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A jobless boom for female firms

Women are creating new businesses faster than the national average, but they're hiring far fewer workers. One solution: better networks for women.

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Over the past 15 years, the number of women-owned businesses in the US has grown 54 percent; their profits are up 57 percent; but their employee base has grown only 8.8 percent, according to a March report. Boosting that job creation would be a major boon to the economy.

Phil Marden

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When Genevieve Thiers was a senior at Boston College in the early 2000s, she watched a very pregnant woman trudge up a steep hill to post ads for baby sitters. "This has got to be easier," she recalls thinking, and it sparked her idea to start Sittercity.com, a venue where parents could find and screen caregivers.

Today, Sittercity has more than 70 full-time employees and has helped create jobs by pairing more than 1 million parents with baby sitters. The Chicago-based company stands out because so few women-owned businesses employ large staffs. Women are creating new firms at nearly 1-1/2 times the national average, but they're hiring far fewer workers. The female entrepreneur boom is not creating an employment bang.

"The nation has fewer jobs – and less strength in emerging industries – than it could if women's entrepreneurship were on par with men's," says a report released last fall by the Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City, Mo., nonprofit. "Women capable of starting growth companies may well be our greatest underutilized economic resource."

The numbers are not encouraging. Over the past 15 years, the number of women-owned businesses in the United States has risen 54 percent; total profits are up 57 percent, according to an American Express report released in March. But employment figures hardly changed at all. In 2012, women-owned businesses employ just 8.8 percent more people than they did in 1997.

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