A significant number of women business owners take the risky step of starting businesses because they run into a "glass ceiling" or feel unchallenged in their work, a study revealed Tuesday.

Women coming from the corporate world are particularly frustrated, with many saying their employers didn't take them seriously or value them, the study reported. Nearly 60 percent of women who had come from corporations said nothing would induce them to return, including more money or flexibility.The research casts light on reasons for the explosive growth in the country's 8 million women-owned businesses, which now account for one-third of U.S. firms. Women-owned businesses are being created at twice the rate of all businesses.

"Frustration with the work environment has pushed a significant number of women into entrepreneurship," said Sheila Wellington, president of Catalyst, one of the groups involved in the study. "They leave to get more flexibility and because they feel their advancement opportunities are not valid."

The National Foundation for Women Business Owners and The Committee of 200, a group for women business leaders, also released the study, which was based on September telephone surveys of 800 men and women business owners.

A survey of 650 women had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, while a survey of 150 men had a margin of error of plus or minus 8 percentage points.

As might be expected, nearly half of women business owners started their companies because they had a winning business idea or they wanted to turn their skills into a business.

But 16 percent of all women business owners cited a glass ceiling - an invisible barrier to advancement - as a significant motivation for become entrepreneurs, while 11 percent of women owners said they hadn't been challenged in past careers.

Such frustrations were particularly evident in the 60 percent of women surveyed who'd come from the private sector. Nearly a third of these women cited glass ceilings as a prime reason they started a business.

Helen Hodges, a Houston-based entrepreneur since 1989, said she left the corporate world because she didn't feel that she'd ever get very far at the large company where she worked.

"I felt like the politics were too much against me," said Hodges, who now owns Separation Systems Consultants, a small hazardous waste disposal firm. "If you want to get where you want to go, do it the way that works."

Interestingly, 22 percent of men business owners cited a "glass ceiling" as a reason for starting their own company, a slightly higher percentage than women.

Yet when asked what aspects of a "glass ceiling" they had experienced, women reported much stronger barriers. A third of women owners said that they had strongly experienced not being taken seriously by their employer, compared with only 18 percent of men.

Women also are seeking flexibility when they leave the corporate world. Half of women business owners who came from the private sector cited a desire for more flexibility as a major reason for starting their own business.

Carolee Friedlander started her successful costume jewelry business 25 years ago from her home in order to spend more time with her three young children. And her yearning for flexibility was satisfied, she said.

"Women are realizing that there are ways to have it all," she said. "And it's much more doable if you're managing your own company."


Additional Information

Women entrepreneurs

Why women have started their own businesses

Percentage Reason

48% Entrepreneuruial idea

16% Hit a glass ceiling

11% Fell into it

11% Felt unchallenged

10% Company downsized

5% Family event

1% Born to be

1% Re-entry into the work force