The quest for control and money draws more women into businesses that were once the exclusive domain of men
RANCHO CUCAMONGA, CALIF.
Jose Ramirez Girard grabs a hard hat and orange work vest and climbs the dirt embankment to the top of the commuter rail tracks.Skip to next paragraph
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Up ahead a nine-man crew is replacing an old wooden bridge that supports a 100-foot stretch of track. The job isn't easy. They must work without shutting down the trains that roar by at 70 miles an hour.
It's a hard-nosed business and one still run by men. But Ms. Girard feels right at home - she's the boss.
Five years ago, she started Phoenix Construction Services and has built the company into a major contender in the commuter rail maintenance business. Last year, Phoenix grossed more than $3 million.
Girard is hardly alone. Increasingly, women are starting businesses in traditionally male industries.
The number of women-owned firms in construction, manufacturing, transportation, and wholesale trade has grown faster over the past decade than in any other industries.
Many of these women are frustrated with the glass ceiling in the corporate environment, but others go their own way for the same reasons as other entrepreneurs: They've got a good idea; they want to be their own boss; they want flexibility.
Yet wider access to financing, the rise in government contracts, plus the quest to follow the big money are drawing more women entrepreneurs into the world of hard hats and tool belts.
"There are no boundaries. Women can go into any business they want to go into," says Sharon Hadary, executive director of the National Foundation for Women Business Owners (310-495-4975: www.nfwbo.org), a research group in Silver Spring, Md.
"These are also high-profit-margin areas," she adds. "Women aren't stupid."
Consider the 170 percent increase over the past decade in the number of women starting construction businesses. Just this year, women bolted together 281,000 new manufacturing firms, a 112 percent increase over 1982. (See chart, right.) These numbers still look tiny compared to the number of service firms launched by women.
In fact, it's tough to name a business type that women aren't running. They're involved in trucking, textiles, welding, electrical wiring, pest control, and furniture manufacturing.
Marilyn Helms, director of the Institute for Women as Entrepreneurs (423-785-2283: www.utc.edu/~bschool/iwe.htm) at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, recently got a call from a woman who wanted help buying a forest - she plans to get into the pulp business.
"We're just not surprised anymore when we take information from a member, and it's a woman who is in trucking, construction, or engineering," adds Judith Luther-Wilder of Women Incorporated (213-680-3375: www.womeninc.com), a Los Angeles group that helps women entrepreneurs find financing.
The women who start businesses in nontraditional fields tend to have some related work experience. (Studies show, however, that women are more likely than men to start a business in a field unrelated to their previous experience.)
Four years ago, Jennifer Guillory left her job at a security company to start Calitec Security and Canine Patrol in San Diego, which provides security for residential complexes as well as businesses.
"I started under the 'good old boys' structure," says Ms. Guillory, who set out with just $730 - her last paycheck from her previous job. "But as my experience and exposure developed, I began to realize I can do this too."
She's definitely doing it. Calitec now employs 50 people.
For some women entrepreneurs, a man's world isn't unchartered territory.
Before starting Phoenix Construction Services in Riverside, Calif., Girard spent 20 years in the aerospace industry. She worked both at TRW Corp. - where she was the first woman technician - and then moved to Hughes Corp., becoming a technical adviser on engineering and contracting matters.