As a working woman, I’ve heard a lot about balance over the years. Erika Prosper Nirenberg tackled the topic during a recent speech to the Texas Women’s Forum.
Prosper Nirenberg, after all, has quite a balancing act in her own life – director of customer insights for H-E-B, chairwoman of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, mother, and wife of Mayor Ron Nirenberg.
She spoke about the balance of power for women, and how to shift the equilibrium in a democratic, capitalistic society using the ballot box and running a company.
“According to the Center for American Women and Politics, women outvoted men by 10 million in the 2016 elections, and have outpaced men in voter turnout in nonpresidential elections since 1996,” Prosper said. “Yet, still we are told that our real power lies in taking care of others’ needs.”
Females increasingly are claiming an active hand in business, moving up the corporate ladder or founding their own enterprise. The changes in the last few decades are dramatic in some ways, disappointing in others.
Just three decades ago, the Women’s Business Ownership Act ended state laws requiring a male relative to co-sign a business loan.
Phyllis Browning remembers those days. She started her own real estate firm in 1989, a year after the law changed. But, she had to establish her own identity.
“When I got married, my job was to take care of the children and have dinner on the table when my husband got home. I didn’t know how much I didn’t know about business then. My husband’s name was on everything, from clothes at the cleaner to hotel reservations. I had to get my own name out there,” she said. “It just shows how attitudes are slow to change.”
According to the Texas Comptroller’s Office, the number of women-owned companies in Texas has risen by 146 percent in the past 20 years. Today, nearly a million Texas women own their own company, including this newspaper.
According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, more than 11.6 million U.S. firms are owned by women today. Sounds powerful, right?
But, consider this – those 11.6 million firms employ just about 9 million people.
“That means a lot of women are sole proprietors,” said Cece Smith, owner and president of San Antonio branding and design agency Toolbox Studios. As past president of the San Antonio chapter of NAWBO, Smith is familiar with a wide range of women-owned enterprises, and the difficulties they still face.
“So many women’s businesses are just to make ends meet, not to create wealth. Capital continues to be an issue,” Smith told me. “It’s still harder for women to get loans.”
The National Women’s Business Council points to a 2014 Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship study indicating female proprietors received less than 5 percent of both venture capital and government funding for small companies, and just $1 for every $23 granted in business loans.
That’s imbalance for you.
“There are still biases, and they’re always around capital,” Smith noted. “As a business owner, you have to be involved in voting.”
She added, “In the last 30 years, it has gotten better, absolutely. And, obviously, we still have a long way to go.”
Cheers to women in business, and their balancing acts. We’re all stronger for their success.