Getting beyond Glass Ceilings as Women Entrepreneurs Surpass Men, Management Style Is Seen as Key

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Lisa Noble recently gave up her high-powered job as vice president for marketing with the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce to launch her own home-based public relations firm.

"I looked around at some of the bigger companies that I would consider working for, and they were downsizing or the politics were just too great for me," she says. "This {new job} is ideal."

The decision of women like Ms. Noble to strike out on their own has become the latest trend in business. As much of the corporate world struggles with downsizing and diversifying the ranks of management, many women have just decided to stop waiting. The number of women-owned firms nationwide has increased 79 percent since the mid-1980s. Women own 36 percent of all US businesses, provide employment for 1 of every 4 US workers, and generate 16 percent of nation's business sales. Here in Phoenix, they are doing well. A recent study found that women-owned businesses in Phoenix are outselling their male counterparts for the first time. It is a trend that is showing up around the country, according to Julie Weeks, research director of the National Foundation for Women Business Owners. As a group, firms run by women are leading the way in growth of sales. Some researchers say the key to success may have to do with a markedly feminine management style, one that emphasizes communication, cooperation, and broader input in decision-making. Arizona's reputation for being friendly to business may be driving some of the growth of women-owned firms here, says Jan Vacek, director of women- and minority-owned business enterprise at the state Department of Commerce. While giants such as Motorola Inc. and the Dial Corp. dot the corporate landscape, more than 90 percent of the state's firms are small businesses that hire 100 or fewer employees, well above the national average of about 70 percent. Phoenix ranks near the top of American cities in terms of accessibility to business information, low start-up costs, and an abundance of free start-up and support services. While some banks lag in providing the same treatment to female entrepreneurs as to men, a growing number of women are nonetheless striking out on their own. Many launch companies in the service sector, which accounts for about half of all new businesses begun by women nationally. Minimal regulations in Arizona make it easy to set up and run a range of home-based businesses, including word processing, housecleaning, and public relations. Arizona's women entrepreneurs exhibit a different style right from the moment they form a business, says Ms. …