RALEIGH, N.C. — A recent study indicated that female-owned businesses performed just as well as male-owned businesses in recent years but that women still faced key obstacles in building their companies and expanding their economic impact.
Between 1997 and 2013, the number of female-owned companies increased by 59 percent in the United States to 8.6 million, according to American Express Open's annual State of Women-Owned Businesses Report.
Though female-owned businesses account for 29 percent of all enterprises, they employ only 6 percent of the nation's workforce and contribute less than 4 percent of business revenues, the report said. That's about the same share they contributed in 1997.
Some female-owned businesses purposely remain small as their owners balance work and family, while others struggle to obtain financing, contacts or resources, said Briles Johnson, director of the Women's Business Center of North Carolina in Durham.
But Johnson said she has seen more women going into nontraditional industries such as construction, engineering, life sciences and manufacturing — one way that female-owned businesses could increase their economic impact.
Three women who have built businesses in male-dominant industries shared their stories:
Getting in the door
Mikki Paradis almost never is turned down for meetings with potential clients.
“I know that I can get in the door because it is so shocking,” said Paradis, 31, president and CEO of PDI Drywall, a Raleigh, N.C., company that provides drywall and painting services. “ 'Oh, yeah, here is this blond girl, and she is going to tell me about drywall.' And I do.”
Paradis started the company in 2005 after her father — who had spent his career in the drywall industry — suggested that she help meet then-strong demand for drywall in the residential construction market.
Paradis used $10,000 of an inheritance and took out a line of credit on her house to buy equipment, supplies and pay herself a salary. She built a relationship with a supplier, who then recommended PDI Drywall for two projects in 2006.
Industries with highest concentrations:
• 53 percent: health care and social assistance
• 45 percent: educational services
• 44 percent: administrative support and waste management services
Industries with lowest concentrations:
• 7 percent: construction
• 11 percent: transportation and warehousing
• 20 percent: finance and insurance
Source: American Express Open's State of Women-Owned Business Report
Paradis hired subcontractors to do the labor, but had them teach her how to cut, hang and finish drywall, which can weigh up to 105 pounds a sheet.
Around 2010, Paradis learned about federal certifications for female-owned and other businesses.
“I took this six-day executive management course for contractors and designers, and that kind of changed my whole world,” she said.
Last year, Paradis hired her first employee so she could spend more time managing the business. Since 2010, the company's revenue has increased from $100,000 to just under $1 million.
“There is obviously skepticism at first,” Paradis said, “but then once people realize that you know what you are talking about, I don't think they have a problem working with a woman.”
Taking care of people
Carrie Peele started moonlighting as a chauffeur in 1990 after using three credit cards to buy a $15,000 limousine.
“I thought 'This would be a great weekend project,' ” she said.
Nearly 23 years later, Peele's multimillion-dollar company, Blue Diamond Worldwide Transportation, owns a fleet of about 40 vehicles in North Carolina and provides a range of transportation services with affiliates across the globe.
Peele posted fliers, handed out brochures and started a relentless networking campaign.
In 2000 Peele moved Blue Diamond and its three vehicles from Laurinburg, N.C., to Raleigh.
The company now employs an office staff of seven and works with about 40 independent contractor chauffeurs. Peele said her business has thrived because she lets her team handle daily operations while she focuses on networking.
Peele, 55, said some affiliates prefer female-owned transportation companies.
“We are going to handle customer service better. We handle complaints better,” she said, “We seem to have that nurturing gene in us. We are just taking care of people.”
Taking a stand
When Kathryn Moore found out she was being paid half as much as her male colleagues at a Durham tattoo parlor, she quit and founded her own business.
It made her angry, she said, “so I went and opened a shop.”
In 1997, Moore started Dogstar Tattoo in Durham.
Business has been steady, Moore said, but being a female employer has been a challenge.
“In terms of shenanigans, I think that people have at least tried to get away with more because I am a woman,” she said.
Moore stays in touch with other female tattoo artists and turns to her female professional clients for business advice.
Making it in a male-dominated industry takes extra work and perseverance, but it is possible, Moore said.
“It's believing in yourself enough to stick with the task,” she said.