Gaining Respect a High Hurdle for Women-Owned Businesses

By Schmitt, Anne | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), March 5, 1996 | Go to article overview

Gaining Respect a High Hurdle for Women-Owned Businesses


Schmitt, Anne, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Anne Schmitt Daily Herald Business Writer

Diana Conley vividly recalls a seminar featuring a panel of venture capitalists.

The panelists said less than 1 percent of venture capital, which seeks out businesses promising very high returns, goes to women-owned companies.

"I asked how many of the men reach their goals. The three panelists started laughing. They said, 'None of them,' " Conley said. "I was horrified. I would never give a plan that I couldn't meet. I personally would drive myself crazy trying to meet those numbers."

The scenario, Conley said, very well may highlight both a strength and weakness of women business owners: women's generally more conservative approach to business may make their companies more stable. It also may hold women back.

Through the year-old Illinois Women's Business Ownership Council, which she now chairs, and other organizations, Conley aims to remove barriers to women business owners, including those they impose upon themselves.

Owner of ComputerLand in Downers Grove, a company with $5 million in sales, Conley remembers encountering few women business owners like herself even 10 years ago.

That's changing.

A recently released U.S. Department of Commerce survey found 5.9 million women-owned businesses in the country in 1992. Illinois, with 250,613 women-owned companies, 35 percent of the total, follows California, Texas, New York and Florida in the number of women-owned businesses.

The National Association of Women Business Owners said the number of women-owned companies grew 43 percent between 1990 and 1994.

Women frustrated by glass ceilings that have kept them out of top jobs and board rooms are opening their own businesses, said Sharon Hadary, executive director of the National Foundation for Women Business Owners, which was created to track women's business ownership.

Other women entrepreneurs may have been let go from a down-sizing company. Some simply want to take control over their destiny, she said.

"More and more women are seeing other women going into business and saying, 'Gee, I can do this,' " Hadary said.

Some, like Teresa Nortillo of Rolling Meadows who started her own policy and campaign consulting business about a year ago, see business ownership as a way to work from home while raising a family.

While the number of women business owners has grown, the majority continue to be individual consultants or service providers with no full-time employees, the commerce department survey showed.

Still, the number of women-owned businesses grew by 50 percent in the construction industry and 85 percent in wholesale trade between 1987 and 1992. Companies with more than 100 employees increased by 130 percent to 6,600 business in 1992, the survey showed.

Christine M. Roche, president of fastener manufacturer Acme Screw Co. in Wheaton, says she is still the exception.

"Manufacturing is still a man's world. There's no question about it," she said. Most of the employees even at Acme are men, though several women have made it to management positions there.

Roche didn't think of taking over her father's business when he asked her to help out with some clerical work after college. …

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