Call them professional BFFs or mentors — they are among a new breed of women in the work force who are reaching back to pull up their sisters, share their secrets and propel the next group of business women to success.
It’s a far cry from the 90s when women who shattered the glass ceiling were accused of not helping other women up the corporate ladder.
There has been a shift in the culture of women in business and local business women are declaring the days of using other women as stepping stones over. Now, business strategies are built on relationships.
“The women who broke through the glass ceiling clawed their way to the top,” said Mary Kelly, CEO of Productive Leaders and author of six leadership books. “Today, clawing won’t work. Women need other women.”
In Colorado Springs, women are pairing up, hunkering down and talking business. Novice up-and-comers are seeking out advice from experienced women in business saying they don’t have time to reinvent the wheel. Experienced business women are happy to share what they know.
“I joke that I have wallpapered my walls with diplomas from the school of hard knocks,” said Andee LaMoreaux, a senior executive recruiter with Woodmoor Group Inc. who has 25 years in human relations and recruiting. “If I can help someone, I want to help.”
A decade ago there was an attitude of it was tough for me so it should be tough for you, Kelly said. Some women carried the mean-girl attitude into business.
“And, it’s not attractive in business,” she said.
Anne Wamser, Eastern Colorado Bank business development, set out to redefine how women interact with each other in the business world. She had an overwhelming feeling that successful business women ought to share their experiences to improve the overall success rate of women in business. After one year of planning, she launched Woman to Woman, a nonprofit group that pairs experienced business women with less experienced business women for one year.
“The whole purpose is to help women become successful in the workplace,” she said. “They will help (mentees) figure out what is the best method to move up the ladder.”
LaMoreaux was eager to jump in as a mentor. She worked her way up at the Professional Bull Riders, Inc. to senior vice president of administration and jokes that she bought herself “an alligator suit and I kept it close to my desk and crawled into it for a tough skin.”
“Women need help on how to maneuver and be successful in developing their professional approach,” LaMoreaux said. “This is an opportunity to say, ‘you’re not the only one going through this.’ It helps to combat those feelings of ‘what am I doing wrong?’ “
In Colorado, women make up 49.9 percent of the population and 64 percent of the work force. It only makes sense that they would get their best leads from other women in their industry, Kelly said. She calls it cooperative competition — when, for example, someone in the catering business gives a client the name of a competitor who may specialize in something a little different.
“I think people felt in the past like there was a limited pie,” Kelly said. “If you got more, then I got less.”
Marsha Rand, director of eWomen Network, Colorado Springs chapter, recalls one of her first jobs as a bank teller in the 1970s.
“I can remember these older gals would half train you,” she said. “I think they were threatened that you would take their job.”
Now, women are eager to help each other, she said. She joined eWomen Network, an international business women’s organization, precisely because it was more than small talk and drive-by networking, she said. A key aspect of the organization is coaching and access to resources, including mentors, nationwide.
“I feel I have so many friends — business women I respect, who when I need to bounce something off them, I call and they will take my call and they will give me feedback,” Rand said. “And, that is very special.”
Wamser recruited 12 Colorado Springs-area entrepreneurs, business owners and corporate professionals and paired them with women who are entering or reentering the work force. In Colorado there are an estimated 95,000 single women with children in the work force.
“We knew if we helped women be successful in the workplace that we’ve helped an entire family,” Wamser said. “Most of the women in our program have people who depend on them.”
Across the country, women-owned businesses generate $3 trillion in sales and employ 23 million people, or 16 percent of all jobs. Those are some pretty solid numbers to the business bottom line, Kelly said.
“I have a vested interested in making sure up-and-coming businesses are prosperous,” Kelly said. “I need there to be a thriving economy.”
Colorado ranks among the top for women-owned businesses, according to the Women’s Business Development Center and the Center for Women’s Business Research. Women-owned firms make up 29.2 percent of all firms in the state and in El Paso County, women own 31.4 percent of all businesses.
Kelly is the president of the of the Colorado Springs Women’s Express Network, a chapter of American Business Women’s Association, and has set a goal of helping its 60 members grow business revenue by $10,000 a year.
“That is a pretty good contribution to the community,” she said. “We need to help each other . . . we have to reach back and grab them and pull them forward.”
There is no reason to waste time reinventing the wheel with so many women who’ve been there and done that, said Tara Nolan, owner of Tara Nolan Advisory Services.
“Rather than start at ground zero and make mistakes, I went to business women and said, ‘what can you tell me so I won’t make mistakes,’ “ said Nolan, who started her own financial advisory business two years ago. “There is so little time and so much to do. There are so many little mistakes that you can avoid.”
So impressed with the knowledge she gained from local business women, Nolan set up a series of free conference calls on her website called “Six Wildly Successful Colorado Women and the Secrets of their Success.”
“They are ready to tell you how they did it,” Nolan said. “Sharing their secrets definitely levels the playing field.”
Darleen Daniels, who is starting a new business selling skin care products, said she does not want to think like a man, do business like a man or put on a tough shell. She enjoys her femininity and signed up in the Woman to Woman program as a mentee. She’s got a circle of girlfriends, she said.
“But, there are conversations that you need to have with women in the business world,” Daniels said.
“I’m at a place where I want a real relationship — not fluff,” Daniels said. “I got excited that I could have someone that was just for me, to pour my heart out and get support.”
This summer, her mentor helped her get her business registered, advised her on her website and has given her straight talk on how to keep a level head when dealing with colleagues who disagree — the things they don’t teach in school.
“If you don’t have a mentor to help you deal with it, you can break down a lot more quickly than a man,” Daniels said.
Already there are women waiting in the wings to be mentors for the next round of Woman to Woman, which will kick off in January.
“The women in this town are very giving,” Wamser said. “They are more than willing to give up their time to help other women be successful.”
Women own half of the 10 million privately held companies
Women-owned businesses employ 23 million people and generate $3 trillion in sales
Female entrepreneurship has grown at twice the national average since 1997
Women make up 64 percent of the work force
Women own 29.2 percent of all businesses
95,000 single moms are in the work force
El Paso County
Women own 31.5 percent of businesses
Sources: National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies; Women’s Business Development Center; U.S. Census Bureau; Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade; Center for Women’s Business Research.