Battling Barriers: Report Finds Occupational Licensing Regulations More Likely To Hurt Female Entrepreneurs

By Crystal Thomas The Joplin Globe, Mo.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) According to a report commissioned by the Women's Foundation, which serves Missouri and Kansas, women were more likely than men to participate in a profession that requires occupational licensing. The report proposed easing back on occupational licensing regulations and upping representation of women on boards and commissions that regulate those licenses.

The Joplin Globe, Mo.

Eleven years ago, Tanisha Reed paid $8,000 to attend hair school in Joplin for 10 months at 40 hours a week.

She says she got more of an education from how to braid natural hair from YouTube than she did from her instructors.

Unlike several other states, Missouri requires hair braiders to get a cosmetology license. So, Reed went to school. She eventually opened a salon of her own connected to her husband's barber business called Reed's Beauty and Barber Shop.

But with three kids, she said she never advertised because too many clients meant child care that cost $800 a month.

Reed's struggles are just one example of the difficulties women face in trying to run a business in Missouri.

According to a report commissioned by the Women's Foundation, which serves Missouri and Kansas, found that women were more likely than men to participate in a profession that requires occupational licensing.

Wendy Doyle, the foundation's president and CEO, said that often times because of the high cost or lack of quality child care, women often hope to run their own businesses for flexibility in their schedules.

The report proposed easing back on occupational licensing regulations and upping representation of women on boards and commissions that regulate those licenses.

Because of an executive order issued by Gov. Eric Greitens his first day in office, each state agency needs to open its rules and regulations for 60 days of public comment to identify which ones are unnecessary. A report will be submitted to the governor by the end of May of next year.

Licensure vs. titling Within the past month, agencies, including the Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration, have sent out a flurry of notifications asking the public for comment. The department houses the division that maintains 40 regulatory boards, which look into 55 professions practiced by 430,000 workers in Missouri.

Some professions overseen by the boards don't require licensure for practice, but rather titling. For example, according to Tom Richard, the executive director of the Interior Design Council, those who want to list themselves as a "registered" interior designer in Missouri must be a graduate of an interior design program and pass the National Council for Interior Design Qualification exam.

Though there are hundreds of practicing interior designers in Missouri, there are only 77 registered interior designers as of July, Richard said.

"It gives you a bit prestige to say that you have passed the exam," Richard said. "Some big firms require the license."

Margie Moss, the owner of Joplin Decorating Center, said that she has had some clients ask if she went to school for interior design, but the fact that she wasn't registered wasn't a deal-breaker for them. Instead, she said her clients look at her experience and previous work.

Moss started designing after moving to Joplin in the 1980s and opened a storefront in 1996. When she arrived in

Joplin, she didn't know anyone so she had to build her client base from scratch. She cold-called contractors and builders and used word-of-mouth to spread her business. When her kids were young, she would bring them with her on jobs.

Now, her work is seen in hospitals, schools and casinos, as well as homes. Once, she said she was flipping through Architectural Digest and recognized her work in one of the ads.

"You get to set your own goals and you can work as hard as you want," Moss said, of owning her own business. Moss said she couldn't have opened her business if she was required to earn the qualifications to be "registered."

'Not fair' Reed said it's hard for her to advocate for her competition to not have to jump through the same hoops she did.

However, she sells hair to women through her shop and has come to learn that there are women who braid hair under the radar. Plus, across the border in Kansas, hairbraiders don't need to be licensed.

"All the school taught me to do was cut hair and color," Reed said. "The main thing I do is braids and sew ends. That seems not fair."

According to the foundation's report, there are about 75,000 licensed cosmetologist in the state of Missouri, though not all of them braid hair. Reed's argument is an echo of what Missouri state representatives said this past legislative session when the Missouri House voted unanimously to get rid of the regulation. Though the first-time bill had strong support and the backing of the governor, it never made it to the Senate before the session was over.

Seeking female representation Doyle said it was important for women to be represented within the bodies that make laws and regulations for their profession. At the time, the report was published at the end of 2016, 133 board members on occupational licensing boards and commissions were serving even though their terms had expired, and more than 38 seats were vacant.

With a new administration, the number may be even greater, Doyle said.

One of the barriers for women, Doyle said a study the Women's Foundation commission found, is that they wanted to be recruited for a position and often won't think to run or apply for the position themselves.

"We tend to hold back until someone asks us to step up and for some consideration versus a man who will raise their hands more quickly," Doyle said.

That was the case for City Councilwoman Melodee Colbert-Kean, she said while sitting at a table in her restaurant ME's Soul Food. When she ran for Joplin City Council the first time, she said a candidate from another ward approached her, saying there needed to be more representation of the black community on the council. She later went on to be the mayor of Joplin.

"Not once when I grew up did I think, 'I want to be the mayor,'" Colbert-Kean said.

Colbert-Kean is now one of a handful of women appointed by former Gov. Jay Nixon to the Missouri Women's Council, which focuses on being a resource for women entrepreneurs. She also serves as liaisons to several boards in town. Last year, she was the president of the National League of Cities.

"If women step up or step into something, society sees us as aggressive," Colbert-Kean said, of why women don't step into roles of authority. "Why can't we have passion, too?"

As a council member, Colbert-Kean reviews all of the applications for city boards and commissions and see more of them from men than women. The city has 22 boards and commissions.

"No one gender has all the answers or the best outlook on things," Colbert-Kean said. "You need a wide diversity, and I don't mean looking at just black and white."

In order to get more women involved in their cities, the Women's Foundation leads an appointments project. Women fill out a form with their qualifications and the foundation then helps them find a position to apply for that is suited to their experience.

Doyle said that the applicant pool doubled overnight as a result of the November election. Although the project focuses mostly on positions at the state level, the foundation has started to work with county and city governments, Doyle said.

She's hoping the foundation's next stop might be Joplin.

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