Ep. 217: Female Small Business Owners Embrace Equity on International Women’s Day

< Intro >

– Hello, and welcome to Count Me In.

I'm your host, Margaret Michaels.

Every March, IMA celebrates
International Women's Day.

A day recognizing
the unique contributions

and accomplishments of women.

Embracing equity is the theme
of this year's celebration.

Questions of equity are
prevalent when speaking

about women and the workplace.

Nowhere is equity defined
as the promotion

of justice, impartiality, and fairness.

Within the procedures, processes,

and distribution of resources,

according to IMA's Diversifying U.S.
Accounting Talent Report.

More important than in the
realm of small business.

Where female, small business
owners account for 21.4%

or 1.24 million of all small
businesses in the U.S.,

according to the Census Bureau.

< Music >

Today, I am here with Yvonne Barber,

CFO of HR Knowledge Source

and IMA's Small Business
Committee Chair.

To discuss how the pandemic

affected female small business owners.

And how some used management
accounting strategies

to help them become more resilient.

We will consider the challenges

these owners face in a competitive,

post-pandemic business environment.

And the ways strong management
accounting principles,

can help them operate their businesses

more efficiently and profitably.

Thank you for being here today, Yvonne.

– Thank you for having me.

– So I guess we'll start with
looking back at the pandemic.

Which really did bring a lot of attention

to small business owners
and their challenges.

At the height of the pandemic,

you worked for Blue Abacus Solutions.

An accounting services firm
specializing in small businesses.

Small businesses took a huge hit
during the pandemic.

With quarantines, social distancing rules,

and employee turnover affecting

their ability to operate and stay profitable.

According to the World Economic

Forum's Global Entrepreneurship Monitor,

female, small business owners
were hit harder than men.

With women 20% more likely
than men to report

business closures, due to the pandemic.

Can you offer some perspective

on why female-owned businesses
were especially at risk?

– Sure, in addition to the resource
that you mentioned.

I've researched this topic to develop

a better understanding

of the challenges faced
by small businesses.

So that the IMA's Small Business
Committee, where I serve,

can offer the support needed

to the small business community.

And I found that the biggest factor

to be the lack of access
to funding and capital.

A majority of female entrepreneurs

self-fund their business.

And this can limit the ability
to scale their business

or invest in the needed resources,
to improve operations.

One of the things that small businesses,

in general, struggle with is looking
forward at what's coming,

as opposed to reacting to
what's currently on their plate.

And I think that is where a lot

of small businesses found themselves.

They just weren't in a position

to handle what the pandemic
served out to them,

and that is one of the biggest factors.

But among that, bias among customers

was also listed as another factor.

Now, this may not be a great
obstacle for some women.

Especially, here in the United States,

I think we've made a lot
of progress in that area.

But I found several studies,
throughout the world,

that found customers are less likely

to purchase goods or services
from women-owned businesses.

So there's a variety of reasons

that women were impacted as they were.

And I think it's difficult to offer

a one-size-fits-all approach to this.

I think, instead, it's good to look
at each individual item.

And address as it pertains
to your business,

as a female-owned business

or a small business owner in general.

– Yes, those are great points

and I think the funding issue
is very top of mind.

And that's really interesting, the bias,

I never thought about that.

But women experience bias
in a lot of realms

So it shouldn't be surprising
that it's also prevalent

in small business ownership
and customer choices.

Those are great points.

– Yes, that surprised me as well.

just because my perspective here,
being in the United States,

I think that we've learned to
navigate that a little better.

But in that The Small
Business Committee,

we serve a global membership.

I am interested in what the
challenges are for our membership.

All over the world, not just here
in the United States.

So that was surprising to me.

But it was helpful to see the information,

so that I'm in a better position to offer

what's needed for our members.

– And the IMA's Small
Business Committee

does a great job, with helping members

who are struggling with these issues.

In fact, IMA's Small Business Committee

published two important reports,

to help guide small businesses

through the COVID crisis,

and to help them stay
resilient post-pandemic.

I wonder what differentiated
the businesses,

who managed through the crisis
versus the ones who failed?

And from your perspective,
why is it difficult,

when you are a small business owner,

to address both short-term crises
and long-term strategy?

– I think the businesses who survived
focused on sustainability

and leveraged strong relationships,

and a diverse network of sources

to meet their needs.

Those who prioritized relationships

were just better positioned
to survive the storm.

The relationships include the customers,

suppliers, as well as employees.

And it can be tough to
think about tomorrow

when you're just trying
to survive another week.

I know a lot of small business owners.

I know they're just trying to make payroll.

But making short-term decisions

that impact the long-term
sustainability of a company,

they may seem to help the short term,

but ultimately they do end up
hurting the company.

– I think that's something that even mid

and large-sized businesses grapple with,

is that balance between the
short-term and the long-term.

And not having those
short-term decisions

affect your ability to operate
in the long term.

So that's absolutely on point.

And now, as the immediate
crisis of COVID passes,

new risks are also emerging
for small businesses.

These include worker shortages,

failure to embrace digitization,

inflation, and supply chain disruptions.

And without the resources that
larger size companies enjoy.

How can small businesses
mitigate these risks?

– A good sustainability plan
can help with this.

Many small business owners
think of sustainability

as something that impacts
large businesses.

With little to no impact

on what they do on a day-to-day basis.

But sustainability is all about
efficiently using resources,

and developing a strong and
a diverse network of resources.

And that may seem like a very
pragmatic way to describe this.

But buzzwords may not
always be relatable

to small business owners,

but they understand the bottom line

and how planning can impact it.

So by developing and implementing

a sustainability strategy.

A company can plan for a
diverse network of suppliers

that minimize the impact of 
supply chain disruptions.

They can also lead, perhaps, 
with a competitive edge

for those who may have the opportunity

to bid for government contracts,

or provide goods or services
to larger companies.

Who may be required to provide reporting

on the sustainability practices
of the suppliers they use.

Technology can be used
to streamline processes

to avoid the need for
additional employees.

Which in a small business,
that's particularly important

because they don't, necessarily,
have the budget for a large staff.

And it's difficult to make a decision
to increase headcount.

And they can also avoid
overloading existing employees

who could otherwise burn out.

When there's a labor shortage,

retention can be the
most economical means

to address the shortage.

So it's important to find
ways to get the job done

without burning out
your existing employees.

– Absolutely, and I know
that sustainability

is an area of focus for IMA.

We have courses, research papers.

We really have looked, 
in-depth, at how we can help

businesses implement
sustainability strategies.

Which, to your point, can help
mitigate all of these risks

that this volatile global
environment is now generating.

So I wonder if we can shift
to your personal,

professional experience in
accounting and finance.

You're currently working
as a Fractional CFO

for HR Knowledge Services.

What do you see as
the strengths of working

for your own small business,
as a CFO for hire?

And in working for many
small businesses,

both male and female-owned,

do you see differences in company
culture based on gender?

– Working as a Fractional CFO,
it's allowed me

to create a little more balanced lifestyle.

That reflects the priorities
that I have in my own life.

I can choose who I work for
and how much I want to work.

And, for me, that's something
that's particularly important

at this stage in my career.

I think that I do see a
difference in companies

that are led by male or female owners,

or CEOs, in my limited experience.

And, again, I can speak only
from those companies

that I've worked with, specifically.

The female entrepreneurs
that I've worked with

tend to be more focused on balance,

which is my own priority.

Whereas some of the male-led companies

tend to be more focused on results

that do not necessarily take
balance into consideration.

– That's very interesting because
that's exactly what The U.S.

Small Business Bureau has found.

In terms of the motivations 
for owning a small business,

when you look at women versus men.

And the U.S. Small Business Bureau

says that women have
different motivations

for being business owners.

For men, the motivation
stemmed from wanting

to be their own boss and
earning a greater income.

But for women, the top reason

for becoming an owner was
work and family balance.

In total, 59% of the women felt that

this was a very important reason
to own their own business.

So that finding seems to align exactly

with your own motivations.

That balance that you can strike

when you're a small business owner.

Did you have any additional
thoughts on what

the U.S. Small Business Bureau found?

– As I said, it aligns with
my own priorities as well.

I think that men have done 
a great job, by the way.

In the last few decades of making
things a little more equitable,

as far as the responsibilities
in the household

and balancing in the household.

But I think we, as women, put
more pressure on ourselves.

I know, I personally grew up watching this,

it's a perfume commercial of 
a woman in a silver dress.

Where she sings about
bringing home the bacon,

frying it up in a pan,
and basically doing it all.

And I think that sometimes we,
as women, put more pressure

on ourselves to do it all
and be good at it all.

And we can, but I think sometimes

it's difficult to do everything
well, at the same time.

And finding that balance,
where we can honor those things

that are the greatest priority to us
is the biggest challenge.

And I think that that's one of the reasons

why women, in general, look
to open their own businesses

and work for themselves. 

So that they can do better 
with that balancing act.

– That's very well said.

And IMA is a resource that, hopefully,

some female small business owners

will take advantage of as 
a result of this podcast.

Because, like you just said,

we put a lot of pressure 
on ourselves to do it all.

But sometimes you do need support

and you do need to ask for help.

And, so, surrounding yourself with people

that have committed to doing
that can be a good strategy.

This was a fantastic conversation

and I really appreciate you,
spending the time

with us here today to discuss this topic.

And thank you for all
the work you're doing

on The Small Business Committee.

And for those listeners who
are small business owners

be sure to check out
all the great resources,

that The IMA's Small Business 
Committee has to offer.

– Thank you.
– And have a great 

International Women's Day.
– Thank you.

< Outro >

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