The number of female-led businesses is rising. According to statistics from Fundera, there are currently somewhere in the order of 12.3 million female-owned businesses in the United States, generating a total revenue of $1.8 trillion a year. Today, 40 percent of US businesses are owned by women. However, many women business leaders have faced significant challenges to get where they are.
Just 41 Fortune 500 companies are led by women. Women entrepreneurs and business leaders face a variety of inequities compared with their male counterparts. These range from a lack of mentorship to the pressures of balancing a demanding corporate role with family life.
Here we look at two women business leaders who bucked the trend, rising to the top of their respective industries, becoming positive role models for generations of female business leaders to come.
Martha Hoover, Founder of Patachou, Inc.
A former prosecutor, Martha Hoover opened her first restaurant in 1989 with zero experience of the industry. Today, the Patachou empire is comprised of 12 successful eateries.
When Hoover was 17, she travelled to France, funding the trip with money she had earned babysitting. In the culinary center of the universe, Hoover fell in love with food and cookery. Nevertheless, encouraged by her father to pursue a more stable career, Hoover put her culinary ambitions on hold, studying law at Indiana University.
Hoover went on to become a prosecutor in one of America’s first sex crimes units. However, her gastronomic dream never died. Today, she is recognized by Fortune as one of the ‘Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink’ as well as being a four-time James Beard Award semifinalist. She was also named ‘Empire Builder of the Year’ by Eater. She is also known for her unorthodox business style. A devoted philanthropist, she runs a foundation addressing the twin problems of food accessibility issues and childhood hunger in Indianapolis.
She explains that despite never having spent a working day in a kitchen, she never went into anything she did thinking she would be unsuccessful. Hoover maintains that she had an equal opportunity, and no one could tell her otherwise, despite women bosses being something of a rarity when she embarked on her second career as a restaurateur.
Speaking with Insider, Hoover wryly recounts asking her kitchen designer why he didn’t install a dishwasher, only to be told that he “didn’t want to waste your husband’s money.” He was convinced that her first diner was doomed to failure.
Now 62, Martha Hoover explains that her plans for the next decade are to leverage her position as a business leader to speak up on issues that negatively impact women, children, and marginalized demographics. Hoover explains that as people age, they may lose their filter, but in its place, they gain incredible insight and strength.
Izzy Obeng, Founder and Director of Foundervine equity
The startup world is not known for diversity, particularly in the UK, where according to government statistics gathered in 2018, just 13 percent of startup funding went to women-led organizations. Additionally, just 5 percent of small to medium-sized UK businesses led by people from Black or minority ethnic backgrounds. Black woman and entrepreneur Izzy Obeng launched Foundervine, to address this issue directly.
Originally from Tottenham, North London, 27-year-old Izzy Obeng recognized the opportunities presented by the UK’s startup scene. She aimed to create equity for marginalized demographics, creating Foundervine as a platform for professionals who were disenchanted with the industry. The company offered intensive workshops to provide young entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds with mentorship, helping them to develop their ideas and build success. If
Speaking with Global Citizen, Izzy Obeng explains that, where she grew up, she was surrounded by people with entrepreneurial energy. Unfortunately, problems with police violence combined with a lack of access to educational and professional opportunities hindered entrepreneurship in her local community. Obeng explains that she saw what was happening around her and her brothers from a young age, surrounded by negative role models, and knew that something had to change.
The 2011 London riots started in London, right in Izzy Obeng’s neighborhood. Obeng explains that the events made her more socially aware, motivating her to study politics, and sparking an ambition to become a Member of Parliament in order that she could effect social change.
At university, however, Obeng shifted gears after realizing that entrepreneurship was the key to making a real difference in underserved communities. She pursued a career in management consulting, focusing on building talent programs for young entrepreneurs. At first, she coached people as a sideline, mostly women of color who were interested in entrepreneurship but lacked meaningful opportunities to test their ideas. She went on to establish Foundervine.
In 2019, Izzy Obeng was included in the Tech Nation list of the ’50 Most Influential Black Voices in UK Tech.’ She currently divides her time between West Africa and the UK, presenting startup and scaleup acceleration programs, helping transform the digital innovation ecosystem.