Women’s business acumen is nothing new—evidence shows women as early as the times of Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece, and Sparta involved in trading, owning property, and running shops. Currently in the United States, women entrepreneurship is on the rise, but women business owners still make up less than half of all business owners, and the disparities increase for Black, Indigenous and women of color.
The Green Business Network is proud to work with many women-owned businesses. In their own words, meet some of our women business owners and the women they’re inspired by, how they succeed in the face of discrimination, and more.
Women’s Work Is Special and Communal
Many of our network’s women business owners noted that running a business as a woman provides them with specific and powerful skills.
“Women owned businesses are often identified as prioritizing sustainability, social responsibility and ethical practices. The leadership decisions at Food Huggers are always anchored to our goal of making it easy to reduce waste at home and encourage more eco-friendly habits in the kitchen.”Adrienne McNicholas, Food Huggers
“Being woman run and having a product handmade with fabric and wool while using traditionally ‘women based’ techniques in a smaller workshop has set us up to seem less significant and less important. ‘Women’s work’ all the way. Most pet toys sold in the US are made in … settings where the safety of the laborer and the quality of the product is not often valued. If you wre to compare the harm done by this type of mass production to what we do in our quiet dedicated way, THEN it is clear how different and significant our production methods are. Like many women-owned companies, we strive to become community with our customers thru a process based on caring about outcomes.”Pam Wheelock, Purrfectplay
There is real dedication to being a truly green company, as Judy Mazzuca notes:
“I started Ink Forest Eco-Friendly Screen printing about 10 years ago. When I started researching screen printing, I discovered what a dirty industry it is. That's when I decided if I couldn't find a way to do it ‘clean and green,’ I wouldn't do it at all.
I think the best thing any entrepreneur can do is persevere. It's not always easy, it may not always be pretty But it's worth it when you can look back and know you've built something from just an idea.”Judy Mazzuca, Ink Forest
Others still highlight their work would not be possible, or at least much harder, without other women in their community.
“Often traditional networking circles focus on either business or personal—effectively segregating aspects of an entrepreneur’s life. I truly appreciate those women-dominant networking groups that allow independent business leaders to be WHOLE spirits: woman, parent, business leader… There are still glass ceilings to break and pay disparity to overcome, but women are more vocal now than 27 years ago about working in community to support each other in all our areas of responsibility.”Virginia Joplin, Verbio
“As a women business owner, especially in the field of sustainability, I have realized I can’t do it alone. I have been honored to work with some amazing women in this industry, all with great skills, expertise, and experience. This path towards fixing the systems that govern our world and climate are not easy and it will take all of us to get there. Women in the sustainability industry are resilient, innovative, smart and ambitious. That gives me great hope in our future!”K.J. McCorry, Eco-Officiency
Sustainability in business is becoming more and more realized and women are helping lead the charge.
Staying True to Yourself
Many women across industries agree that the most important thing women can do when faced with an uphill battle: never shy away from being a woman or yourself.
“The best thing we have going for us, is being ourselves. There is only One you Simply Made Well.”Sylvia M. Walker, NAIWBE
"If there is one lesson that I have learned as a business leader it is this: Never apologize for how you feel. Your instincts and emotions come from the very root of your being, and they are meaningful in how you move forward in any given situation. My wish for all women business leaders is to know that your ideas and your vision have value."Ellyn Ito, Seeds to Sew
For Jennifer Young and Leah Fanning, what’s crucial about staying true to yourself is trusting yourself and your intuition. There will be people who doubt, glass ceilings to shatter, but women must always listen to themselves, and they will be on the right path.
“When I speak with other female entrepreneurs or working women—one of my mantras is to be yourself and stay true to your vision. It is a big energy suck to be someone you’re not. And at the same time, it’s easy not trust yourself, especially because you’ll receive unsolicited and solicited advice from everyone. Back when I was first building our What’s Good website, it was suggested we launch with just a few products and then tweak and add as time went on. I delayed the launch until we had enough to look a little more polished. During the wait, a good friend suggested we launch on my mother’s birthday. Now three years out, we get to celebrate our business on the same day we remember my mother. And of course, I was able to launch with more confidence.”Jennifer Young, What’s Good
For Fanning, it’s not simply a love of art—being dedicated to removing toxins from art products is serving her fellow artists and the planet itself. That’s why she listens to herself, because the mission is more than just a business.
“As a business owner with no prior training in business, I've had over twenty different advisors and just by circumstance they've all been male. Many were trained in a very old school, aggressive, male dominated way of doing business which I tried out but just didn't vibe with me. One major factor in the continued success and growth of my business has been simply trusting my intuition. Even when analyzing the numbers and finances said I should not take a certain risk or leap of faith, I always checked in with my gut, my deep intuition and made decisions from there. And guess what, every single time it was the absolute right decision.”Leah Fanning, Natural Earth Paint
Power of Women, Now and Before
Women are powerful, surviving and thriving even in the face of hardship, violence, and oppression.
“I learned early on that 'Power is something not given but taken,' so as women, we shouldn't be afraid to go for what we want. Instead, make decisions based on where we feel we can grow.”Anna Stella, BBSA Marketing
And more women business owners noted they stand on the shoulders of giants, of women who have fought against those in power to claim their own dignity and autonomy.
"I woke up this morning feeling incredibly grateful to be a woman in 2023. We stand on the shoulders of so many beautiful women of history who paved the way for us to soar. What we do with that in this present time will underscore our granddaughters' generation and those that come after her. Let us continue to be brave in our work and bold in our lives, with confidence, kindness and grace marking the footsteps we leave along our path."Sue Markgraf, GreenMark Media
For Gloria Ware, who runs a subscription box company comprised of products from primarily Black women-owned businesses, her whole ethos is about supporting her sisters, as women throughout history have carved new paths together. Meanwhile, fair trade entrepreneur Nancy Dunlitz is dedicated to helping Guatemalan women artists.
“My business journey is fueled by the courage, tenacity and legacy of entrepreneurial Black women from the 19th and 20th century, including Annie Malone, inventor, philanthropist and beauty magnate, Ida B. Wells, anti-lynching activist, investigative journalist and entrepreneur and Maggie Lena Walker, first woman to found and be the president of a chartered bank in the U.S. I'm inspired by the conviction of these women to withstand the challenges of racism and sexism of their day in pursuit of a greater vision for society.”Gloria Ware, Get the Bag
“I support a lot of women artists. I’ve interviewed all kinds of people--store owners, wholesalers, other business people, all women. In my business, as a rule, I'm always supportive of women.”Nancy Dunitz, Dunitz & Company, Inc.
Alina Bartell’s inspiration comes from a little closer to home, citing the matriarchs in her family as those who push her:
"My inspiration comes from witnessing the two most important women in my life.
1. My mother who had a flourishing business in communist Poland and sew garments and knitted sweaters to support us. In post-war communist Poland, it was unheard of—to sell garments to government-owned stores and do it successfully! It took a personality that said ‘No. The circumstances will not define me.’
2. My grandmother, a widow after World War II, who was a disciplined tailor, sewing men's suits and coats with perfection that fascinated me.”Alina Bartell, Natural Clothing
Women Business Owners Striving Despite Patriarchy
It’s no secret women have faced barriers, stereotypes, and disadvantages entirely due to sexism. The society we live in is built on a patriarchal history and order, which is why seeing women succeed is so exciting.
“When I was a little girl, I never thought boys had any advantages over girls. It was not until I attended business school, that I realized that there was such a thing as an ‘old boys’ network’ and that women were undervalued and not given the same opportunities as men. This became more apparent when I joined the workforce, and I experienced all kinds of sexual harassment. As an accomplished businesswoman, I am lucky to be surrounded by strong, brilliant successful women and I am infinitely grateful. Some of the most gratifying work I do is mentoring young girls. They can do anything they set their minds to do!”Gia Machlin, EcoPlum
“The world as we know it was designed by 6ft tall, right-handed, straight white guys for their benefit and comfort. (Not criticizing, just observing.)
Those of us who don't fit that model learn to be creative, canny and resilient. These are our set of secret weapons - that and a refusal to look at everything as a zero sum game. (Oh, and super-hero level multi-tasking skills.)”Jane Bond, Eco Dog Care
"I have seen quite a few competitors come and go over the 16 years I've been in business, and they have all been men. This makes me feel extra proud of what I have built as a female business owner. Most of my competitors seem to focus all on profit and they lose sight of how to connect people to the planet in a beautiful and meaningful way.”Kim Isley, Trees for a Change
While there is certainly more progress to be made as we go forward into the world, Caroline Blazovsky, owner of My Healthy Home, celebrates how far women have come so far:
“The numbers are starting to really show our influence, 42% of U.S. businesses are owned by women and women make 85% of purchasing decisions. My specific company caters to the home improvement arena. Traditionally, men dominated the building and remodeling space. Even with our increase in buying power and influence, this sector still remains underrepresented. As a female entrepreneur, I want to see home improvement concepts that include health and wellness. This perspective brings a different view to a traditionally efficiency driven industry.”Caroline Blazovsky, Healthy Home Expert