Attempts to remedy America’s dauntingly long history of racial and gender inequity can, at times, feel slow and incremental. That’s why when it comes to narrowing the economic disparities between certain groups, it’s important to celebrate progress—more minorities graduating from college, more female executives, a shrinking gender-wage gap. Those are all certainly good things, but sometimes, dwelling on these achievements means missing the underlying failures that allow inequity and division to persist, and grow.
For instance, recent data released by the U.S. Census showed that small business ownership growth between 2007 and 2012 was highest for women, particularly businesses owned by minority women. On the surface, that sounds great, but the figures can be deceptive. In 2012, women were the owners of about 36 percent of the country’s small businesses, and men, about 54 percent, according to data from Pew Research. (The ownership of the remaining 10 percent of businesses in Pew’s count were either jointly owned by men and women or were owned by large, diverse groups.) And the growth of minority women as business owners increased by 215 percent between 1997 and 2014. That’s impressive, but it belies the fact that the group has historically made up such a small share of the industry, that just about any growth would look astronomical.
And looking at the revenues of women-owned companies, it’s clear that there’s still a substantial gender gap. In 2012, male-owned small businesses accounted for about 79 percent of small-business revenues, while female-owned businesses accounted for just 11 percent. That’s especially important because while additional women-business owners certainly points to a certain type of success, these businesses would also need to capture a more proportionate share of revenues in order for their businesses to actually thrive.