Women Entrepreneurs in a Fresh Light

A new study paints a surprising picture of female business owners -- one that's not all that much different from their male counterparts

Men start businesses and women inherit them. Right?

Not so fast, says a new study of women-owned businesses conducted by Nan S. Langowitz, faculty director of the Center for Women's Leadership at Babson College in Wellesley. After surveying more than 200 women-led Massachusetts outfits, her team's findings challenge any number of hoary old nostrums.

Start with the widespread notion that most women go into business on their own after bumping into the "glass ceiling" that supposedly stymies their progress to the upper rungs of Corporate America. Not so, says Langowitz, whose report notes: "From [the] data, we learned that personal achievement and autonomy...were the chief motivating factors."

As for the belief that the woman in the CEO suite is likely to have inherited the family business, the statistics say otherwise. "Women chief executives tend to found, rather than acquire, their businesses," says the report. "Ownership is predominately a result of entrepreneurship by women chief executives, dispelling the myth that women business owners are 'wives and daughters.'"


  While Langowitz's findings are based only on Massachusetts businesses -- most based in and around Boston -- there is no reason to suspect that her findings do not reflect some broader truths about female entrepreneurs across the country.

There are, for example, no limits on female entrepreneurs interests and aspirations, even when they lead women into fields traditionally dominated by men. "Women executives run New Economy companies such as high-tech firms," says the report, "[and] women run heavy-industry companies in areas such as construction."

As for what the future may hold, the female respondents' might just as easily have been answering for their male counterparts when they listed "high financial performance" and "responding to evolving customer needs" as the two most important goals. Some things, it seems, never change.

By Roger Franklin in New York

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