[copperpress-advertserve-ad-reload zone="3"]
ARCHIVED  July 30, 1999

Distaff side of business is booming

The prevailing social wisdom has it that a man’s income is primary and a woman’s is supplementary. Perhaps for that reason, a woman typically earns about 75 cents for every dollar a man earns.

Despite that disparity, or perhaps because of it, women are going into businesses of their own at record rates, not only in the United States but globally.

Katherine Browne, assistant professor of anthropology at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, studies gender and entrepreneurship. She pointed out that the rapid growth of women-owned businesses is more than a national phenomenon.

“International development agencies have recognized that supporting female-owned enterprises is critical to nurturing economic growth in the developing world,” she explained. “In this country, the Small Business Administration has become a locus for statistical information and support.”

According to a report prepared by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, 8.5 million women-owned businesses operated nationwide in 1997, accounting for more than one-third of all businesses and generating $3.1 trillion in revenue, an increase of 209 percent between 1987 and 1997 (after adjusting for inflation).

Another interesting figure that appears in this report is that by the year 2000, it is estimated that women-owned sole proprietorships will number 7.1 million , or 35 percent of all sole proprietorships. In addition, according to these predictions, there will be about 4.7 million self-employed women by 2005, an increase of 77 percent since 1983, compared with a 6 percent increase in the number of self-employed men.

The factors that have pulled or pushed women into the entrepreneurial, self-employment and business-ownership arenas appear to fall into three broad categories: love of the work, the potential to make money and absolute necessity. Of these, the third represents a push rather than a pull and often occurs with the loss of a spouse through death or divorce and a need to support both self and children.

For Sylvia Haun, owner of Horizon Sheet Metal Inc., in Fort Collins, her husband’s massive heart attack moved her from the back office, where she did the accounting, onto the job site.

“When I married in 1968, I didn’t know a lot about sheet metal,” she said. “But when my husband, Asher, and his brothers started a sheet-metal company in Pueblo in 1980, I became the bookkeeper.”

While managing the company’s books, Haun learned the ins and outs of preparing operation and maintenance manuals, preparing submittals for engineers and government reports, and measuring ductwork from blueprints of wastewater treatment and dam projects. Then her husband, at age 39, had a devastating heart attack.

“The doctor told him that he couldn’t take the stress of the family business,” she explained. “So in 1988, we sold our house and our share of the business in Pueblo and came to Fort Collins, where we invested everything we had in Horizon.”

Of necessity, Haun took over all the parts of the business: bidding, contract negotiations, site inspections. According to SBA statistics, fewer than 10 percent of construction businesses are women-owned, so Haun had some ground to break in a male-dominated field.

“We were doing a job in El Paso, Texas,” she recounted, “and I was crawling around on roofs in my jeans, work boots and hardhat checking the exhaust systems. People would come up to me and say, ‘Sorry, no visitors allowed.’ I would say, ‘It’s OK, I’m the owner.’ And that ended that.”

Haun’s business, comprised primarily of duct and exhaust work for dams and waste-water plants, has been successful, but she acknowledges that there have been times when she has had to hold her tongue.

“I have been persistent and to the point with people who have not taken me seriously,” she explained. “Once in a while, some man will call me ‘honey.’ I want to say, ‘I am not your honey,’ but if he has the money and wants Horizon to do the job, I just ignore it and move on.”

Deborah McLeod, owner of Thompson Valley Sealcoating Co. Inc. in Loveland, agreed with Haun that running a construction business has its challenges.

“Discrimination is a silent enemy,” she said. “It’s hard to see where it’s coming from, and we sometimes make too much of it. But I have been in this business 25 years, and I still have to prove myself over and over again every day.”

McLeod’s business involves the maintenance and cosmetic improvement of asphalt that is already in place. She numbers Hewlett-Packard Co., Kodak Colorado Division and the municipalities of Greeley, Loveland and Fort Collins among her clients.

In addition, her company has hole-filled Interstate 76 from Fort Morgan to Julesburg.

“I get the crews out in the morning, take care of what they need and then deal with the inspectors who work with our clients. That’s my job,” she said.

It’s a job she began learning at 17 when she married. She and her husband bought the company together in 1984; when they divorced in 1991, she bought out his share in what she describes as a “win-win” arrangement. On balance, she regards being in the asphalt business as a positive experience that allowed her to raise her sons, now 22 and 19.

“The boys are taking a strong interest in the business,” she explained. “Now maybe I can go off and do more work with the software system I’m developing for operations tracking. It follows all the information from the initial call to work orders. This way, you only have to put the client’s name in once.”

While both Haun and McLeod stepped up to own and run a business because they were pushed by the necessity of supporting a family, other women have felt a more entrepreneurial pull.

Laura Backes publishes Children’s Book Insider, a publication that supplies information to writers of children’s literature.

“I always wanted to be self-employed,” Backes explained, “and I knew that at some point I wanted to have children. So when I stated this business 10 years ago, I set up my office at home.”

When Backes started her business, she was living in New York City and working in children’s publishing. She was able to convert her expertise in negotiating for royalties and subsidiary rights into freelance work that supported her business until it could begin to support her.

“For the first three years, I held two part-time jobs with small publishers and then a full-time job with my own company,” she recalled. “I could carry that kind of load because I was single at the time and lived in the center of the publishing world. Children’s publishing in particular is a female-dominated industry. The top executives and editors are mostly women, so I was never professionally handicapped.”

After marrying, Backes and her husband decided that they had completed their “Manhattan experience,” and moved to Colorado 9 first to Fairplay and then to Fort Collins, a kid-friendly place.

Since she began her business with the newsletter, Backes has expanded her reach through a Web site, www.write4kids.com. The site serves authors of children’s literature through a catalog of professional books and the Web’s only message board dedicated to children’s writing.

Desktop publishing and the fact that her husband also works at home and can share in the care of their son makes being self-employed in a home office a comfortable arrangement for Backes.

Whether pushed or pulled into business ownership, women have become viable members of the business community.

Chief Counsel for Advocacy Jere W. Glover, of the SBA, wrote in the forward of her October 1998 report on women in business, “We need to increase awareness of the economic implications of women’s business ownership. Removing the existing barriers to the development and growth of women-owned firms will benefit not just women-owned firms, but the entire economy.”

She might have added, “And don’t call them ‘honey.'”

The prevailing social wisdom has it that a man’s income is primary and a woman’s is supplementary. Perhaps for that reason, a woman typically earns about 75 cents for every dollar a man earns.

Despite that disparity, or perhaps because of it, women are going into businesses of their own at record rates, not only in the United States but globally.

Katherine Browne, assistant professor of anthropology at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, studies gender and entrepreneurship. She pointed out that the rapid growth of women-owned businesses is more than a national phenomenon.

“International development agencies have recognized that supporting female-owned enterprises…

[copperpress-advertserve-ad-reload zone="3"]

Related Content

[copperpress-advertserve-ad-interstitial zone="30"]