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City bolsters female workforce

With female entrepreneurship on the rise, Atlanta is spearheading efforts to help train women to strengthen the city’s small business workforce.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed announced on Feb. 4 the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative (WEI), a city project aimed at training 15 small-business women in practical business education, financial capital and business support services and mentorship in the Flatiron Building in downtown Atlanta, according to Atlanta Intown.

Atlanta ranks in the middle among Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) that have more progressive gender attitudes — a “fem factor” — about working women and have more opportunities for self-employment, according to Georgia State Professor of Economics Carlianne Patrick in a recent study of female entrepreneurship.  

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Theia Washington, executive director of the WEI, said the project will train a new class every 15 months. Cristina Cruz-Benton, a city spokeswoman, said the WEI will receive funding from the City of Atlanta and donations from partners, and seven years of free office space in the Flatiron Building.

“The WEI is dedicated to supporting women who want to be good stewards of the community,” she said. “Some of our Fortune 500 companies in Atlanta are looking for entrepreneurs to help them solve problems, and strengthen their internal innovation needs.”

Patrick’s recent study found that women tend to become entrepreneurs in cities with more self-employment and small businesses opportunities.

Women account for more than 30 percent of all American businesses, and have generated over $1.5 trillion since 2015, according to the 2015 State of Women-Owned Business Report. Female entrepreneurs invest over 90 percent of their earnings into their family and communities, according to the AJC.

Patrick said their results found that 8 percent of married women called themselves boss, whereas only 4 percent of unmarried women were self-employed. Patrick said her team used National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) and the General Social Survey (GSS) to determine the choices of single and married women.

Patrick also said she and her team studied self-employment by marriage and gender as early as 1976, finding married women chose self-employment as an alternative to unemployment, and unmarried women choose it when they have more ability and self-confidence.

“Married women choose self-employment when they have small children [under the age of 5] or their spouse works,” she said. “Having young children increases the probability that unmarried women exit the labor force altogether [instead of self-employment].”

Washington told The Signal that the advocacy group Women in Construction, Engineering and Related Services (WICERS) is hosting a competition for college-aged women to pitch ideas to improve Atlanta for a prize of $5,000.

The Big Ideas Smart Solutions Pitch Competition allows female college entrepreneurs to submit a business idea to help Atlanta in areas of improving neighborhood safety, reduce energy use, accelerate economic growth or improve transportation in the city, according to WICERS.

Looking for a few good women

At the federal level, Secy. of Defense Ashton Carter announced on Dec. 3, over 200,000 combat careers are available to any and all qualified women, according to the New York Times. The Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force (GCEITF) July 2014 study tested male and female health and performance for ground combat. Studies showed that 40 percent of women received injuries.  

“The [armed] services are currently involved in implementation working groups to put women in these jobs,” Gabrielle Hermes of the Pentagon Press Office told The Signal. Hermes said “working groups” are private, and was unable to elaborate.

Jodene Topran, Georgia State nutrition student and small business owner, said she likes the idea of the WEI because it gives “small businesses a fighting chance to succeed in today’s economy,” and proving yourself as a woman in business is harder doing it alone.

“The first year is the hardest, and it can make or break your business and your spirit,” she said. “but once you’re established, the community no longer questions your ability based on gender, and you have time to keep your business going for the second, fifth, or even tenth year!”   

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