By Elizabeth Kim
The Stamford Advocate, Conn.
In 1985, sisters Mary and Anne Ferrara fell in love with the multi-faceted business of marketing.
Mary majored in the field in college, while Anne, a special education teacher who studied psychology, decided to follow her older sister to the same firm in Rowayton.
Both in their 20s, they toiled in a largely male-dominated industry. Nonetheless, the sisters, who enjoyed helping clients tell a story, spied an opportunity.
“We felt there was a void for a company that could handle everything, from creative to printing needs,” Mary recalled recently.
So she and her sister made the leap: They quit their day jobs and cobbled a makeshift office out of their mother’s basement in Darien. They worked by themselves without pay. After a year, they were turning a profit.
Today, Mary and her sister, who now goes by the surname Chiapetta, are the owners of PCI Creative Group, a cross-media marketing company based in Stamford that has a full-time staff of six and about 300 clients.
A day for women
To highlight their contributions, and those of the thousands of other women in business as part of National Small Business Week, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has declared Tuesday “Women-Owned Business Day.”
The commemoration is the result of the governor’s partnership with the Women’s Business Development Council and the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women.
In a marketplace where women still earn on average less than men, women are increasingly working for themselves. According to the National Women’s Business Council, 17.5 percent of employer businesses are “women-owned,” while another 18.8 percent are women-led. Moreover, according to a study of the past 25 years, women have been launching their own businesses at nearly twice the rate of men.
Translating the group’s impact into dollars and jobs, a recent report sponsored by American Express OPEN estimated that as of 2013, there are more than 8.6 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating more than $1.3 trillion in revenue and employing nearly 7.8 million people.
$30 billion in revenues
In Connecticut, businesses owned by women make up $30 billion in revenues, according to the state.
According to Fran Pastore, the CEO of the Stamford-based WBDC, women are increasingly striking out on their own because of the appeal of controlling their own destiny.
“We know women need certain flexibility,” she said, citing the demands of family and childcare amid workplaces that do not always make accommodations for parents.
She said the purpose of the governor’s commemorative proclamation was to remind policymakers of women’s contributions as well as the barriers they still face.
Among the hurdles often cited for women and minorities in business is access to capital. In the case of women, until the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988, women in many states were unable to take out a business loan without having a male relative serve as a co-signer.
The law has not eradicated gender discrimination. According to Pastore, it takes a woman an average of four attempts to secure capital from a traditional lender.
“We want Connecticut to be part of the national dialogue and that national dialogue is about economic equity,” she said.
Mary, 59, and Anne, 55, said they considered themselves fortunate in not having encountered the traditional obstacles faced by women business owners.
They were approved on their first shot for a loan to buy a printing press. “It wasn’t as difficult as one would have thought,” Anne said at their loft offices in Glenbrook, the former factory home of Phillips Milk of Magnesia.
They also credit their former male boss for being one of their mentors.
But they did acknowledge that in the early days, the faces of clients seated across from them were mostly male. Over the years that has changed, a reflection of the strides made by women in the industry, but also, Mary speculated, a preference by female clients to work with other women.
Mary and Anne are firm supporters of women-owned businesses. Mary has served on the WBDC’s marketing committee. The WBDC recently assisted the sisters in obtaining a loan from the state Department of Economic and Community Development under the Small Business Express Loan Program. The money went toward equipment and hiring more employees.
Tuesday, they plan to attend a breakfast in Hartford hosted by the WBDC. They credited such events with networking opportunities as well as giving them a much-needed voice.
“Small business is the driving force toward the economic recovery of the U.S.,” Mary said.