Last month we got an email asking us to write a blog entry in support of “#WomenWOW, a worldwide pledge to support female-owned businesses and causes that’ll take place on December 2.” So here we are, struggling with the objective of picking “a strong female role model to showcase.” Truth be told, there are many, in both the private and public sector. Family, friends, co-workers, customers and women we don’t know but admire. According to Wikipedia “as of 2012, the global sex ratio is approximately 1.01 males to 1 female” or about 50% of the world’s population, so there is almost no limit to our options. And, we’ve decided to talk about many of the strong, independent women we know.
Growing up it was about mothers, grandmothers and aunts, those women who gave us daily glimpses in how to behave as grown women. We didn’t always agree with them, but they are deeply rooted in our psyches (and in those of their sons, as well). We had an aunt who over time became a quadriplegic, virtually frozen in position by a disease we now know as rheumatoid arthritis but in the 1930s was baffling as well as untreatable. The thing about Aunt Marjorie? Never once did we hear her complain, she greeted each day with a positive attitude and taught us to be grateful for what we had. She supported herself with a small social security stipend, addressing postcards for mass mail marketing campaigns, plus knitting and making holiday ornaments as long as flexibility in her hands remained. She was the first small business woman we knew intimately.
Over the years, we learned a great deal about bidding on state contracts from the lovely Marilee Hunter at the State of Illinois. She taught us how best to serve the needs of a complex government agency, while keeping the paperwork clear, concise and up-to-date. Without her guidance, we would not have had as much success with other state government contracting opportunities. We really miss this bright lady who succumbed to a terrible battle with cancer. The dread disease that has touched so many of us.
Chatham University and their Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship has long been a source of role models. The two of us are alums (Econ for one, English for the other), and our youngest served as a Kauffman Entrepreneurship intern. In addition to the fabulous education we received, we rely on Chatham’s Rebecca Harris for programs like Think Big, an annual program that introduces female entrepreneurs and regional thought leadership on a variety of topics.
Recently, we have had the joy of working with several dynamic women as we became active with Pittsburgh’s PowerLink. For over 20 years, PowerLink has supported the growth of over 200 business owners — all WBES — through their impactful PowerLink Advisory Board program. Survey results show that companies that participated in the PowerLink program grew by 42% in the four years following their experience, a tribute to executive director Lee Ann Munger and PowerLink’s advisory board.
We also have an informal WBE support group — women who lunch and talk business — that meets several times a year. We’re blessed to spend time with these fabulous women who help each other solve problems big or small. They include Amy Criss (84 Lumber); Barb Smith (Barbara J Companies), Anita Brattina (All Facilities, Inc.); Gina Byerlein (Onsite Travel Directors); Carol Philip (CPI Creative); Dana Mattern (Iron Eagle Enterprises); and, Danielle Dietrich (Tucker Law). We learn something new from each other every time we meet, and we give each other personal and professional support.
But, if we could create a public venue and invite women we don’t know to lunch, we’d have to start with the amazing Condoleezza “Condi” Rice (yes, we believe she should be the next Commissioner of the NFL!); the fantastic Pamela Prince-Eason President of WBENC who we’ve only been able to spend a little bit of time with at various WBENC functions; Dr. Terry Neese cofounder of Women Impacting Public Policy who is currently involved with the Institute for the Economic Empowerment of Women; one of our favorite authors Nora Roberts (we appreciate a good storyteller and someone so prolific must have some great advice to offer); more locally, owner/fashion designer Kiya Tomlin of Uptown Sweats (and wife to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin who was featured in HBO’s State of Play).
Thank goodness for all these strong female role models and their positive impact on our lives. Next time, we’ll be more gender inclusive!