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I recently had the great fun and honor to be a judge for The Mobileys, a business plan competition that honors entrepreneurs who inspire and make a difference through mobile innovation. I've judged plenty of business plan competitions, but this one was special; over half the finalists were women entrepreneurs. Yes, women... technology ...entrepreneurs.
Having been a women tech entrepreneur, I'm aware of how far we have to go, but I also see it getting better. One of the reasons for this may be that as mobile capabilities grow, opportunities for women also grow. Why might that be and how can we ensure it continues?
In my experience, one of the big limiters for women in the corporate world were the unwritten rules that required a near constant and visible presence at "the office". There, ambitious men and women were often expected to prove themselves by sheer physical presence; showing up early and staying late, regardless of the actual need to be on site to solve the problems of the day. An environment where your promotion might depend on your ability to stay at your desk longer than your peers isn't easy for anyone, particularly those who don't have a stay-at-home helpmate. And, even though the number of stay at home men is growing (about 3.5 percent of all homemakers) there are still far more men with a stay-at-home partner than women. And for singles, it's equally as daunting.
This is where women, tech, and mobile converge. In a world that's mobile friendly, we are better able to untether ourselves and make the sale, close the deal, or fix the product glitch -- from just about anywhere! Indeed, 28 percent of companies today allow some kind of telework and that number is trending upward. And with advances in video capabilities, we are more able to "see" our customers in real time without ever setting foot in the office.
Now I'm not proposing that we abandon the office. And for many U.S workers, tele-work simply isn't an option. But in the technology development and start-up worlds, mobile capabilities allow new opportunities that are fundamentally transforming the ways many of us work. A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that in the past 12 months, 60 percent of tech industry jobs went to women.
In the start-up world, we are also seeing growing numbers of women entrepreneurs. In fact, the rate of growth in the number of women-owned enterprises over the past 16 years is 1.5 times the national average, with more than 8.6 million women-owned businesses in the U.S., generating nearly $1.3 trillion in revenues and employing 7.8 million people. These are good signs.
Corporations with women in the ranks perform better, women make the vast majority of buying decisions in our nation, and we need the intellectual combustion that only diversity -- of ethnicity, age, gender, and political preference -- can incite. There are plenty of improvements still to be made, women aren't near equality in management or boardrooms, but as our mobile options expand, our work options expand as well. Changes like these can bring economic payoffs that we've only begun to realize.
Diane Smith is a former telecom executive, CEO of American Rural and serves on the board of Mobile Future. She was a co-founder and chief executive officer of a ground-breaking IPTV and advanced media services company in Kalispell, Montana.