Knowledge Center

Women Entrepreneurs: Why Companies Lose Female Talent and What They Can Do About It

Based on a joint project conducted by Catalyst and the National Foundation for Women Business Owners, this report examines the accelerating trend of women establishing their own businesses. It pays special attention to women who first gain management experience in mid- to large-sized companies and then leave to start their own firms.

Impetus: In recent years, women-owned businesses have grown dramatically both in number and in economic strength. Many women who have worked in corporations are drawn to business ownership because it gives them greater control over their time, productivity, and advancement. Consequently, corporate leaders are struggling to retain their most talented women and would welcome insights into the phenomenon.


  • Two focus groups, each with 15 women entrepreneurs, conducted.

  • Interviews were conducted with 800 business owners—650 women and 150 men—who previously were employed in mid- to large-sized corporations.

Findings: Women cite four major reasons for leaving the private sector: lack of flexibility (51 percent); glass ceiling issues (29 percent); unhappiness with work environment (28 percent); and feeling unchallenged in their jobs (22 percent). Only 5 percent report being downsized and only 3 percent say they were victims of sexual harassment.

Sponsor: Salomon Smith Barney Inc.