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Personal Characteristics of Successful Women Entreprenuers

Content provided by the Women Presidents' Organization


By Marsha Firestone, Ph.D., President and Founder of Women Presidents' Organization (WPO)

Question:  Do Successful Women Entrepreneurs Share Certain Characteristics? 

Answer:  Through my experience with accomplished women business owners, I have observed that those who are most successful share some common personal characteristics. Scholarly research in the area of female entrepreneurship validates many of my observations.

Researchers have known since the 1970s that female entrepreneurs are motivated by a desire for independence, job satisfaction, economics and a need to achieve (Schwartz, 1976). The following characteristics are typical and support the motivations of successful women business owners.

They Make Things Happen

Highly successful women business owners will tell you that they see themselves as being in charge of their own destiny. Things do not happen to them-instead they make things happen. These women are take-charge types who not only take responsibility for themselves but for others as well. You will not see these women "passing the buck;" almost universally, they share the attitude that "the buck stops with them."

In her book, Women and the Leadership Q: Revealing the Four Paths to Influence and Power, Shoya Zichy studied a number of accomplished women to see whether they shared any common characteristics. Among the traits she found that these women shared were an optimistic attitude even under adverse conditions and setbacks, highly focused intellectual energy and the belief that learning never stops. Zichy shows that women leaders are every bit as competitive and task driven as their male counterparts.

Driven and Confident

To be a successful entrepreneur, you must be willing to put in long hours and have an intense commitment to the success of your business. A recent study of women-owned businesses found that owners of high-growth companies have a greater intensity of commitment to their company than women-owned businesses with low growth (Gundry & Welsch, 2001).

Successful business owners are self-confident and take risks.  According to The Center for Women's Business Research, women business owners are even more risk-tolerant when investing for their business than their households. Most women business owners (66%) are willing to take above average or substantial risks when investing for their businesses.

While they are self-confident, these women realize that they need support from others. The same study mentioned above (Gundry & Welsch) found that high-growth women entrepreneurs use a team-based approach to their businesses. In the Women Presidents' Organization (WPO), I have observed this same.  Our members tend to use professional advisors such as lawyers, accountants and boards of directors, and they take significant advantage of their WPO peer advisory groups.

Intelligent and Innovative-But Not "A" Students

There is no doubt that successful women entrepreneurs are intelligent; however, most of them were not straight-A types in high school or college. They may even have displayed behavior problems in school, because these women tend to be the type of individuals who do not like to play by the rules. As students, they may have created ways to get around the rules or any other obstacle that stood in their paths, constantly challenging and even changing the status quo.

These same traits, which are often viewed by teachers as undesirable in the classroom, turn out to be highly innovative and effective when displayed by a responsible, creative adult in the competitive world of business.

Big Dreamers

The most successful women entrepreneurs are those who "dream big"-they see themselves succeeding financially, managing large staffs and running businesses that have multiple branches and locations or that are international in scope. These are women with 100 ideas a minute who do not hesitate to implement the best of the ideas they dream up.

One element that holds back women entrepreneurs is the lack of venture capital funding. Recent research by the Small Business Administration (SBA) shows that the proportion of funds received by women-owned businesses as compared to their male counterparts remains extremely small. This lack of venture capital funding is a situation that needs to be rectified.

America's growing segment of women business owners makes a significant contribution to the national economy. According to the Center for Women's Business Research, 10.6 million firms are at least half owned by a woman or women. These firms employ 19.1 million people and generate nearly $2.5 trillion in sales. The last thing anyone wants is to have this vital segment of our economy held back because of lack of venture capital support.


Brush, Candida G.; Carter, Nancy; Gatewood, Elizabeth; Greene, Patricia G.; and Hart, Myra M.,  "An Investigation of Venture Capital in Women-and Minority-led Firms," study sponsored by the SBA Office of Advocacy and the National Women's Business Council (October, 2001).

Gundry, LK, & HP Welsch. "The Ambitious Entrepreneur: High Growth Strategies of Women-owned Enterprises," Journal of Business Venturing, 16(5): 453- 470 (2001).

Schwartz, EB, "Entrepreneurship: A New Female Frontier," Journal of Contemporary Business (Winter 1976), pp. 47-68.

Zichy, Shoya, Women and the Leadership Q: Revealing the Four Paths to Influence and Power, McGraw-Hill, Aug 2000.


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