Women-Owned Businesses in Utah: Status, Challenges, and Opportunities

Twenty-five years ago, in 1997, Utah’s Women’s Business Center, in partnership with the Utah Technology Finance Corporation and Small Business Administration, sponsored a comprehensive survey of Utah women business owners. The purpose of the study was to better understand the specific roles women-owned businesses play in Utah’s economy. To see what, if any, changes have occurred for women-owned businesses in Utah since the 1997 report, the UWLP partnered with the Women’s Business Center of Utah (WBCUtah) in 2022 to conduct an in-depth survey of women business owners to discover where progress had been made and identify areas needing additional attention.

Context

Other research, based purely on the number of women-owned businesses within each state, ranks Utah
45th, with 16% of the state’s businesses being women-owned. However, another way to look at the current picture is to put it in context of the past. Using a more historic lens to understand which states have seen the highest percentage increase in women-owned businesses over the last two decades, Utah is ranked second, with a 77% increase.

Research Methods

The purpose of this research study was to update information of a 1997 comprehensive survey of Utah women business owners. Specifically, we were interested in better understanding the specific roles women-owned businesses play in Utah’s economy. The three primary research questions included the following: 

  • What are the characteristics of women-owned businesses in Utah?
  • How have they changed over the last 25 years?
  • What are the experiences of women who own businesses in Utah?

The 1997 survey (which had 759 respondents) was used as a starting point for the development of the 20–30-minute instrument that was distributed in April and May of 2022. The survey instrument had a total of 29 questions. Overall, 251 Utah women business owners completed the survey.

The Characteristics of Women-Owned Businesses in Utah

The survey results indicate that a majority of Utah women business owners who participated in the survey started their own business within the last five years. The largest percentage are personally owned by women, and when ownership is shared, most are owned completely by women. The main target audience is women, and the three most common industries for women-owned businesses were in: 

  1. advertising, business services, and IT;
  2. agriculture, construction, engineering, and manufacturing; and
  3. food services, leisure, and travel.

Women spend between 40 and 49 hours per week on the business; they often work from home, are located in Salt Lake County, and own businesses that have a presence both online and in physical spaces. 

In analyzing the data, we found some interesting correlations between some of the characteristics of
women-owned businesses in Utah.

  • Number of Years in Business: A majority of Utah women business owners (52.8%) were relatively new, having been in business for five years or less.
  • Business Ownership: (65.6%) of women in our sample personally owned 100% of their business.
  • Ownership Acquisition: 86.4% of businesses were started by women themselves, with only
    10.0% having purchased their business.
  • Target Audience: When asked to identify their target audience from a list of options, most frequently surveyers selected women (71.7%) followed by men (53.0%) and organizations (50.6%).
  • Workplace Location and Presence: 50.0% of the survey participants indicated that they work from home, with 32.0% offering that they conduct their business from a blend of working from home as well as an off-site location. Those who had a physical space reported working more hours per week than those who had a fully online business presence.

The Economic Power of Women-Owned Businesses 

  • Average Number of Employees: 44.3% declared themselves to be self-employed with no other employees, compared to 29% in the 1997 survey. The majority of respondents in the current study reported having 1–5 workers.
  • Average Annual Sales: The gross sales for the average women-owned businesses were under $50,000.
  • Percentage of Businesses by Payroll Amount: A majority of the women-owned businesses reported an gross payroll of under $25,000.

The Demographics of Women Who Own Businesses in Utah 

  • Race and Ethnicity: Survey participants who are women business owners in Utah are predominantly White (89.6%), and 9.6% are Hispanic/Latino. In 1997 survey, 94.1% of participants were White. 
  • Age Range: The respondents’ ages ranged from 18 to over 65, with the largest proportion of women ranging from 35–44 years old (29.5%) and 45–54 years old (28.3%).
  • Educational Background: The largest group of women business owners described their education as Graduate Degree (31.9%), followed closely by those with a Bachelor’s Degree (29.5%).
  • Marital Status: Most women business owners identified as married (70.5%). 
  • Number of Children: A majority of women business owners who responded to the survey indicated they had no children at home under the age of 17. 
  • Funding Sources Used to Start, Maintain, and Expand Business: Personal savings was the most common form of financing to start (65.7%), maintain (43.4%), and expand (31.1%) a business and that credit cards were a distant second source.
  • Reasons for Business Ownership: The option cited most frequently, at 59.8%, was that women wanted to create something. Another option that frequently contributed to their decision to be a business owner was independence (51.0%), followed closely by wanting to make more money (49.8%). 

Additional Information on Women-Owned Businesses in Utah 

The research team sought to understand certain aspects of being a woman business owner in Utah and provided survey participants the option of responding to the following open-ended questions:

  1. What women-specific barriers or challenges, if any, have you faced in operating or growing your
    own business?
  2. What has been your best advantage as a woman business owner, or women-owned business?
  3. What support, if any, have you received (please note if any of this is support was women-specific)?
  4. How has accessibility and availability of childcare impacted your ability to effectively operating
    your business?

Barriers in Operating or Growing Business: The current survey gathered 189 responses to the open-ended question, “What women-specific barriers or challenges, if any, have you faced in operating or growing your own business?” These barriers included balancing life responsibilities, issues related to gender, lack of resources, and some respondents noted no barriers. 

Advantages Being a Woman Business Owner: The second open-ended question was, “What has been your best advantage as a women business owner, or women-owned business?” There were 191 responses, and some responses identified multiple advantages including soft skills, relationships, business owner resources and support, target audience, standing out from the competition, flexible work environment, using skills and expertise. Some respondents noted that there were either no advantages or other advantages. 

Support Received as a Woman Business Owner: The question “What support, if any, have you received (please note if any of this is support was women-specific)?” drew 178 responses. The fascinating array of responses included descriptions of various kinds of formal and informal support networks, organizations supporting business owners, community support, as well as help with finances and training.

Impact of Childcare on Operating Business: The final open-ended question was, “How has accessibility and availability of childcare impacted your ability to effectively operating your business?” The question drew 191 responses. Responses included no impact, difficulty balancing, accessing childcare, issues for clients/employees, personal network, and needed flexibility for childcare.

Summary and Recommendations

While women-owned businesses continue to thrive in Utah, this white paper shows that women-owned businesses have evolved. At the same time, many of the challenges Utah women face when starting, maintaining, and growing businesses have changed little in a quarter century.

The following recommendations could be useful in Utah:

  • Strengthen microloan programs to serve small women-owned businesses more effectively.
  • Improve the process and turnaround time for obtaining a Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) certification.
  • Address childcare concerns as a barrier for women business owners. 
  • Improve outreach to more women business owners, particularly those in rural or underserved communities. 
  • Spotlight and share stories about women business owners to challenge the perception that entrepreneurship is a masculine endeavor. 
  • Encourage the State of Utah to expand data collection efforts on small businesses owners, both women and men, to provide a clearer snapshot of the entire business ecosystem. Doing so would provide a means of comparing the experiences of female and male business owners.
  • Require the collection of gender and race/ethnicity for business registrations, licensing, and other data collection forms so data can better inform current and future efforts and strategies. 

In conclusion, Utah continues to rank well when it comes to women’s entrepreneurship in some metrics, but not in others. Despite both nationwide and Utah-specific hurdles, women are establishing businesses that not only generate revenue and employ other Utahns but also contribute to their quality of life and the prosperity of local and statewide economies. Potential for success will continue to increase as more women receive adequate funding, access resources, and seek support from strong professional networks. As mentioned earlier, it is our hope that these results can provide Utah business and government leaders with useful information in identifying and developing interventions that support the growth of womenowned businesses. The 2022 survey raises the voices of women business owners within Utah, and we need to continue the dialogue to improve the quality of life for all Utah residents. 

To learn more about women's equality in Utah, read the full white paper.

Check out some of our other posts

October 2022 Newsletter

The October 2022 Newsletter for the Utah Women & Leadership Project highlights new resources released, editorials, and announcements about women's groups and partnerships.