Key Contributions of Women-Led Businesses

The economic impact of women business owners has long gone understated, according to a new two-part study released by the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) today. Based on custom datasets from the Census Bureau’s 2002 Survey of Business Owners and Self-Employed Persons (SBO), the reports assess the economic impact of women-owned and women-led firms on the U.S. economy by examining their receipts, compensation, geography, industry, and ethnography. The 2002 SBO is the most current information available on the distribution and contribution of women-led businesses.

The Council believes that women-led firms make a substantial contribution to the American economy, but due to current definitions of women-owned firms, the omission of these enterprises from the dialogue understates the total economic impact of women business owners. Previously published data from the SBO only included information on firms that were at least 51% owned by women. For the first time, this report includes data on firms where a woman owns a percentage of the business at least equal to any other owner and where a woman or women managed day-to-day operations. According to the reports released today, there were over 1 million women-led businesses generating in excess of $300 billion in revenues in 2002, or about 3% of the U.S. GDP. These firms employed 2.5 million employees and paid nearly $56 billion in payroll. Combined, women-owned and women-led (WOWL) firms totaled over 7.5 million in 2002, employed 9.6 million people and generated nearly $1,240 billion in revenues, or about 12% of the U.S. GDP .

“Based on the inclusion of this newly-reported data on women-led businesses, it is evident that the contributions of women business owners to the U.S. economy are far greater than traditionally measured and stated,” stated Tami Longaberger, Chair of the National Women’s Business Council and Chair and CEO of The Longaberger Company. “The research and policy communities should incorporate the data on women-led businesses in the dialogue on women’s business ownership in the U.S. to more accurately capture the true economic impact of women business owners.”

Some noteworthy statistics from the report include:

  • A greater proportion of Women-Led firms (29%) had paid employees than Women-Owned firms (14%).
  • Although 84% of all Women-Owned and Women-Led firms had no employees, 86% of all WOWL firmrevenues were generated by the 16% of firms with employees.
  • There was no dominant level of education among WOWL businesses. Business owners with bachelor’sdegrees had the highest rate (22%), while those without a high school degree had the lowest participation rate (5%).
  • Women-Led businesses were more concentrated in low revenue industries with retail trade having the highest number of Women-Led firms among all races/ethnicities.
  • Wholesale and manufacturing had small percentages of Women-Led firms (3% and 3%), yet generated high levels of total receipts (16% and 10%).
  • While Women-Led firms had higher receipts per firm than Women-Owned firms, they paid their employees less, on average, than Women-Owned firms on a national basis.

Some of the data in the reports raise concerns which the Council plans to investigate further. Specifically, the “why” behind many of the report’s findings is unclear and requires further inquiry. The Council suggests that the women’s business, policy and research communities combine the data from this report with more current and specific research in targeted areas to come up with answers to some of the questions raised by the report. At the same time, the report also may allow the Council to see what’s working well, offering the women’s business community information that will be useful in developing best practices and mentoring programs to further the success of women-owned and women-led firms across the country.

“The Council considers the release of this data as an opportunity to more accurately discuss the impact of women business owners and their enterprises. Through analysis of this rich dataset, we intend to set new priorities for the Council’s work in the coming years,” concluded Longaberger. “We hope the reports will spur conversation on a larger scale among the small business, research, and policy communities and lead to expanded programs and services targeted to all women business owners, including those owners of businesses classified as women-led. It is imperative that the dialogue on women’s business ownership be expanded to more accurately depict the economic impact of women business owners.”

Both reports may be found on the NWBC’s web site, Researchers interested in further study of the special tabulations data should contact Allison Gilmore at or 202-205-6827.