(YoungBiz.com) - Women race car drivers? Men who run dance studios? It can--and is--happening today. The gender lines have definitely blurred, as both sexes are choosing careers and businesses that, not so long ago, society seemed to reserve strictly for men or women--not both.
Courtney and Erica Enders are proof that racing cars isn't just for guys anymore. Erica, now 18, got interested in racing at the age of 8 by following in her dad's tracks.
"I'd always go to the races with him, and I always wanted to be a driver," she says. "I was reading one of his magazines and found an article about kids' races. I asked him if I could do it, and he said, 'Sure--this could be better than ballet.'" Better than ballet? You'd better believe it!
Since then, as a junior racer, Erica has won 37 titles, including 1995 Junior Drag Racing League Driver of the Year. She has also earned enough scholarship money to cover her tuition at a private college and still have some left over to spend.
Two years ago, she moved up to the SuperComp category, which is only two levels below the top racing level. At her first national competition, Erica was first runner-up, just missing the top prize, but earning more than $5,000.
Since the girls are winning in a male-dominated sport, they've become really popular with fans. Their mom (Janet Enders) recalls the crowd's reaction to Erica's near-victory at the nationals, which has seven elimination rounds and a final race for the title.
"When you think of drag racing, you think of guys with rolled-up T-shirts and tattoos," Janet says. "We knew she'd go a round or two, but every round she kept winning. The crowd was going wild, especially the women. She lost in the finals by .003 second to the 1998 World Champion. It was heartbreaking, but we were all thrilled. She won money; there were cameras all over her car. It was awesome!"
Because what they're doing is a bit unusual, Erica and Courtney have drawn a lot of attention. They have been guests on ESPN's Scholastic Sports America, Hard Copy, Extra, and The Donny & Marie Show. They've also been featured in numerous magazine and newspaper articles, including a three-page story in People magazine.
When it comes to choosing a business, James Carpenter might take issue with the Enders sisters. For the 19-year-old Carpenter, ballet--or at least dance--is better than race car driving!
The Louisville, Colorado, 'trep founded Athletic Dance Studio International in 1996. His company's main business is choreographing routines for members of competitive dance and cheerleading teams at local high schools.
It all started when Carpenter helped his sister, Jamila, choreograph an audition for her high school dance team. When she won, word got around that her brother was the creative force behind the dance steps. People began calling on Carpenter for his help, and soon a business was born.
Carpenter is working to not only build his business but also spread the word about choreography. "In Colorado, most people still don't know what cheerleading and dance teams are all about," Carpenter says.
To promote his business, Carpenter and his camp instructors performed routines at area malls and shopping centers. After each performance, Carpenter answered questions and passed out fliers with information about dance and cheerleading camps and training events.
Ground to Cover
While men and women are making strides and mixing it up in terms of the types of businesses and careers they are pursuing, it's still not a level playing field out there. When it comes to wages and start-up funding, women still lag behind.
Since the 1963 Equal Pay Act, the wage gap has closed at an excruciatingly slow rate of just over a third of a penny per year, according to the National Committee on Pay Equity. Women with permanent, full-time jobs in 1963 earned an average 59 cents for each dollar made by men. Thirty-seven years later, in 2000, women earned 73 cents for each male dollar. For a complete look at figures from 1960 to 2000, check out this link for the National Committee on Pay Equity.
When it comes to business funding, there may be a similar story. Getting a business off the ground, as every entrepreneur knows, can take a substantial amount of cash. Though women are snagging larger portions of venture capital dollars every year, they still lag behind their male counterparts.
That's why a 2-year-old national nonprofit group called Springboard Enterprises has dedicated itself to connecting women entrepreneurs with potential investors. At the forums Springboard sponsors, women entrepreneurs get a chance to meet investors up close and pitch their companies in hopes of getting funded.
Because data is scarce, determining whether women entrepreneurs face discrimination when it comes to lending and other financing practices is tough. At the moment, only loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration report race and gender data.
That could change. The Access and Openness in Small Business Lending Act of 2001, introduced in November 2001, would force banks to collect race and gender information from their small-business borrowers, just as they do from consumers.
While that bill awaits passage, women are their own best advocates. Yes, gender is probably a factor in doing business, but woman or man, the bottom line for your business is hard work and persistence. And that's something that crosses gender lines--and makes success that much sweeter.