We can do more to stimulate women entrepreneurs, like many in Montclair (place de la ville)

Brooke Lark on Unsplash

By Liz DiMarco Weinman
Special at Montclair Local

The article that appeared on MontclairLocal.news on February 1 (and in the February 3 print edition of Montclair Local) about Café Moso owner Zina Floyd and her experience with predatory lending was horrific. As a former corporate marketer turned college educator and business owner, I wish I could say her experience is rare; Nevertheless, it is not the case.

This is not a new phenomenon either, but perhaps due in large part to the way business management is taught, both in MBA programs and at the undergraduate level. About a decade ago when I was studying for my MBA, all the case studies focused on men, especially in finance, venture capital and private equity. Even the “soft skills” classes—like those on leadership, strategy, and marketing—focused on elated men. The handful of cases featuring women only highlighted their problems – and their stories weren’t as promising as Ms Floyd’s.

After graduation, I ended up doing my own research on female entrepreneurs. It turns out that long before anyone heard of the Kardashians or Rihanna, many women had founded or grown valuable businesses, nonprofits, and social movements. Many of these founders thrived despite agonizing adversity. Most were over 40 years old when launched; in the 20th century, 40 was considered “old”.

Today, these pioneers and their brands are household names. They include Planned Parenthood, Weight Watchers (now WW), Estee Lauder, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Madame CJ Walker Beauty, Liz Claiborne, Julia Child, Ruth Chris Steakhouse, Girl Scouts of the USA, AARP, Barbara Corcoran, Spanx and many more. These role models weren’t even addressed in college curricula until recently.

Such omissions affect the knowledge and other resources that aspiring businesswomen can access. To date, women entrepreneurs, far more than men, face predatory lending, bias in obtaining capital and obtaining credit in their own name. Women who juggle business and family responsibilities face even more prejudice. They also experience loneliness due to the lack of peers.

Women entrepreneurs, however, can remain optimistic. In addition to the resources and legislative measures cited in the article on Ms. Floyd, university programs that empower women entrepreneurs, such as that at Montclair State University, are on the rise. As difficult as the coronavirus pandemic has been, it has also generated more options for how, where and when we work.

It’s no wonder that the groups most driving the big quit are the parents of Millennials and Gen Xers, many of whom also manage elder care. Owning and running their own business can provide them with the flexibility, autonomy, and creativity they lack in the corporate world.

Granted, they’re not the Kardashians or the Rihannas of the world, nor do they want to be. Instead, it’s women like Zina Floyd and Rachel Wyman of Montclair Bread Company (who wrote about her company’s struggles in the pandemic posted on MontclairLocal.news on Jan. 6) and Sharon Egan of Egan and Sons. These are the people who keep our communities alive — the restaurateurs, preschool operators, bakers, boutique owners, hairdressers, florists and dry cleaners. And most of these businesses are at least partly owned by women.

Here are some ways to advocate for these women, in addition to becoming a customer:

• Encourage women considering entrepreneurship to acquire solid training in business planning, finance, operations and HR.

• Consider women-led businesses as potential partners when exploring collaborations within your own business or for a business to provide products or services.

• Promote women’s businesses on social media or by word of mouth. Brand awareness is the first step towards creating preferences and revenue.

• Offer your expertise as a mentor to a woman entrepreneur, as Zina Floyd does. Connect a woman entrepreneur with advisors who work pro bono or “low bono”.

Support organizations that help women business owners and whose mentors are women who have started and run their own businesses. (Just three years ago, the membership of the largest organization of small business mentors was largely male, mostly retired from the workplace.)

Besides Montclair State University’s entrepreneurship program and legislation introduced by Senator Robert Menendez, other organizations are helping women achieve financial security through business ownership, including Soroptimist International, the American Businesswomen’s Association and the US Women’s Chamber of Commerce.

Zina Floyd said her experience made her more financially savvy. The fact that she has the courage to share her experiences, thus benefiting other entrepreneurs, is a service rendered to society. As she so aptly summed it up, “Every penny counts.”

Liz DiMarco Weinmann is the founder and principal of Liz DiMarco Weinmann Consulting, a low-profit, limited liability company focused on charitable and educational organizations. She lives in Woodland Park.

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