We talked with three entrepreneurs about the changes and challenges women face in male-dominated industries.
The panel: Cristi Cristich, 41, is CEO and founder of Cristek Interconnects Inc., a $15 million Anaheim, California, company that makes connectors and cabling for medical and military applications. Sheri L. Parrack, 53, is president and CEO of Texas Motor Transportation Consultants, a $5 million-plus professional registration, tax and title service company in Houston. Terrie Jones, 46, is CEO and owner of AGSI, a $16.5 million provider of IT technology resource solutions in Atlanta.
Have women business owners "come a long way"?
Jones: In 22 years, I've seen the business world evolve tremendously. [Women entrepreneurs] are not a novelty anymore, and in the same way businessmen helped their "fraternity brothers" in the past, they are more willing to help women today. We've also changed our expectations of girls. Parents, employers and our communities expect girls to go to college and achieve. And now there are far more female mentors and role models to support the female entrepreneur.
Cristich: Access to capital and the acceptance of women in the workplace and as business owners has improved dramatically over the past 15 years. While there are still obstacles, most of them are not structural in nature, but more the result of societal conditioning and old norms that just haven't cycled through yet.
Parrack: In 2003, I find that being female does nothing but help me to grow my business. What was once a negative has become a positive.
Do you still face challenges due to gender issues?
Jones: My business partner is a man. When I tell people he's my partner, they assume we're married. At a professional event or a first meeting with clients, people often direct their attention to him. We are both very aware of this, and we've come up with a formula to clarify our relationship and the fact that I am the one who's the majority stockholder of the company.
Cristich: It is still unusual for a woman my age to have the competencies and accomplishments I have. I went into a presentation for a major project knowing we would be viewed as a "lightweight" company without the technical expertise to do the job. I overcame this by anticipating it and including the substance needed to demonstrate [our expertise]. This wasn't expected, because the other bidders were just assumed to have [the substance], while I was assumed not to. By putting it in, I not only demonstrated my competence; I also demonstrated that [I had done] extra preparation.
Any advice for women trying to succeed in male-dominated industries?
Parrack: [You] must work twice as hard and twice as long in order to be equal. There is no way a woman is going to be successful in a male-dominated industry unless she is very strong. Insensitive men in that industry will break you down if you don't believe in what you are doing-and show it!
Jones: Secure your funding. Know your industry. You are the company. You are the person who is most dedicated to the company, and there is no better investment you can make than the investment in yourself.
Cristich: There is no field where a woman who is qualified, smart and persistent cannot excel. Whenever I run into an obstacle-gender-based or not-I see it as an opportunity to become better at what I do. There are no unbreakable glass ceilings.
|Out this month:The Old Girls' Network: Insider Advice for Women Building Businesses in a Man's World by Paula Chauncey, Connie Duckworth, Kathy Elliott and Sharon Whiteley (Perseus Books). The four founders of an all-female angel investment group that funds women-led businesses share their own wisdom and that of other successful businesswomen.|
Aliza Pilar Sherman (www.mediaegg.com) is an author, freelance writer and speaker specializing in women's issues.