The quest for control and money draws more women into businesses that were once the exclusive domain of men
(Page 2 of 2)
"I didn't know women weren't accepted," Girard quips. It didn't hurt having eight older brothers.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
When Hughes gave her a choice of getting laid off or moving to Mississippi, she opted against relocation and in favor of striking out on her own.
While still at Hughes, she took classes leading to her general contracting license. She also learned the trade with by working for a friend who owned an asphalt business.
Then in 1993, with $5,000 of her retirement money from Hughes, Girard opened Phoenix Construction Services.
The firm started with concrete walkways, and for two years Girard worked every job. "I was out there pushing a shovel like anybody," says Gerard, now training one of her daughters to take over the business in five years.
Today she concentrates on new business and marketing. But working the front lines was essential to earning the respect of her workmen.
"They know I'm physically capable of running my own jobs," Girard contends.
Indeed, the crew working on the bridge has no qualms about working for a woman: "She lets us run ourselves," says Dean Stuart, one of the foremen on the job. "But she also lets us know if we do anything wrong. She's not shy."
Still, the top issue for women business owners is that they aren't being taken seriously. Nowhere is that more true than for women who own nontraditional businesses.
"Unfortunately," Girard says, "no one would question a man in what we believe to be a woman's world."
One of the biggest hurdles, she says, is finding clients willing to take a chance on a woman-owned business - especially in construction.
Men, she says, don't take women-owned businesses seriously unless they have to.
And plenty of women tell of employees who ignore them and clients who would rather deal with a male, even if he knows less.
When Toni Ziff started TR Trading Co., which buys and sells used office furniture, in Gardena, Calif., customers who didn't know she was the owner would often ignore her. Some ignored her when they knew she was the owner.
"I had guys at the beginning say to me, 'Where's your husband?' " says Ms. Ziff, seated at a desk on the warehouse floor.
Fifteen years later, she laughs about it. She now does enough business to fill four warehouses with furniture and last year took in $1.6 million.
Many women admit they've had to alter their styles for managing and communicating.
"Whenever a woman gets upset about an issue she's crazy, whereas men can blow up or have a face-off," says Deborah Berg, who owns Berg & Associates, a construction management company based in San Pedro, Calif.
"I've learned how to phrase things or approach things," she says, "without being called a whiner."
But many women agree they don't have to become one of the boys to run a company of men.
"You don't have to be a gum-chewing pirate mouth. You can go in and be yourself," says Nancy O'Rourke of Mr. Cat Productions, a sound and lighting company in Long Beach, Calif..
"If I speak with integrity," she says, "I am treated with integrity every time."
In fact, women say their approach often gives them a competitive advantage.
"Some men say they like working with women because they like the completeness they take to their approach," Ms. O'Rourke says.
Ziff of TR Trading adds that she still runs her business "like a girl." "I'll take care of those details that men wouldn't think about."
Most agree the climb is getting easier.
"When I attend meetings, I'm still the only woman in the room, but I don't feel like I'm being looked at as a woman first," Ms. Berg says. "The atmosphere has changed."