optimistic about the country's future and dismiss the effects of the economic downturn on their companies, vs. 39% of women in top executive jobs. Only 1% of the 400-plus poll participants reported losing a job as a result of economic downturn. The poll also showed that 69% of female entrepreneurs "absolutely love" what they are doing, and 34% of the female executives in corporate and government jobs would like to follow suit and start their own businesses someday.

If economic troubles are not worrying women business owners, it's not because of their confidence in the nation's leaders, the survey found. More than half the women polled -- 52% -- said the Bush Administration is not sensitive to small business and women's business issues. Only 1% who participated in the NAFE's annual conference, held in Redondo Beach, Calif., believe the current White House is particularly sensitive to women-owned businesses.

POSITIVE VIBES. NAFE was founded in 1972 and provides resources and services to the nation's 60 million working women through its online and offline publications, including Executive Female. It is the largest business women's association in the U.S. The NAFE counts 125,000 women entrepreneurs and female managers/professionals in its membership. About 24% -- 30,000 -- of the total membership are business owners. Of those who filled out the poll at the conference, about 44% were business owners.

Matching their enthusiasm about the country's economic future, 43% of the women said they felt very positive about their company's potential to "succeed wildly" over the next three to five years. Another 35% of the women, whose ages generally fell between 35 and 54, said their businesses were on track for "slow and steady" growth. Almost half -- 48% -- believe that risk-taking and thinking outside the box have been the most important contributions to their career growth in the past, and 37% look to networking and organizational membership as priorities for moving forward.

Interestingly, only 5% gave credit to women-friendly companies for helping boost their careers. "Our members tend to feel responsible for their own achievements, whether those accomplishments are in a business they own or a larger entity they work for," said NAFE President Gretchen Tibbits. "These are women who have reached success despite obstacles."

FLEX STIGMA? Some additional findings: 83% of survey respondents believe that women executives still face a "glass ceiling," and 41% say women continue to confront traditional barriers along the corporate ladder. Men are still paid more than women doing the same job, 89% believe, while only 2% say that women have achieved equality in the workplace.

Entrepreneurs ranked finding the right career and learning new technology as the biggest challenges they face, behind achieving work/life balance, which was the top challenge for 33% of poll respondents. Although 37% of the women reported having access to such family-balancing aides as telecommuting and flextime, 47% said their companies do not make such initiatives available, and 5% said they were available, but they believed employees could not take advantage of them without being stigmatized.

While Tibbits says she was disappointed, but not surprised, to see that female executives were pessimistic about government, she was pleased that members are pretty optimistic about their own success: 43% of the total surveyed said they felt their business would "wildly succeed" in the future, but more than half -- 55% -- of the entrepreneurs put themselves in the "wildly successful" category for the future, 44% of the corporate employees and 13% of the government/nonprofit employees. Have a question about running your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 6th Floor, 2 Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10121. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally.

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