April 15, 2024

You’re the Boss: Three New Books Highlight Female Entrepreneurship

She Owns It

Recently, I came across three new books that explore very different female entrepreneurship experiences. In The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, who has an M.B.A. from Harvard and extensive experience writing about female entrepreneurs in war zones, tells the story of Kamila Sidiqi, who built a thriving dressmaking business in Afghanistan while living under Taliban rule.

Ms. Lemmon vividly describes the day-to-day realities that confronted the educated professional women of Kabul in 1996 when they were, essentially, placed under house arrest by the Taliban — forced to quit their jobs, don burqas, and avoid being seen in public without a male family member.

Under these circumstances, Ms. Sidiqi, then a 19-year-old teaching school graduate about to begin university studies, started a business from her living room that ultimately supported her parents and 10 siblings and employed 100 neighborhood women who otherwise would have  had no income. “We’re far more accustomed to — and comfortable with — seeing women portrayed as victims of war who deserve our sympathy rather than as resilient survivors who demand our respect,” writes Ms. Lemmon, who learned that Ms. Sidiqi was one of many women who found innovative ways to work during the Taliban years. With this book, Ms. Lemmon hopes to change that perception.

Miles away, in distance and daily experience, are the 30 American women profiled in Erin Albert’s Single. Women. Entrepreneurs. Ms. Albert, an assistant pharmacy professor who also runs a consultancy and a networking group for young professionals, said she was inspired to write the book after reading a Kauffman Foundation study that found single, divorced, and widowed women start more businesses than their male counterparts. Additionally, unmarried women outnumber married women for the first time in United States history.

But while much is written about so-called mompreneurs, who are often married, their single sisters are seldom addressed as a group. Ms. Albert set out to explore their strategies, challenges (which include doing without the safety net of a second income), and advantages (like greater flexibility). One of Ms. Albert’s subjects, a South Carolina native, Kristin Cobb, spent a year in New York seeking business inspiration. She returned home and started Cupcake in 2006, after having been exposed to Manhattan’s glut of cupcake shops (the craze had not yet hit South Carolina).

When Babson professors Mary Godwyn and Donna Stoddard began researching Minority Women Entrepreneurs, they hoped merely to highlight the accomplishments of minority female owners who tend to be ignored in business school case studies even though they start businesses at four times the rate of non-minority women and men (the book does not explore the reasons for this disparity). Instead, through interviews with women who self-identified as minority group members, they were surprised to find these business owners, while profit-minded, shared a determination to use socially conscious business practices and rejected the notion that financial and societal goals are mutually exclusive. Because of their outsider status, minority women can more readily see the flaws in doing “business as usual,” said Ms. Godwyn. They are also forced to find innovative solutions, she said, in a world that is often dismissive of their talents.

The women profiled in the book include Judi Henderson-Townsend, president of Mannequin Madness, a company that recycles, sells, rents, and repairs racially diverse mannequins, keeping them out of landfills. The business is the recipient of numerous awards including one from the Environmental Protection Agency for recycling 100,000 pounds of mannequins annually. In the book, Ms. Henderson-Townsend describes a situation in which she decided between expressing her values about racial diversity and possibly offending a client who had chosen eight white mannequins for a lingerie catalog.

Though her husband urged her to “just take the money” and refrain from telling her client how to do business, Ms. Henderson-Townsend spoke up and suggested the customer buy “one mannequin of color.” The client, who was not offended, added mannequins that looked Asian, African-American, and Latina to the order.

Ms. Godwyn said her research made her optimistic that male and female entrepreneurs can learn from the women she interviewed. “What would the world look like,” she asked, “if people held their businesses to both financial and moral standards?”

I’ve finished Minority Women Entrepreneurs, started Ms. Lemmon’s book, and look forward to reading Ms. Albert’s. Have you read any of them? If so, please share your thoughts.

You can follow Adriana Gardella on Twitter.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=37efb99578507e10a73b554821f8f7c4

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