Opt-Out Continued

Remember Lisa Belkin of "Opt-Out Revolution" fame? Well now Ms. Belkin has published another piece on "stalling" career women. This time the focus is on small business owners.  According to the Center for Women's Business Research, of the 10.4 million business owned by women, only 3% have an annual revenue exceeding $1 million. Belkin's article profiles a number of microenterprise groups trying to increase that number.

To be fair, Belkin does include the view of Marsha Firestone, founder of the Women Presidents' Organization, who finds the term and idea of "stalled" career women is "a little insulting."

I think this article avoids a number of the criticisms associated with Belkin's "Opt-Out Revolution." For instance, if there is a problem with the pace of women-owned business growth, it is not limited to the super wealthy or highly educated. On the other hand, the basic implication of the piece is that same: women's unequal station in their chosen profeesion is a product of their work-life balance choices. Women want to "maintain" their business, not "grow" it, because they want to preserve robust personal lives. Belkin ends the piece with a profile of a small business owner who works 8 to 5 and plans to retire as soon as she can.

At one point, one of Belkin's sources, Nell Merlino, says that the reason most women start a small business is "to regain control of their lives." There's no discussion of exactly what control they lack, but for me this phrase evokes an image of a newly single mom. Maybe that's off the mark, but if that's the situation to which Belkin and Merino are referring then I think the rest of the analysis is bunk.

If "most" of these small business-owning women are raising and supporting a family by themselves, then the accurate comparison is not to the average male business owner, but to the average single dad who is both raising his children and running a small business. The article sets out with the assumption that lack of growth amongst women-owned small businesses is a problem that needs fixing, and then goes on to profile the current solution: an infusion of capital and "intense business coaching."

Why does the analysis never consider that these women's choices are not the problem because they are in a situation which makes their choices more limited? Choosing between family and career is not a legitimate choice.  And it's not a choice that the men to whom these women are being compared have to face.  What about some "intense life coaching" for all those men out there who are willing to sacrifice time with their families to grow the business? Or what about an organization that provides transportation to after-school activities and nutritious meals for the children of single, working women? To me this article is in keeping with the general failure to address the life side of the work-life balance when attacking the problem of professional gender inequity.

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