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ARCHIVED  July 30, 1999

A woman’s place is on the job

You’ve come a long way, baby. Sort of.

Several decades have passed, and numerous obstacles have been surmounted, but women-owned businesses are no longer a novelty. In fact, according to the National Foundation for Women Business Owners, women own 40 percent of all businesses in the United States. But here comes the bugaboo: They generate just 18 percent of business revenues.

“Growing this sector so that our revenues are commensurate with our numbers is our most compelling challenge,´ said Kay Koplovitz, chair of the National Women’s Business Council.

Last October, 550 leaders from the women’s business community — entrepreneurs, corporate and government executives, advocates and members of academia — met for Summit ’98 to collaborate on four key initiatives: financing business growth, training, market opportunities, and leadership and advocacy.

One thing that came from the conference was a list of “actions that make a difference.” They include:

n Creating new financial products and services for hard-to-fund businesses.

n Establishing a “circle of influence.”

n Compiling a guide to practices in corporations and government agencies that have worked to increase women’s market share.

n Establishing covenants endorsed by corporate CEOs to increase corporate purchases from women suppliers.

In Colorado, women business owners are finding support in numerous places — from government-sponsored programs to community network luncheons.

Elaine Demery, who took over as director of the Colorado Women’s Business Office in January, had a major role in organizing Summit ’98.

“I have found that men have been networking and working together for decades, and women are just now beginning to work collectively and collaboratively,” she said. “That will impact woman-owned businesses.”

There are 160,000 woman-owned business in Colorado, which places the state among the top 10 in the nation for number of women-owned businesses per capita. Demery’s office promotes the growth of existing and new Colorado woman-owned enterprises across the state, with an emphasis in rural areas where access to resources may be limited.

“By establishing a link between the women’s business community and the governor, the WBO maximizes women entrepreneurs’ potential by creating an economic voice that reflects their vision and priorities,” she said.

For example, the WBO has set up seven regional Women’s Economic Development Councils, for a total of 45 women business owners appointed by the governor to serve two-year terms. Members help define economic issues that impact women entrepreneur’s ability to grow their business and identify solutions that will effect positive change.

One such solution, sponsored jointly by the WBO and WEDC, is an annual conference on procurement, training, access to capital and leadership. A second solution is an advisory board to address both e-commerce and international trade.

In Northern Colorado, several women business owners are beginning to see changes that have taken a generation or longer to happen.

“What I’ve found, over the years, is that my mentors have always been male. There weren’t many women. That’s changing, and I think that’s a good thing because women have lots to offer,´ said Maury Willman, owner of Willman Productions and Ergonomic Health Systems in Fort Collins and president of the Women’s Development Council, a regional volunteer group that organizes the annual Working Women’s Conference.”

The old attitude of men viewed as the enemy is beginning to diminish, too, she said. “In my opinion, that is a victim attitude, an excuse. Therefore, [some women] use it.”

She added, “I don’t blame others for holding me back. As an entrepreneur, I prefer an attitude of optimism and risk-taking. That’s not to say there aren’t some deficiencies in business, such as the difficulty in finding capital.”

That has gotten better, but only in recent years, according to Ann Clarke of Loveland, owner of Ideas at Work.

“There was a time when I first got into business, about 15 or 16 years ago, when I was getting ready to buy a computer. I could get a personal loan to get a horse, but I would have to put a second mortgage on the house to get a computer,” Clarke said.

What has changed, she said, is not so much the institutions, but women’s preparation.

“Women in business have become organized and educated,” she said. “They understand the importance of having a business plan and being professional. If they’re not professional, if there is a scent of being in business part-time or just for fun, they will get a slap in the face.”

Clarke believes that if women do their homework, they can be just as successful as or even more successful than their male counterparts.

She has also seen changes in the career choices of high-school girls participating in the Young Women of the West mentoring program in Loveland.

“The last five years, I have seen a change from what we consider traditional women’s jobs, like nail technicians and hairdressers. Now we’re getting girls interested in careers as financial planners, international attorneys, dentists, physical therapists and architects.”

Just two years ago, she often ran into brick walls trying to find women in these fields to partner with the high schoolers. Not any more.

“Women are getting the education and training they need and finding there’s business out there for them,” she said.

Anita Sayed is president and CEO of three Fort Collins-based companies: IEM, a provider of back-up solutions for computers; ANIS, an advertising and marketing firm; and Projectworx, a Web-site development company. Sayed says that women in business need to think of themselves as business people first, women second.

“Every time you think as a minority group, it takes the edge off dealings,” she said. “All I can say is, if very often you think of yourself as not equal, you’re not going to be. You need to take the barrier off your own mindset before you go out there.”

Sayed said that when she initially began conducting business in Germany and Japan, she had to work harder to get respect, but her perseverance paid off.

“I had to work extra hard and prove that I knew what I was doing and get their respect,” she said. “As a woman, you have to go that extra yard.”

When she was starting her businesses, she didn’t have outside sources to go to for advice or support. “When I was getting the business set up, I was so busy with building the business I didn’t network,” she said.

Traditionally, however, women don’t go into business for the sake of building a business. Instead, they do it to make a living or to follow their dream. And that is one reason revenues often are less than what a man would produce.

“Guys like to build an organization, women like to follow their dream. It’s a generality, but the statistics back it up,´ said Debra Benton of Fort Collins, president of Benton Management Resources Inc. “I’ve had the option and opportunities in my life to move my business to New York or San Francisco and really build an organization. It wasn’t worth it to me, the price you have to pay. I chose to be a smaller player. It was right for me, but I have also seen it over and over [with other women].”

Benton said the types of business that women choose to pursue also affect the revenues they bring in.

“They can do so much on the phone, out of their home, through the Internet, through service businesses that have a tendency not to grow like a manufacturing business,” she said. “They’re consultants or Web designers as opposed to inventing a new eyeglass lens that requires staff support, the whole nine yards.”

A woman in business, she added, “has to understand the financial picture and ramifications and potential and have the courage to go out. She has to take it upon herself to find out who the centers of influence are and go out and develop friendships. She has to create expertise, personal public relations. That’s what a good and effective guy is doing.”

And, she said, if a woman can run business for herself, then she can do it on a bigger scale, too. “Women should dream bigger dreams,” she said, but cautioned that there is a price to pay, be it lifestyle or geographic location.

You’ve come a long way, baby. Sort of.

Several decades have passed, and numerous obstacles have been surmounted, but women-owned businesses are no longer a novelty. In fact, according to the National Foundation for Women Business Owners, women own 40 percent of all businesses in the United States. But here comes the bugaboo: They generate just 18 percent of business revenues.

“Growing this sector so that our revenues are commensurate with our numbers is our most compelling challenge,´ said Kay Koplovitz, chair of the National Women’s Business Council.

Last October, 550 leaders from the women’s business community — entrepreneurs, corporate and government executives,…

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