Women entrepreneurs recognize unique challenges and strive for success
Many women are passionate about pursuing their dream of starting a business, and the results of a new AARP poll show the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t stopped them. However, some say they encountered obstacles because of their gender and didn’t know of any resources that could have helped them.
The AARP national survey, conducted in the summer of 2022, included a national sample of women over the age of 40 who had started businesses since January 2020. Businesses ranged from restaurants to healthcare businesses, with the most popular category being retail or e-commerce businesses.
Drivers and barriers to entrepreneurship
Results showed that “want” rather than “need” most often motivated women’s decision to become entrepreneurs. About a quarter (26%) of women said they always wanted to start a business, and 19% said they did so to follow their passion. another 15% wanted an additional income and 15% wanted flexible working options.
For many, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a motivating factor in starting their own business – 43% said it had a large impact and 24% said it had a small impact. Respondents who said the pandemic played a lesser role in the timing of their business start-ups were doing better financially.
Age, and perhaps the accumulated resources that came with it, was an advantage in running the business. Women entrepreneurs over the age of 60 were less likely to have faced financial challenges since starting their business, with a solid majority (62%) avoiding such challenges, compared with 29% of women entrepreneurs in their 40s.
Around two-thirds (69%) of the women surveyed invested their personal savings in their start-up, while a significantly lower percentage of women took out loans from national banks (2%) and regional or community banks (4%). 35% of respondents found it difficult to get credit and another 35% had trouble getting finance. In fact, the biggest challenges women faced when starting their business were finance, cash flow and attracting clients.
Women realized that gender differences in the marketplace are real. In terms of access to capital, the survey found that 70% believe women face unique challenges that differ from those faced by men.
Awareness and availability of resources
Only 42% of respondents said they were aware of organizations specifically funding businesses run by women – and of these, only 13% have applied for help. Most respondents said they missed the opportunity because they did not know enough or were unfamiliar with specific organizations that provide such help.
Similarly, women entrepreneurs were eager for help to grow their business, yet many said they struggled to find information on how to acquire customers (42%), marketing (39%) and financing (37%).
Despite these challenges, most women were optimistic about their entrepreneurial path. AARP found that the vast majority of women (98%) agreed they made the right decision in starting their business, and 39% said their business performed much better or slightly better than expected.
AARP research reflects the need for additional support and training for women entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. Respondents indicated they are looking for resources on marketing (24%), recruiting and hiring (11%) and funding (10%), and these are the areas where women were most likely to seek training.
The AARP survey included 608 women over the age of 40 who started a business with up to 100 employees between January 2020 and June 2022 and was conducted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Respondents were contacted by phone and online between June 6 and July 19, 2022.
Choi Allum, Lona. Women Entrepreneurs: Starting a Business During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Washington, DC: AARP Research, October 2022. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00520.001