Women’s Future in the Small Business Labor Force

Recent government statistics show us that women’s labor force participation is gradually declining. But all small businesses must continue to plan on women as a talent resource and as a customer base. Whatever the macro-government trend-lines, women will continue to make a difference in small businesses.

And the modern working woman is a most unusual creature, as I was reminded. Here are some hints on what the (female) small business owner wants.

“How do you do it all?” Accomplished women with kids constantly get this question.

Helen Philbrook, married and mother of three, from Raleigh, NC, has the answer.

Your Business Blogger recently sat down with Helen and her husband David to learn the secret. And see the future of women in business.

She’s a former Vice President of an environmental testing firm, and perhaps the world’s first female “Smoke Stack Sniffer.” She’s run a number of start-ups.

But Helen says she’s now “followed her passion to gardening.” Her small company Tiger Lily’s is an award-winning firm that gives her what she needs most and what most women want:


Where she learned:


The greatest challenge women face in business is learning to negotiate.

“I first learned to negotiate with myself,” she says. “I made a decision to balance and to do what was really important for me: marriage and children.”

But she also negotiates with her clients. Hard. She establishes upfront contracts with the explicit understanding that for her, her family will come first.


She was attempting the conventional time balance that she describes as, “Thirds, 1/3 husband, 1/3 children, 1/3 work. But something [had] to give.” There weren’t enough hours.

And Helen felt that, “Anything can happen with kids.”

She now has a new view of the family dynamic. As a total household enterprise.



She is an advocate of “sequencing” for women — marriage, children, work. Helen says a woman can always have an “ambitious career” in a large company. She knows that this approach is not for every woman. But every small business owner should know that this is something some women do. How some women think.

Looking for flexibility for her family, she used her negotiation skills, and left her corporate job as a Vice President. And started another business to fit her own needs. It happens to generate a bit more than minimum wage, but money was not the goal.

She put her family first and a small business and income followed.

Helen’s path to workplace independence with flexibility, was not smooth. Twenty-something women could learn from her.

She has advice to young women starting out. Where the fear is that they will get behind the power curve. “Not so,” she says.

“Your career is still waiting for you.”

And this is the lesson for small businesses and the future: women will be demanding greater flexiblity to satisfy more lifestyle choices. The small business that can accommodate woman’s choices, will profit from women’s talents.

Full Disclosure: Helen is my kid sister.


Jack Yoest John Wesley (Jack) Yoest Jr., is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Management at The Catholic University of America. His expertise is in management training and development, operations, sales, and marketing. Professor Yoest is the president of Management Training of DC, LLC. A former Captain in the U.S. Army and with various stints as a corporate executive, he also served as Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Resources in the Administration of Governor James Gilmore of Virginia.