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Tenacity and Impact: Understanding Hispanic Women-owned Businesses

By Dolores Rowen

After working nights as a custodian during the week, my mother would wake up at six am on Saturday and begin her weekend. It was not a relaxing one – Saturday and Sunday were spent along side my father and my brothers running the family business.  Growing up in an impoverished town in rural Mexico, my mother had no formal education; she knew nothing about business plans or had any of the other necessary tools or resources that promote business survival and growth in the United States. Even so, she had an innate understanding of people. She knew what customers wanted and had a knack for buying and selling clothes. Although I didn’t know it as a child, she was to the embodiment of the tenacious, hardworking, and tough woman entrepreneur. Her narrative—one of small triumphs and deep struggles—is common for female business owners, and specifically Hispanic business owners, and illustrates the complexities of the emerging data on this subject.

Recent estimates from the U.S. Census show that as of 2014, there are over 27 million Hispanic women.[1] This represents about 16.9 percent of the female population. Not only is this substantial, but the number of Hispanic women is expected to continue to grow. It is estimated that by 2050, we will comprise over one quarter of the female population in the U.S.[2]

So what about the rate of growth for Hispanic women-owned businesses?  According to the 2012 Survey of Business Owners (SBO) there are over 1.5 million Hispanic women-owned enterprises. This is a dramatic increase since 2007, as these businesses have grown over 87 percent in just five years. In comparison: African American women-owned businesses increased at a rate of 67.5 percent, Asian-American women-owned businesses by 44.3 percent and white women-owned businesses by just 10.1 percent.  While these numbers for growth are impressive across the board – it is noteworthy that Hispanic women-owned businesses are increasing at the fastest rate. Additionally, Hispanic women make up nearly 15 percent of all women-owned firms in the U.S.[3]

The growth in the number of Hispanic firms is exciting, especially when considering the myriad of challenges that these women combat that may negatively affect the prospects of developing and/or scaling one’s business. Research demonstrates Hispanic women face additional struggles such as the single income household, lack of mentorship, and lower levels of educational attainment when compared to non-minority women.[4],[5] 

However, Hispanic women entrepreneurs have great opportunity as business owners as they possess a unique understanding of their customers’ needs and wants due to language and cultural similarities, making them the most pragmatic player in marketing to and innovating for the Hispanic consumer. In 2013, $1.2 trillion or 9.5 percent of U.S. consumer buying power was Hispanic driven. This is estimated to increase to $1.6 trillion by 2016 or 10.6 percent by 2018.[6] These women also are responsible for the majority of household purchases as 86 percent state that a woman is the household’s primary shopper. [7] One could argue that benefits such as these offer avenues for Hispanic women to capitalize on this niche economy and overcome some the previously mentioned barriers.

The economic impact of Hispanic women-owned businesses cannot be denied. The most recent data shows an increase of 50.3 percent in receipts from these businesses since 2007, despite the economic downturn that occurred during the same period. With receipts now at $83.6 billion, Hispanic women and their businesses are positively impacting their local economies, and beyond. What’s more, Hispanic women entrepreneurs employ 502,008 people, in addition to the owners of these firms, with an annual payroll of $14.5 billion. As we continue to see increases in the number of Hispanic women-owned firms, so too will we see increases in their economic impact.

Although we see great growth in the number of Hispanic women-owned firms, that same growth has not translated to increases in receipts for all Hispanic women-owned firms. The majority of these businesses, 95.4 percent, are sole proprietorships. Hispanic women-owned non-employer firms also hold the second lowest average receipts standing at $19,537. Ultimately, wealth is not being generated for the majority of Hispanic women entrepreneurs. It is in the best interest of the business community to commit to developing strong innovative entrepreneurs because when Hispanic women succeed they reinvest in their communities and work to ensure the success of others.

At times I struggle with the complex realities of the Hispanic woman entrepreneur. She may be vibrant, talented, ambitious, and determined to succeed. But the barriers faced by minority entrepreneurs can seem overwhelming. Many work multiple jobs - like my mother did - which limits their ability to launch and/or scale their business and lack of access to capital and resources restrict others. 

The numbers in the rate of growth for Hispanic women-owned businesses is incredible – but the story doesn’t stop there.  There is a need for a balanced approach, one that acknowledges the immense successes of Hispanic women entrepreneurs while also recognizing the need for stakeholders such as the White House, Congress, SBA, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, private funders, and more to begin policy reform, and develop research focused on the Hispanic women’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Hispanic women entrepreneurs should be provided with additional resources, such as tool kits and webinars and increased access to capital – because we know investing in Hispanic women entrepreneurs is investing in all of us. Hispanic women are a dynamic force that will continue to grow and gain influence. But the true economic impact of Hispanic women entrepreneurs will only be realized if stakeholders ensure that Hispanic women with innovative business models have the resources they need to achieve and sustain their business dreams.

 

[1] 2014 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, SEX BY AGE (HISPANIC OR LATINO): B01001I, 2014 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates,  AGE AND SEX: S0101

[2] Jackson, Maresha. Center for American Progress. “Fact Sheet: The State of Latinas in the United States.” 2013

[3] NWBC Fact Sheets Hispanic Women-owned Businesses, Black Women-owned Businesses, Asian-American women-owned Businesses, and White women-owned businesses.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Casserly, Meghan. “Minority Women Entrepreneurs: Go-Getters Without Resources.” Forbes.  2013.

[6] Humphreys, Jeffrey. “The Multicultural Economy.” Selig Center For Economic. 2013.

[7] Nielsen, “Latina Power Shift.” 2013. 

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