Woman-Owned Firms Show Rapid Growth

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At most major companies, it's rare to see women in top leadership positions. But that doesn't mean women are shunning the business world. Instead, many are starting their own companies, and some of them are getting help from big corporate players.

Over the past nine years, the number of woman-owned firms grew at twice the rate of companies overall, according to a recent analysis of the latest census data by the Center for Women's Business Research. Of course, women have a lot of ground to make up. Still, they are catching up quickly. The number of woman-owned firms grew by 42 percent, the center found, compared with a 23 percent increase in the number of companies overall.

The number of companies whose ownership is at least 51 percent female now stands at 7.7 million, up from 5.4 million in 1997. Firms owned by women now account for some 30 percent of the nation's 25.8 million companies.

Women are starting firms in areas new to them. While 69 percent of woman-owned companies are in the service sector, the fastest-growing area for women starting their own companies is wholesale trade, according to the center.

That's partly because large companies are increasingly turning to firms owned by women to help them fulfill the obligations of contracts that require minority or female participation. And some financial institutions, like American Express and Wells Fargo, are seeing dollar signs by starting special lending programs for woman-owned companies.