Columbus Gatherings Offer Support To Women In Business

By Kelsey Husnick The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) There is a thriving entrepreneurial scene for women in business in Columbus, Ohio. From events to mentoring programs to support groups, the women of Columbus are turning to each other to succeed. In fact, Columbus is home to the nation's largest chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners. The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

The Columbus business community is continuing to show evidence that it takes seriously the need to provide support and collaboration for female entrepreneurs even after years of progress.

Two recent events were geared toward the needs of female leaders and professionals, with goals of fueling their entrepreneurial endeavors and supporting women in industries typically dominated by men.

Columbus is also home to the nation's largest chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners and to the Women's Small Business Accelerator, the Women's Fund of Central Ohio and Lean In Circles for female professionals, all of which were formed over the last 20 years.

But experts say there is still is ways to go, and such efforts for women in business are necessary to help propel them forward.

"By differentiating, it says that it needs help, and we do," said Sharon DeLay, vice president of communications for the National Association of Women Business Owners and a board member for the Women's Small Business Accelerator. "We are making up for lost time. It has been a man's world for a long time."

Only 29 percent of U.S. business owners are women. In Ohio, 33 percent of business owners are women, according to the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce.

Brady Ware & Co., a Columbus accounting agency, recently sponsored its second-annual Women's Leadership Conference. Almost 200 businesswomen attended the event, which touched on leadership, economic empowerment, health and wellness. Professionals shared motivational stories and tips for building a thriving business.

"To be a female entrepreneur is to be a bold woman," said Lynn Elliott, president of Columbus Window Cleaning and the event's breakfast speaker. She rattled off other descriptors of successful businesswomen: visionaries, risk-takers, lifelong learners.

"I learned the business like any rookie. I rode around in my jeans in the truck with my hard hat," she said of how she came to acquire her late partner's business, knowing nothing about cleaning windows or what it would take to run the company. She has gone on to earn recognition in the entrepreneurial community, including the National Association of Women Business Owners Visionary Award in 2008.

An educational event supporting women in logistics also was held recently, sponsored by the Columbus Chamber. One of the main topics during a panel discussion involving female industry leaders was how to thrive in a male-dominated field.

"Once you prove yourself, you'll get the respect," said Ellen Voie, president and CEO of the Women in Trucking Association.

"People say women have to work twice as hard to look half as good (as men), but I don't believe that. I do believe that women have to pay their dues and that we have to prove our worth."

Voie said only 21 percent of workers in logistics -- consisting of jobs in transportation, storage, distribution and overall supply-chain management -- are female.

"It's an untapped talent pool," said Jeff Zimmerman, director of the Columbus Region Logistics Council. "When I think of some of the moving parts that are involved, women have great attention to detail. And that accuracy, and the ability to work through a process consistently to deliver a satisfactory customer experience and outcome, that's what logistics is about."

A common theme throughout both events was forming mentoring relationships with other women, whether in an industry or among entrepreneurs.

"We need to tell women, who are very underrepresented in (logistics), that there are opportunities in this industry for them and there will be an advocate for them when they get here," said Nora Gerber, talent-engagement specialist for the Columbus Chamber.

Proceeds from the Brady Ware conference helped fund scholarships for female entrepreneurs to enroll in the Women's Small Business Accelerator's programs. That nonprofit, in its third year, helps women expand their businesses through educational classes and mentoring.

This year, the accelerator's scholarships funded seven women, who are about two months into a six-month set of classes. One of the women, Jennifer Dally, 47, of Powell, is building a business plan for her health-care marketing company, Attune Marketing Group.

The mentoring and support group that evolves from the business accelerator is what she said benefits her most. "It's really helpful having a guidepost," Dally said.

One day, perhaps within a decade, DeLay said, events and organizations that cater to women in business won't be needed, and that's the goal.

"A lot of companies in Columbus have agreed to increase the number of women leaders in their businesses, and the city itself has taken up initiatives," DeLay said. "I see Columbus as a ... city that keeps moving fiscally and progressively forward."

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