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Opinion Editorials

How banks systematically undercut women entrepreneurs

Women entrepreneurs are being poorly assessed by traditional banking, yet new research points out where banks’ assumptions are dead wrong.

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women in IT

Are banks sticking to bad habits?

Money doesn’t care who spends it — but, apparently, many banks do. In 2014, banks awarded only 4.0 percent of commercial loans to women entrepreneurs.

The previous year, financial institutions gave the green light to less than one-third of loan applications from women-owned businesses. That’s 15 to 20 percent lower than for male applicants.

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What gives? Banks are concerned that women-led companies typically have lower annual earnings, higher operating expenses, and lower credit scores. While that’s often true, it’s not because women are inferior managers. There’s no sex-related chromosome that gives males a more savvy business sense. The truth is that women are more likely to head up retail enterprises, which are simply more expensive to run.

Banks also believe that women are less likely to take business risks, so their growth potential is limited. But a two-year 2016 Canadian research study headed by Carleton University reports that women business owners aren’t afraid to speculate in order to help their businesses grow.

Banks have some erroneous ideas about female entrepreneurs. If banks examine their preconceptions, maybe they’ll make some changes. Not just for the sake of women, but for the benefit of the whole economy.

The uphill battle

Many banks have deep-rooted assumptions about what constitutes a “good risk.” Unfortunately, because of the nature of many womens’ businesses, they don’t traditionally fit into that category:

  • Collateral: Banks are big on collateral. You need some form of security to back up that loan. The trouble is, small businesses often don’t have much in the way of collateral, and women run about 30 percent of small and mid-sized companies. Many of these are e-commerce operations, so they don’t have real estate investments to put on the line. However, certain lending institutions let small business owners use personal property for collateral.
  • Comparatively low earnings: Over 65 percent of female-led businesses bring in less than $25,000 annually. Banks are concerned that companies with such modest revenues will be unable to pay back their loans. But there’s a reason why the word “small” is in the phrase “small business loan.” Income is somewhat limited, but the requested loan is generally proportional.
  • Unfinished homework: Some lenders are under the impression that women aren’t fully prepared for loan meetings. Paperwork is missing — so is confidence — and their monetary needs are not well reasoned. Certainly, some women fall into this category, but so do some men. Banks shouldn’t get caught generalizing again. Lack of readiness isn’t a gender-linked trait.

The Battleground

In order to build good relationships with women entrepreneurs, banks must recognize what these business owners bring to the table. These features are not insignificant:

  • Women typically have a different approach to risk-taking. When assessing opportunities and dangers, many components influence women, including economic factors, social success, external support, self-confidence and professional networks. Women consider multiple factors when making decisions about advancing their businesses. Growth is generally a long-term project, not a short-term goal.
  • Women are open to taking business risks. However, many banks have the opposite perception, and this impacts their lending process. But simply starting a business is a gamble. Between 1997 and 2015, the number of American female-owned businesses increased almost 75 percent. They popped up faster than new businesses operated by men. Who’s the risk-taker now?
  • Women are innovators. The Carleton study determined that between 2008 and 2011, female- and male-led businesses introduced innovations at about the same rate. These included new products, processes, marketing strategies and organization. The result of this cutting-edge work? Many women-run businesses noted that these changes increased their market shares significantly.

The road to victory

Currently, a lot of women forego attempts at traditional loans. Though sometimes they avoid banks because of prior negative ­— even humiliating — experiences, many women are unaware of potential funding opportunities that are available at lending institutions.

Women often start their businesses with personal funds or loans from family members and friends. Women want to retain control of their operations, so they often avoid investors and venture capitalists. However, hands-on, involved partners bring both expertise and money to the business.

Once banks understand that women are capable — yet sometimes different — business owners, the two groups might improve and expand their relationship. The loan process should be more accessible for small business owners who may have limited commercial experience. The end goal is an alliance where the bank is not simply a moneylender but an entity that works to help the business succeed.

Most women are committed to their businesses for the long haul and seek sustained growth rather than quick profits.

Women’s businesses bring in more than $1 trillion each year. When compared to all businesses, they’re expanding one and a half times faster. With that track record, banks, as well as venture capital funds, angel investors and small lending institutions, should rethink their positions. Imagine it: a future where funding women entrepreneurs is the norm rather than the exception.

#Funding

Kayla Matthews is a writer who is dedicated to the overlap between technology and productivity. When she isn't writing at The American Genius, she can be found on MakeUseOf and The Huffington Post.

Opinion Editorials

Shady salary transparency is running rampant: What to look out for

(EDITORIAL) Employees currently have the upper hand in the market. Employers, you must be upfront about salary and approach it correctly.

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Man holding money in the dark representing false salary transparency.

It’s the wild wild west out there when it comes to job applications. Job descriptions often misrepresent remote work opportunities. Applicants have a difficult time telling job scams from real jobs. Job applicants get ghosted by employers, even after a long application process. Following the Great Resignation, many employers are scrambling for workers. Employees have the upper hand in the hiring process, and they’re no longer settling for interviews with employers that aren’t transparent, especially about salary.

Don’t be this employer

User ninetytwoturtles shared a post on Reddit in r/recruitinghell in which the employer listed the salary as $0 to $1,000,000 per year. Go through many listings on most job boards and you’ll find the same kind of tactics – no salary listed or too large of a wide range. In some places, it’s required to post salary information. In 2021, the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act went into effect in Colorado. Colorado employers must list salary and benefits to give new hires more information about fair pay. Listing a broad salary range skirts the issue. It’s unfair to applicants, and in today’s climate, employers are going to get called out on it. Your brand will take a hit.

Don’t obfuscate wage information

Every employer likes to think that their employees work because they enjoy the job, but let’s face it, money is the biggest motivator. During the interview process, many a job has been lost over salary negotiations. Bringing up wages too early in the application process can be bad for a job applicant. On the other hand, avoiding the question can lead to disappointment when a job is offered, not to mention wasted time. In the past, employers held all the cards. Currently, it’s a worker’s market. If you want productive, quality workers, your business needs to be honest and transparent about wages.

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Opinion Editorials

3 reasons to motivate yourself to declutter your workspace (and mind)

(EDITORIAL) Making time to declutter saves time and money – all while reducing stress. Need a little boost to start? We all need motivation sometimes.

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Clean work desk representing the need to declutter.

It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few years. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob, an un-alphabetized bookshelf, or that we’ve put off ‘declutter’ on our to-do list for too long.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, taking time to declutter can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those 3 things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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Opinion Editorials

How to identify and minimize ‘invisible’ work in your organization

(EDITORIAL) Often meaningless, invisible tasks get passed down to interns and women. These go without appreciation or promotion. How can we change that?

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Women in a meeting around table, inclusion as a part of stopping gender discrimination representing invisible work.

Invisible work, non-promotable tasks, and “volunteer opportunities” (more often volun-told), are an unfortunate reality in the workforce. There are three things every employer should do in relation to these tasks: minimize them, acknowledge them, and distribute them equitably.

Unfortunately, the reality is pretty far from this ideal. Some estimates state up to 75% or more of these time-sucking, minimally career beneficial activities are typically foisted on women in the workplace and are a leading driver behind burnout in female employees. The sinister thing about this is most people are completely blind to these factors; it’s referred to as invisible work for a reason.

Research from Harvard Business Review* found that 44% more requests are presented to women as compared to men for “non-promotable” or volunteer tasks at work. Non-promotable tasks are activities such as planning holiday events, coordinating workplace social activities, and other ‘office housework’ style activities that benefit the office but typically don’t provide career returns on the time invested. The work of the ‘office mom’ often goes unacknowledged or, if she’s lucky, maybe garners some brief lip service. Don’t be that boss that gives someone a 50hr workload task for a 2-second dose of “oh yeah thanks for doing a bajillion hours of work on this thing I will never acknowledge again and won’t help your career.”  Yes, that’s a thing. Don’t do it. If you do it, don’t be surprised when you have more vacancies than staff. You brought that on yourself.

There is a lot of top-tier talent out there in the market right now. To be competitive, consider implementing some culture renovations so you can have a more equitable, and therefore more attractive, work culture to retain your top talent.

What we want to do:

  1. Identify and minimize invisible work in your organization
  2. Acknowledge the work that can’t be avoided. Get rid of the blind part.
  3. Distribute the work equitably.

Here is a simple example:

Step 1: Set up a way for staff to anonymously bring things to your attention. Perhaps a comment box. Encourage staff to bring unsung heroes in the office to your attention. Things they wish their peers or they themselves received acknowledgment for.

Step 2: Read them and actually take them seriously. Block out some time on your calendar and give it your full attention.

For the sake of demonstration, let’s say someone leaves a note about how Caroline always tidies up the breakroom at the end of the day and cleans the coffee pot with supplies Caroline brings from home. Now that we have identified a task, we are going to acknowledge it, minimize it, and consider the distribution of labor.

Step 3: Thank Caroline at the team meeting for scrubbing yesterday’s burnt coffee out of the bottom of the pot every day. Don’t gloss over it. Make the acknowledgment mean something. Buy her some chips out of the vending machine or something. The smallest gestures can have the biggest impact when coupled with actual change.

Step 4: Remind your staff to clean up after themselves. Caroline isn’t their mom. If you have to, enforce it.

Step 5: Put it in the office budget to provide adequate cleaning supplies for the break room and review your custodial needs. This isn’t part of Caroline’s job description and she could be putting that energy towards something else. Find the why of the situation and address it.

You might be rolling your eyes at me by now, but the toll of this unpaid invisible work has real costs.  According to the 2021 Women in the Workplace Report* the ladies are carrying the team, but getting little to none of the credit. Burnout is real and ringing in at an all-time high across every sector of the economy. To be short, women are sick and tired of getting the raw end of the deal, and after 2 years of pandemic life bringing it into ultra-sharp focus, are doing something about it. In the report, 40% of ladies were considering jumping ship. Data indicates that a lot of them not only manned the lifeboats but landed more lucrative positions than they left. Now is the time to score and then retain top talent. However, it is up to you to make sure you are offering an environment worth working in.

*Note: the studies cited here do not differentiate non-cis-identifying persons. It is usually worse for individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community.

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