Editor’s note: We continue to see mixed news about progress for women in the business world. We decided to ask some local women business leaders to share their own experiences in navigating the business world. The conclusion: yes, there are issues, but they’ve found success through determination and applying business savvy.
News for Women Getting Better, but More Needs to be Done
The Denver area has been named as one of the best job markets for women, according to Headlight Data. But nationwide, challenges remain that hinder full participation and pay equity. Entrepreneur magazine reported that although women start more than 50 percent of the businesses in the U.S., they receive a comparatively small amount of venture capital funding. Entrepreneur reports that nationally 85 percent of all VC-funded businesses had no women on their executive teams. And according to a Status of Women in the States report, women in Colorado still only earn about 80 cents on the dollar compared to earnings by men. And women are still under-represented in STEM occupations.
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in a recent study calls women entrepreneurs “Key to accelerating growth.” Kauffman noted that, “While more women sought and found employment in greater numbers [since the 1980s], their participation as entrepreneurs was uneven. Fewer women became entrepreneurs, meaning their potential contributions to job creation, innovation, and economic growth were unrealized.” Kauffman went on to show how women make great entrepreneurs, but they can be held back by lack of mentors, the perception that entrepreneurship is a masculine activity, maintaining a work-life balance, and a gender gap in obtaining financing.
So this not only a fairness issue, it’s also an economic imperative.
Local Women have Seen Issues, but Skills and Hard Work have Paid Off
Judy Amabile is Co-founder and CEO of Polar Bottle® and Product Architects. Founded in 1994, the company has grown to be a leader in the hydration market, with bottles shipped around the world. In the past, Amabile worked for the University of Colorado Denver, where she had a “great experience, with a great boss.” After CU-Denver, she worked for a large professional services firm, and at the time she worked there, she experienced a decidedly challenging atmosphere for women. She said that the female employees developed a kind of camaraderie around the issue.
Now with Polar, her closest connections are with the outdoor industry and with other Boulder women entrepreneurs. Stated Amabile, “Although the outdoor industry is still dominated by men, women are making inroads.” Her sense is that overall, women are doing well in the Boulder business world and creating great organizations. She believes that business skills are, of course, not related to gender, and that interpersonal skills as well as business acumen are important to success for everyone.
Teresa Lomax is co-owner of Gateway Park Fun Center. Before that, Lomax had worked for a major food service company, and she had bought her first business (an event planning firm) in Bend, Oregon. Although she enjoyed the corporate world, she had always wanted to become an entrepreneur. So she sold her Oregon business and moved to Boulder with her husband to purchase and run Gateway.
Overall, Lomax has not experienced issues in startup or funding biases because she’s a woman. For Gateway, for example, she and her husband secured a loan from the Small Business Administration. Likewise, Lomax has never felt held back because of her gender nor experienced any bias in operating her firms. She believes that her hard work has always been recognized and valued, but that it is always important to demonstrate that you “know what you’re doing.” And when she talks to other female executives, it’s mostly about hiring practices, marketing, and so on.
But Lomax cautions that both men and women need to recognize that owning and operating a business is very much a lifestyle decision. “It takes a lot of intellectual and physical commitment to run your own business,” she stated. “But many women I’ve met have accomplished a lot in business, and they’re very involved in the community, too, rolling up their sleeves for nonprofits.”
“There may still be deals done on the golf course by men,” she said, “But women are networking, too, and succeeding.”
Katy Schmoll recently retired as vice president for Finance and Administration at UCAR, after 17 years of service. She also spent a number of years in NASA administration before taking on fiscal management in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1993. She was inspired to work for government early in life when her mother took her to see then Vice President Nixon in her hometown. She now runs her own consulting firm, focused on advising non-profit organizations and universities that are funded by the federal government.
“I probably haven’t had the same kind of experiences as other business women, based on the governmental organizations I’ve worked with,” said Schmoll. “My experiences, though, have been positive.” In addition to putting together her team at NCAR, among her top accomplishments there she has listed establishing the UCAR Children’s Creative Learning Center, the UCAR childcare center, and the cross-agency Leadership Academy.
However, she added, “I agree with a recent article in the Denver Business Journal [on the dearth of women in company boardrooms] that it would be good to get more women into top-level positions.” That, she said, would help open up the business world further for women, at least in the corporate world.
So overall, the women we spoke with, while recognizing issues remain for women in the business world, have met success through savvy, support and perseverance. That’s not to say we’ve achieved the level of equity we need in the business world. And certainly, per the Kauffman study, it’s essential that we engage more women as entrepreneurs for the good of our entire economy.