Glass ceiling not the obstacle it was
If there still is a glass ceiling for women in the workplace, it's less of a barrier than in the past for those with the resourcefulness, perseverance and downright stubbornness to achieve success in spite of it.
“They're just taking a ladder and climbing over it,” observed Donna Davis, CEO of Arizona Small Business Association and former president of National Association of Women Business Owners.
Over the last several years, the number of women business owners in the U.S. has increased significantly, doubling from 5 million to 10 million between 1992 and 2006, she said.
“Without a doubt, women have been very courageous and entrepreneurial in charting their own destiny,” Davis said.
The story of one such remarkable woman is now being shown in movie theaters in the film, “Secretariat.” In the true story, housewife Penny Chenery took over her ailing father's racehorse stables and against all odds fostered the 1973 Triple Crown winner, the first in 25 years.
“She was the only woman in the industry,” Davis said of Chenery. “But with all the adversity she faced, she persevered and made it happen.”
Today's women have it a little easier, as they juggle families and careers that in the past wouldn't have been open to them.
In the earlier days, women were limited to such jobs as teachers, retail clerks, secretaries and nurses, Davis said. Today, women also hold positions as school principals and superintendents, business owners, CEOs and doctors.
“The culture has changed,” said Joy Lopez-Pearsall, Yuma store manager for JCPenney. “We're now raised to believe we can do whatever it is we set our minds to. Whereas in my mom's generation it was commonplace for women to be raised to find a husband and raise a family, now, I believe, women are more empowered to go after their dreams. And that includes being a successful businesswoman.”
Lopez-Pearsall said she loves fashion and started working in retail while going to school, “and found a great career” in what had been a male-dominated field in the past.
“I've always worked hard and driven myself,” she said. But perhaps, she acknowledged, she had to work a little harder than her male counterparts to promote herself.
In the last few years, though, she's seeing more women in management positions, and nearly all the applicants she interviewed recently for department head positions were women with management experience.
“I think companies realize diversity is important to reach out to their customers more effectively,” she said. “They realize what women can offer. They're not just representative and a figurehead.”
Instead, she said, their abilities and experience warrant their positions.
There certainly was no glass ceiling for Juli Jessen. Although she has two brothers (and a sister), she is the CEO of Gowan Co., the international agricultural chemical company founded by her father.
“I was the one who was interested,” she said.
It's likely, she said, that a placement test in school would not have put her in her current position.
“It wasn't something I was fixed on,” she said, explaining that she originally trained as an engineer.
But she found she enjoys holding the reins of the family business. “I feel passionate about what the company stands for,” she said.
Jessen appreciates that it wasn't that long ago women couldn't even vote and feels fortunate that others blazed trails for her.
“I'm accepted as the spokesperson for the company,” she said. “I think that's because of all the people behind me who have the industry's respect.”
She'll pass on the hunting trips, though.
Maria Vargas also is in a business that is male-dominated as owner of Arizona Supply House, providing supplies and equipment for drywall contractors, plasterers and roofers.
She got started in the business at Home Depot in California working the pro desk, where she assisted contractors, and she understands they need the materials yesterday.
After moving to Yuma, she continued to work for Home Depot, getting to know the local contractors. Then she worked as a sales representative for ABC Supply before opening her own business.
Having a business wasn't the first career choice for Vargas, a single mother. However, it's one that suits her, whether helping a customer pick out the right stucco color to fit the decor, operating a forklift or visiting a contractor's job site to ensure he has the right materials.
“I was supposed to be the boy in the family,” Vargas explained. “I was like Daddy's little boy. I followed him around and helped him. I grew up doing this stuff.”
Women “breaking out of the box” and being involved in the business community is the best thing that can happen to a community, said Ken Rosevear, executive director of the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce.
“They have good insight and sharp marketing skills,” he said. “There are some really sharp women in business. They're stepping up and making the investment and making it work for them.”
Joyce Lobeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6853.