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Female business owners struggle for equality as success stories prove the rule

Women business, Carrie Morey

Carrie Morey opened one of her Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit restaurants in Virginia Highland in an expansion from her home base in Charleston. Credit: Callie's Charleston Biscuits

By David Pendered

As the nation braces for the Supreme Court to revisit the Roe v. Wade abortion rights precedent, the precarious financial situation of female business owners is highlighted in a new report from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

Women business, Carrie Morey

Carrie Morey opened one of her Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit restaurants in Virginia Highland in an expansion from her home base in Charleston, S.C. Credit: Callie’s Charleston Biscuits

GBPI’s findings don’t surprise. The fourth sentence of the Women Mean Business report observes: “[W]hile the number of women business owners is growing fast in Georgia, they lag significantly behind men in access to capital and the generation of new revenue.”

GBPI’s report doesn’t mention it, but until 1988 women business owners were generally required to have a male relative cosign a business loan. Any male relative would do – son, nephew, brother, husband, according to a report by forbes.com.

Only after President Reagan signed the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988 were women able to borrow on their own signature. Reagan signed the law 14 days before the presidential election in which Republican candidate G.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis.

Success stories speak of the women who overcome these and other difficulties.

Atlanta-based Spanx founder Sara Blakey started her undergarment company in 1998 with $5,000 in savings. A story in forbes.com observed in 2012 that Blakey was, “the youngest woman to join this year’s FORBES World’s Billionaires list without help from a husband or an inheritance.”

Charleston-based Carrie Morey started Callie’s Charleston Biscuits in 2005 to share biscuits made by her mom’s recipe. Morey brought the grab-and-go concept of Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit to Atlanta’s Virginia Highland neighborhood as part of an expansion that now includes sites in Charleston, S.C. and Charlotte, N.C.

Women business, loan amounts

Female business owners remain unable to access the amount of capital available to male business owners, despite a federal law signed by President Ronald Reagan. Credit: GBPI

Both women have made a point to share their experiences. Morey has guest lectured for more than five years at the College of Charleston’s School of Business. Blakey started the Spanx Foundation in 2006 to donate to charities that work with underserved women and girls.

Nonetheless, a generation after Reagan signed that law, GBPI reports that women still have trouble accessing capital.

Women are less likely than men to be approved for commercial loans – 47 percent of applications from women are approved, compared to 61 percent for men, GBPI reported, citing a 2016 study by the Federal Reserve banks of New York and Kansas City.

When women do get a loan from the federal Small Business Administration, the sum is just over a third the sum men receive – about $60,000 for female applicants compared to $156,000 for male applicants, GBPI reports, citing a 2016 report by Fundera, Inc., which helps potential borrowers find lenders.

The Census provides a wealth of information on female-owned businesses in metro Atlanta and across the nation. The latest available is fairly dated, from 2012, but is still deemed so relevant it’s cited in the most recent edition of the annual State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, released in 2018 by American Express.

Female-owned businesses trail male-owned business in categories including sales or values of shipments, paid employees and annual payroll, according to 2012 data from the Census. Credit: U.S. Census Bureau, 2012 Survey of Business Owners

The information for the metro Atlanta region shows that businesses owned by women represent about a fifth of businesses in the region. These business provide about a fifth of the payroll and employment, and a sixth of sales, when compared to businesses owned by men. For instance:

  • Payroll – $5.5 billion compared to $28.7 billion;
  • Employees – 152,326 compared to 713,196;
  • Sales or values of shipment – $26.7 billion compared to $160.5 billion.

Click here for a larger version of the nearby chart of details for the region, as reported from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 Survey of Business Owners.


Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit, in Virginia Highland, is among the female-owned businesses that have had the resources to expand into new markets. Credit: Callie’s Charleston Biscuits


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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