The business climate in New Jersey has become more and more receptive to the woman entrepreneur. Evidence of this is the 300 percent increase in the number of woman owned sole proprietorships since 2000 and the results being achieved states women business associations.
Much of our state’s progress is due to the efforts of the various organizations that serve the woman business owner. Last year, for instance, letter writing and telephone calls from women’s business association members concerned liability insurance and equity in state business. Legislators now have a more well-rounded view of the liability insurance problem, and New Jersey now has legislation that encourages the utilization of female and/or minority vendors for state contracts.
Each organization serves a specific purpose or geographic area. LINK serves Central New Jersey. Women In Management (WIN) members are primarily from Burlington and Camden counties, and the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) has chapters throughout the state. Knowing that no one organization can meet all of her needs, the woman entrepreneur is often active in several associations including those of her specific industry or profession, her local chamber of commerce, and the associations that have intentionally combined women business owners and corporate women in their membership (e.g. LINK).
One of the most positive aspects of the women business owners’ associations in New Jersey is the cooperative effort among the various groups. Marion Behr, president of Women Working at Home, and the president of the National Alliance of Home Based Business, sees the White House Conference on Small Business as a “perfect example” of benefits of the cooperation that exists between the associations.
“Through unifying our efforts as business women belonging to a variety of organizations, we’ve been able to further all of our causes,” says Behr. “Two organizations, the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners and the National Alliance of Home Based Business, cooperated to elect delegates and all candidates from both organizations won. Working together certainly paid off!”
Over a third of the elected and appointed delegates to the New Jersey delegation White House Conference on Small Business were women.
Another example of collaborative effort that has contributed to the advancement of women business ownership in our state is the Women Business Owner’s Educational Coalition Inc. Last year, WBOEC’s conference included more than 20 workshops and 30 exhibits presented to over 800 registrants.
The WBOEC board of trustees includes representatives of the women’s business associations, the state’s institutions of higher education, corporations, and business related governmental agencies. The participating women’s associations contribute workshop speakers, committee members, staffing for the registration tables, information resource kits, financial support, plus publicity and promotion for the conference.
Beyond geographic area, industry specializations and even collaborative projects, the associations share an important central purpose–making business contacts.
Madeleine Koszyk, owner Pretirement Inc. of Cherry Hill and Deputy Mayor of Cinnaminson Township, is an active member of several associations including the Coalition of Small Business Organizations and the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners. Koszyk sees the value of the organizations as “good for referrals, support and socialization which are all part of networking.” Koszyk encourages women business owners to look deeper.
“It’s economics – good, strong economic…Translation? Money,” said Koszyk.
Susan Bogard, of Tension Envelope Corp. of Hackensack agrees that women’s organizations provide a multi-network of support. Whether the members are corporate women or entrepreneurs, they are on common ground in the business world in terms of women in managerial positions in a man’s world.
Bogard says, “There are more coattails than there used to be. I have seen, as president of the New Jersey Network of Business and Professional Women, that today’s business groups of women enable members to get more introductions into corporate management. That would not have happened as early as 10 years ago.”
Roberta Brinkerhoff is the owner of Brinkerhoff & Associates of Westfield, a vice president of the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners, and a member of the Central New Jersey Women’s Network.
“Membership in professional women’s groups allows business contacts and a professional interaction with others facing the same kinds of problems,” says Brinkerhof. “The groups provide role models and sources of creativity, help eliminate tunnel vision, give a renewed source of solutions and encouragement, and provide an opportunity to help other women.”
Sue Levin, partner of Levin & Levin, Cherry Hill and Philadelphia, and president of the Cherry Hill Town Council, recognizes women’s organizations as “a way to exchange ideas from different backgrounds. It’s a cross pollination of businesses that gives a different perspective of local and political business issues and a way to pool resources.”
Members of the women’s organizations make good use of their precious time. Their schedules are filled with business obligations, family responsibilities and community service, but they find time for one another. Kathy Creeden, owner of Living Rooms in Parsippany, and president of Women Entrepreneurs of New Jersey is impressed by the “openness and warmth” of members.
“People who arrive at a meeting as strangers rarely leave as strangers,” says Creeden.
Karen Hamburg of Karen A. Hamburg Photography in Blenheim points out, “It’s a nice feeling when you get up to introduce yourself at the monthly meetings (of NAWBO) and make mention of an accomplishment, there is a round of applause.”
One very important result of the existence of strong women business owners’ associations in this state is the integration of women owned businesses into the mainstream of the economy and the business community.
Elizabeth Lyons, chief, Office of Small Business Assistance, New Jersey Department of Commerce and Economic Development, and first president of the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners, observes that in 1978, very few members would have been active in their local chambers of commerce. The situation is very different today.
For many women, a first experience with a board of directors is within a women’s business association. Janet Steele-Holloway, acting director of the New Jersey Small Business Development Center and trustee of the WBOEC notes, “Women’s business associations provide a valuable information bank by giving access to business savvy that they wouldn’t get in other organizations.”
As a previous president of NAWBO, the author observes that many of the associations address issues of importance to all business owners, not just women, and this has contributed to the mainstreaming of their businesses into the general business community. The associations are designed not to separate women from men but rather to provide necessary support, opportunities and information that help the woman business owner succeed.