What type of Business Would You Start? Part 1
What roles do you think of as traditionally “female” roles? How about traditionally “male” roles? When you think of certain industries or businesses, do you think that it is more likely to be run by a male or a female entrepreneur? Consider, for examples, a construction company, a cake-decorating business, a cloth-diaper business, and a furniture design firm. Do they evoke images of a “typical” owner? Who would you guess would be more likely to start these businesses.
Throughout history, women have fallen into certain social and societal roles. Although they have changed dramatically in the last century, certain stereotypes still apply. For a look at the historical perspective, read this scholarly article, “The Origins of Gender Roles: Women and the Plough.”
Many women have turned “traditional” roles into extremely successful business ventures. Consider these three women entrepreneurs who have started businesses in the last century. In addition to skills that might be characterized as “homemaker” skills, they also possessed impressive entrepreneurial skills that allowed them to create long-lasting, thriving firms.
In 1937, Margaret Rudkin began experimenting with all-natural whole-wheat bread recipes for her asthmatic son. She began baking bread for other children in the area, and soon began a business out of her farm in Connecticut. Pepperidge Farm was born, and by 1960, the company was producing 1.2 million loaves of bread per week, as well as numerous other products. The NYTimes obituary (1967) for Margaret Rudkin gives a great overview of her entrepreneurial story.
In 1963, Mary Kay Ash invested $5,000 in a formula for beauty cream and started a business based on the “home-party” system. The company started with nine representatives, and today employs 1.6 million representatives worldwide. Read this biography of Mary Kay Ash and see what you think about her accomplishments.
Martha Kostyra Stewart began a catering business in 1976. She used the skills she had learned from her mother (cooking and sewing), father (gardening), grandparents (preserving and canning) and neighbors (baking). In 1981, she published her first book, Martha Stewart’s Entertaining. In 1997, she purchased all of the publishing, broadcasting, merchandise and licensing ventures bearing her name and consolidated them into a new company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. For more information about her career, check out this biography.
What similarities and/or differences do you see between these three entrepreneurs? What skills did they possess that fostered their success? How did they turn their “traditional” skills into multi-million dollar companies?
A common source of inspiration for a large number of entrepreneurs’ business ideas comes from raising their children. Ideas for strollers, diapers, toys, learning activities, dolls, etc. come from parents who realize there is a market need for something they wish existed. For example, Ruth Handler, the creator of the Barbie doll, came up with the idea for an “adult” doll after watching her daughter, Barbara, play with adult paper dolls. (At that point, all children’s dolls resembled babies.) Click here for more information.
In recent years, the term “Mompreneur” has emerged to describe the woman entrepreneur who is concurrently raising children and running a business (usually related to their child in some way). For some definitions of a “Mompreneur,” and some interesting insights, read WiseGeek’s answer to the question, “What is a Mompreneur?.” What do you think of the term, “Mompreneur?” To read about someone who successfully started a business while raising her children, read, “Baby Einstein: Genius Through Imperfection,” also by Aliza Sherman, about Julie Aigner Clark. What are your thoughts on Mompreneurs? Do you think that it is a relevant and appropriate term? Do you think it accurately describes the entrepreneurs it attempts to describe? Do you feel that it is in any way derogatory toward women entrepreneurs that also have families?
This week, discuss how traditionally female roles factor into the entrepreneurial process. Explore the benefits and potential downsides of applying these skillsets to business ventures. Do you think this trend will continue, or do you think women are entering “non-traditional” industries at a greater rate? Is there less of a difference today between how men and women are raised and the skills they are taught? Will that make a difference in the types of business women choose to start? These are all questions to consider as you explore this topic.