Report: Women expect to catch up to (or pass) the number of men holding executive roles

Sheryl Sandberg
David A. Grogan | CNBC

Women business owners think their future is looking brighter.

Despite bleak headlines earlier this year around gender issues at companies like and , women entrepreneurs reported an optimistic outlook for the next 20 years, according to the 2017 Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight study.

The survey revealed that they have high expectations for improvement in areas like business ownership, leadership and equal pay for women.

For example, at the start of 2017, 32 Fortune 500 companies had women as CEOs, or 6.4 percent of the list. (That number has fallen since Marissa Mayer stepped down as CEO of Yahoo, and Mondelēz CEO Irene Rosenfeld plans to step down in November.)

But women business owners see change coming: 68 percent say they believe women will catch up to, or surpass, the number of men who hold roles as corporate executives and leaders in the next two decades.

Though past research has shown that women make roughly 83 percent of what men earn, more than half (61 percent) of women entrepreneurs surveyed think wages for women will match or exceed the income for their male counterparts by 2037.

Forty percent of new entrepreneurs in the U.S. are women, according to the 2017 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity. A recent CNBC/SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey of 2,030 small-business owners also found that 40 percent were women. But 66 percent of women business owners surveyed for the Women Business Owner Spotlight think women will own more small businesses than men in the next 20 years.

The women surveyed were also optimistic when it comes to paid maternity leave — 71 percent expect to see at least 25 states enact a policy by 2037.

And, 80 percent say they anticipate "equal or greater representation of women in STEM fields compared to men," over the next two decades, according to the study. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, and is often pointed to as some of the most lucrative subjects to study in school.

The survey contacted 1,022 U.S. small business owners with annual revenue between $100,000 and $4,999,999. Of that group, 375 of the business owners were women.

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