The semi-annual Key4Women confidence survey revealed that 44 percent of women business owners (WBOs) intend to increase hiring over the next year – a 3 percent rise from April 2011.

Conducted in October, the poll gauged women's confidence in their businesses and the challenges they may face in today's economy. More than 145 females from a range of industries participated, all of whom headed companies with annual revenues from less than $25,000 to more than $15 million.

Researchers found that nearly 73 percent of respondents said their total number of employees – both full-time and temporary workers – remained stable, while 16.6 percent reported an increase in staff – a nearly 1 percent rise year-over-year.

"When we compare October 2011 to October 2010, we see similar levels of confidence, just slightly more negative, across these indicators," said Patricia Greene, board chair of the Center for Women's Business Research and professor at Babson College. "Interestingly, it's the employment indicators that are slightly up."

Greene points to the fact that just one third of respondents expect conditions to improve in the next six months – a marked decrease from the more optimistic 59.5 percent in April, Crain's Cleveland Journal reports. 

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