Maria Pinelli is leaning in.

Maria Pinelli

Global Vice Chair

London, UK

If women started businesses with the same capital as men, we would have six million more jobs in the US alone.

Ernst & Young started the Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Awards program to celebrate successful entrepreneurs, so they could share their stories, inspire others and receive the recognition they deserve. The program began in 1986 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Today, the program spans more than 140 cities in 50 countries and remains the world’s most prestigious business award program for entrepreneurs.

It was while attending a US Entrepreneur Of The Year awards gala that the organization had a wakeup call. The MC for the evening pointed out – rather bluntly – that it appeared to be an award for grey-haired men only. It wasn’t that we were short on women finalists that year: there were none.

We could not understand it. In the U.S., nearly half of all private businesses are owned by women; they employ 16 million people. But we discovered these women don’t grow their businesses in the same way men do. A business owned by a man will reach sales of one million dollars three and a half times faster than one owned by a woman.

That’s not because women lack courage, ideas or the ability to work hard! Over the next decade, the impact of women on the global economy — as producers, entrepreneurs, employees and consumers — will be at least as significant as that of China’s and India’s respective one-billion-plus populations, if not more so. Tapping into women’s economic potential would be the equivalent of having an additional one billion individuals in business and in the workforce, contributing to the global economy and stimulating growth. Yet there is a wide gap between potential and reality.

So I called a meeting of the smartest women leaders I knew and through that brainstorm we decided to set up a program to find and mentor those high-potential women. I wanted to highlight great women entrepreneurs, help them scale and shine a spotlight on them; and of course see them become high impact entrepreneurs and ultimately, Entrepreneur Of The Year winners.

Entrepreneurial Winning Women™ is now in its sixth year, has spread to five countries and keeps on growing. Through this program, Ernst & Young identifies a select group of women entrepreneurs with established, successful businesses and clear potential to scale — and then helps them do it.

By providing the right information, networks and guidance, we’re able to help these talented women access mentors, networks and capital. If women started businesses with the same capital as men, we would have six million more jobs in the US alone.

And it works. Women who’ve be part of our program have grown their sales by an average 50% a year.

I am determined to see women entrepreneurs scale and succeed and in 2011 we celebrated our first woman World Entrepreneur Of The Year: Olivia Lum. That was a very gratifying moment.

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