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Business Unplugged™
This blog features Carol Roth's tough love on business and entrepreneurship, as well as insights from Carol's community of contributors.

At the Business Table, Where are the Ladies?

Written By: Carol Roth | 76 Comments

This is a tough post for me to write, because I think of myself as an entrepreneur, not a “woman entrepreneur” and half of the time, I forget that I am female.  I hate the idea of even calling out the difference between the sexes, but there are certain times when the fact that there is no woman at the table is absolutely glaring.

Looking at the New York Times business best seller list, there is rarely ever a woman’s name that pops up. In fact, the few times there are, it is often a celebrity (like Suze Orman or Ivanka Trump).  With all of the smart business women out there (and 52% of new businesses being started by women), where are the ladies?

The online gurus- When you hear about the thought leaders, you hear about the Seth Godin’s, the Gary V’s, the Brian Solis’s, the Chris Brogans, the Guy Kawasaki’s, and so on and so on, who are all brilliant and deserving of the attention and accolades.  But, despite again the many women having really compelling messages, I rarely, if ever hear a woman’s name mentioned in the same company, or at least with the same reverence.  Where are the ladies?

In fact, the lack of women speaking at TED conferences made the organizers come up with the genius idea of having a TED Women conference.  But that misses the point.  We don’t want to be singled out and we don’t want to be given a seat at the table just because we are women either.

So, where are the ladies and why are we not represented at the highest level of business?  There are certainly many women who should be at the table, not because they are women, but because they are deserving and are conspicuously still absent.   In a recent discussion with a high profile business publication, I was invited to become a contributor.  The senior editor named all of the other business contributors and absent me, they were all men. Despite the fact that 52% of all businesses are started by women currently, the business advice is being given by men.

Ironically, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg gave a really compelling talk at TED Women on the lack of women leaders:

If you are in a substantial position, think about whether you are missing out on having a woman at the table to add to the conversation.  Seth Godin showed his leadership in this area with his “FeMBA” intensive free workshop for women entrepreneurs. Chris Brogan showed his leadership in this area by inviting both Liz Strauss and me to become founding contributors to the Escape Velocity blog, and quickly adding Pam Slim and Alexandra Levit to the team as well. Michael Port shows his leadership with ongoing support of many female entrepreneurs (myself included).

I think that it’s time that we make sure that we are all supporting the women too.  Not just for being a woman- that’s lame and defeats the point- but because there are some very compelling messengers out there that the world is missing out on, possibly because the message comes in a pair of high heels.

What do you think of this issue? How can we encourage the recognition of more of the top-tier female business leaders, authors and entrepreneurs?

Article written by
Carol Roth is a national media personality, ‘recovering’ investment banker, investor, speaker and author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Entrepreneur Equation. She is a judge on the Mark Burnett (Shark Tank, The Voice, Survivor, The Apprentice) produced technology competition series, America's Greatest Makers, airing on TBS and Host of Microsoft's Office Small Business Academy show. Previously, Carol was the host and co-producer of The Noon Show, a current events talk show on WGN Radio, one of the top stations in the country, and a contributor to CNBC, as well as a frequent guest on Fox News, CNN, Fox Business and other stations. Carol's multimedia commentary covers business and the economy, current events, politics and pop culture topics. Carol has helped her clients complete more than $2 billion in capital raising and M&A transactions. She is a Top 100 Small Business Influencer (2011-2015) and has her own action figure. Twitter: @CarolJSRoth
  • Carol

    Great question. I just picked up a book last night called “Lifestyle Selling for Women” by Pauline O’Malley and Brenda Page. A really great, easy read on how women can “sell more in less time and enjoy life”.

    Pauline had a get together for 60-80 people last night, mostly women, mostly entrepreneurs, to talk about where we are heading in 2011. As a successful business coach, she was far more interested in what we had to say than her thoughts, but her point was this.

    It does not matter if you are a man or a woman, you can survive and thrive in this world if you understand what makes YOU unique and special and SELL those qualities to the world.

    The question is not “Are there great women in business?” for clearly there are. The question should rather be”do these women have the need or the desire to thrust themselves into the limelight”?. and if the answer is either YES or NO, then “WHY”?

    Men and women, in general, are not hardwired the same and motivations and benchmarks of success, in general, are different. A women should never be seen as any less successful just because she chooses to be the power behind the power.

    Just my $0.02.

    Ben Baker

  • I am replying on the assumption that we view success as bigger is better and higher position is better. If that is your definition of success (and it is for many people), then my comments are:

    1 – I like supporting entrepreneurship in women. One great organization for this is GoldenSeeds, an angel capital group that only invests in businesses where a woman has a substantial stake. In starting and running a business, the playing field is much more level. There is no one that has to “hire” you. So I think entrepreneurship may be the area that will allow women to equalize over time. Entrepreneurship also tends to generate wealth.

    2 – Family takes a big toll on women success in business. I can only imagine any man who took 3 or more years off during their most productive times would have a tough time catching up. And many women take more than that time off. I am not saying if it is right or wrong but by defining success in “business success” terms, it matters.

    3 – Success happens where there is passion. Passion generates energy and ambition. For women to succeed in business they need to have a business passion. It is not a passion for the position, it is a passion for the business.

    4 – Success in business often happens at the expense of balance. I am not saying this is good. I am just saying often a lack of life balance can contribute to business success. Perhaps this ties into 3 – passion for business often means sacrificing in other areas.

  • Hi again,

    It is Saturday. We now have five days of comments. Fabulous. I wanted to stop by again as I forgot to mention something I learned (noticed) over the past 40 years. Want a seat at the table? Want an invitation to sit down? The answer is (or often is) a four letter word. GOLF!


  • FYI – just checking over my Klout score ( and all 5 of my “Influenced by” are women.

    Couldn’t do it without those tweeps!


  • I read this post several days ago, and have pondered it since then. In almost any situation I encounter, I do not think of myself as a woman business owner. I think of myself as an adventurous entrepreneur. I own a company in a primarily male-dominated industry (software development) in part because I married a computer programmer. When we purchased the company we were doing software in law enforcement. Hello – double whammy. However, I used being a female to my advantage. I am often able to tell men things that might earn a guy a right hook. I once sat at the table where there were more titles (sergeant, lieutenant not any C-titles) than I could count, I was the only woman except the Chief’s secretary (sitting on the wall). I went toe to toe with a lieutenant and someone said to my husband also at the table, aren’t you going to defend her? He said, “If I fought every battle she got herself into I wouldn’t have time to do anything else.”

    In our house, he cooks, I weed-eat. That’s different than when my children were toddlers. I took a 2 year sabbatical to be a stay home mom and PTO President. Then I returned to the business to launch a new division of the company that has double our sales in less than 2 years during a down economy. We each have strengths and even have swapped roles over our 17 year marriage that has included 12 years as business partners.

    I have been told by many men that I get places they wouldn’t be able to get. However, while in law enforcement software, I fell in love with long skirts, pants and turtlenecks. I try to maintain a level of modesty that ensures I am respected for my brain and my enthusiasm instead of my body. Not sure that’s related, but sometimes I see women dress in ways that make it hard for me to take them seriously.

    This blog post encouraged me to perhaps look at some of the ways I do business that are in fact more like a woman (less aggressive, more willingness to discount my services). I want to use this information to increase my company’s effectiveness. I also want to celebrate the ways that I run my business more like a woman that are good – safe place for people with children, compassion, flexibility and equal opportunity regardless of gender. Thanks for writing the post and thanks for the countless comments that have sparked such a lively discussion.

  • Carol,

    For economic, social and just evolutional reasons both feminine and masculine roles are shifting. The shift started at the turn of the last century, became a movement in the 60’s and 70’s, then went into a period that looked like hibernation. It was actually integration, a key to women being empowered.

    Today we see men stepping beyond the shame of our ancestors’ abuse towards women with asking ourselves what is to be a man. In part catalyzed by the women’s movement men are forming their movement. We don’t have the institutions to rebel against as the women had. We have the institutional thinking to rebel against.

    Men’s rebelling parallels women’s new fight for equality. We both are challenging what we were groomed to be. One confusing aspect of both of our struggles is that we are fighting less against people and institutions and more for a yet to be defined way of being.

    This new definition includes men being more feminine and women being more masculine. As women ‘drop out’ less to stay in the workforce to be C level executives men are staying home to raise the kids. As Sheryl Sandberg says to women, “Sit at the table,” women are at a place where they need to take their place. It is less about asking for it, more about taking it. As Deborah Tanner would say, women aren’t trained to do these simple tasks that men wouldn’t think twice to do.

    Men are learning to sit at their new table. We are learning how to keep our masculinity as we take on more feminine roles – as women are learning the opposite.

    How do men and women learn to do what is required if we are to be successful at our new roles? I suggest we ask for help – from the experts, the opposite sex. We need to start collaborating, let’s open source our own development and our children’s development.

    Keep asking these questions Carol. I enjoy the passion you bring to your missions. I enjoyed meeting you at BBNYC with that passion to shake things up.

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  • katmtaylor

    Thanks for this insight Carol..I just stumbled across it (very late) but a friend and I are constantly having this conversation. We work with a group of nonprofits in Atlanta and it’s so difficult to get the women involved.  We know there are amazing women leading but it’s so hard to find them and then WHEN you find them, it’s difficult to connect with them.

    I really like your article. It’s
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