I wanted to write about Spanx. To write about Spanx, I needed to familiarize myself with the product and its history. Let’s just say I went down an internet rabbit hole and now my readers get to be rewarded for their patience with a three-part article about underpants. And society.
It’s well documented that men make up the vast majority of small and large business owners. On the large end of the scale we have the Fortune 500 companies that are the industry leaders of the American economy. Out of those 500 top companies, only 12 of them are run by women.
While all of these companies are giant, money-hungry, commercially-manipulative stock-monsters, 12/500 is a pretty pitiful ratio. Just taking these statistics at face value, one might argue that we need more power-mad female puppeteers making the economy dance its merry jig. There are smaller businesses that have been started and owned by women. In fact, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), there are 8.6 million businesses owned by women here in the U.S., and those account for 30% of all private businesses. That’s a somewhat less depressing number than the 2.5% of woman owners you see in the Fortune 500. When you look at wealth creation, women-led businesses account for only 11% of total revenues in the U.S., and only 4.4% of all female-led businesses have yearly revenues of 1 million dollars or more.
There is a lot of discrimination out there against women trying to start their own companies. I went looking for straightforward articles about women in the U.S. and found a lot of misleading vagaries. However, there have been multiple studies done in the U.K. and elsewhere about removing barriers for female entrepreneurship (thanks, Poland!). Here are some of the impediments I discovered:
Absence of benchmarking possibilities — Essentially, what this means is that there is a lack of female entrepreneur role models for potential future entrepreneurs. So we can’t make new role models because we currently don’t have role models? FOREVER ALONE.
Lack of experience — While women are slowly becoming more educated on the whole compared to men, our education and experience does not lend itself to starting one’s own business. Unless it’s about makeup.
Lack of social capital and time — The social networking opportunities women have are different from those of men, i.e. primarily related to familial duties. This is associated with the “double burden syndrome”, requiring women to balance their professional responsibilities with their domestic responsibilities. Increasingly, successful business persons need to be ultra-flexible in regards to time and travel. Women often do not have the time or social resources, nor the social support to take the leap into Business Land.
Lack of financial capital — Money. Prospective business owners need it to pay for basic business-y stuff, like office space, component materials, staffing, technology, travel, marketing, and the like. Getting start-up money is a lot more difficult for women in less economically developed countries where women are more dependent on a man’s income.
What does Spanx have to do with all this? Spanx, for those of you unaware of the existence of the supportive undergarment industry, is a line of “shape wear”. What is shape wear? It is namely pantyhose, briefs, tights, and other foundational garments, meant to be worn under clothing. Think “ass-girdle”. The Spanx brand was created and is owned by one Sara Blakely, a female entrepreneur from Atlanta, Georgia. She overcame all of the barriers! She’s a role model! She also might be evil. Maybe.