When Courtney Folk applied to work at her in-laws’ company, Textile Restorations, she almost didn’t get hired. Even after joining the team, most of her ideas were brushed aside, deemed too outlandish. But Folk had a vision. Fifteen years later, she’s the president of the revamped Atlanta-based fabric restoration business with over 200 employees. So what changed? For one, she had to learn to be assertive. “I had to do a lot of sales,” Folk tells OZY. “I had to be confident in myself and thoughtful in how I communicated, but ultimately I had to get my way.”
According to Folk, the United States’ history of teaching women to be passive, kind and polite — “but never assertive” — has conditioned them to accept less than men in business, particularly in regard to salary and promotions. But she believes that’s changing. “Women are increasingly feeling that their work is valued more based on its quality and contribution than things like office politics,” says Folk. “That’s leading to a whole new level of confidence in the workplace.”
According to a new Bank of America Merrill Edge Report, she’s right.
The nationwide survey, which Merrill Edge — an online discount brokerage service offered by Bank of America — was conducted in coordination with another study, Bank of America’s Women Business Owner Spotlight. Both studies gathered data by polling unique groups of over 1,000 respondents. The Women Business Owner Spotlight surveyed only female small business owners, while the Merrill Edge Report polled respondents aged 18 to 34 and affluent U.S. respondents over the age of 34 with investable assets greater than $50,000. Merrill Edge then sifted through that data to build a report focused on women’s thoughts on business and finance. “We wanted to gain a better feeling of how they’re feeling,” says Sharon Miller, head of small business at Bank of America. “This year, we examined women specifically,” she explains, compared to the broader population surveyed.
THE TWO REPORTS PAINT A VERY OPTIMISTIC, CONFIDENT AND BRIGHT FUTURE FOR WOMEN IN SMALL BUSINESS AND INVESTING.
ANNA COLTON, MERRILL EDGE
According to the Merrill Edge Report, women are more confident than men that life choices such as never marrying (64 percent of women versus 55 percent of men), outliving their significant other (57 percent of women versus 47 percent of men) or getting divorced (35 percent of women versus 24 percent of men) won’t stand in the way of their financial futures. These women believe that they can make it on their own, a fact that Merrill Edge executive Anna Colton says is largely due to women both saving more and spending less. “Together, the two reports paint a very optimistic, confident and bright future for women in small business and investing,” says Colton. “The women we surveyed knew that the financial steps they were taking would allow them to reach their goals.”
In a similar vein, the Women Business Owner Spotlight gauged the aspirations and concerns of female small business owners. Together, the two studies cast a wider net, helping produce a fuller view of how women are feeling about their financial present — and future. The Spotlight found that 71 percent of female small business owners believe that at least 25 states will sponsor state-enacted paid maternity leave policies over the next 20 years. Additionally, the Merrill Edge report found that 38 percent of women believe it is very important that their investments benefit the advancement of women. In other words, both studies found that women foresee further progress in the workplace and want investments that support them.
In her company, Folk believes that the investment in, and advancement of, women is paramount, not only in terms of paid time off and benefits but also when it comes to salary equality and fostering a healthy workplace. “In our business, that’s what I’ve really fought to change,” says Folk. “When you have an environment where people are proud of their work and unafraid to take risks, they’ll work even harder moving forward.”