Acknowledging Unique Challenges, Women Entrepreneurs Pursue Success
Many women are passionate about realizing their dream of starting a business, and results of a new AARP survey show the COVID-19 pandemic did not stop them. Still, some say they’ve faced obstacles based on their gender and were unaware of resources that could have helped.
The AARP national survey conducted in the summer of 2022 included a national sample of women ages 40-plus who had launched businesses since January 2020. The enterprises ran the gamut from restaurants to health care companies, with the most popular category including retail shopping or ecommerce businesses.
Entrepreneurship Drivers and Barriers
The results revealed that “want” rather than “need” most often motivated women’s decisions to become entrepreneurs. About one quarter (26%) of women said they always wanted to start a business, and 19% said they did it to follow their passion; another 15% were pursuing additional income, and 15% wanted flexible work options.
For many, the COVID-19 pandemic was a motivating factor for establishing their own business — 43% said it had a major impact and 24% reported it was a minor influence. Respondents who said the pandemic played less of a role in the timing of their business launch were doing better financially.
Age, and perhaps the amassed resources that came with it, has been an advantage in business ownership. Women entrepreneurs age 60-plus were less likely to have faced financial challenges since starting their business, with a solid majority (62%) avoiding such challenges, compared to 29% of women entrepreneurs in their 40s.
About two-thirds (69%) of women surveyed poured their personal savings into their start-up, while significantly small percentages of women took out loans at national banks (2%) and regional or community banks (4%). Getting credit was hard for 35% of the respondents and another 35% had trouble securing funding. In fact, the top challenges women faced in establishing their businesses were finances, cashflow, and attracting customers.
Women recognized that gender disparities in the marketplace are real. Regarding access to capital, the survey showed 70% believed women face unique challenges that are different from men.
Awareness and Availability of Resources
Just 42% of respondents said they were aware that organizations specifically fund women-owned business — and of those, only 13% have applied for help. Most respondents said they passed up the opportunity because they didn’t know enough or were unfamiliar with specific organizations that offer such assistance.
Similarly, women entrepreneurs were eager for help to buoy their businesses, yet many reported having difficulty finding information on how to get customers (42%), marketing (39%), and financing (37%).
Despite these challenges, most women were optimistic about their entrepreneurial path. AARP discovered the vast majority of women (98%) agreed that they made the right decision in starting their business and 39% said that their business was doing much better or slightly better than expected.
AARP research reflects a need for additional support and training for women entrepreneurs to grow their business. Respondents said they were looking for resources on marketing (24%), recruiting and hiring staff (11%), and financing (10%), and these areas were where women were most likely to have sought out training.
The AARP survey included 608 women ages 40-plus who started a business with up to 100 employees between January 2020 and June 2022 and was fielded in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Respondents were contacted by phone and online from June 6–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
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