The year is 1988, the decade that today’s millennials, myself included, were born. President Ronald Reagan signs the Women’s Business Ownership Act, a federal law paving the way for women entrepreneurs like me to take out business loans. Prior to this law, women generally needed the signature of a male in order to take out a loan, possibly that of a husband, a father, a brother or even a minor son.
Let that sink in.
Now, as women and entrepreneurs, we can dream up business ideas and gain access to capital and financial resources. Our products, services, and solutions are judged by their virtue in the marketplace — not by our failure to have a Y chromosome.
Or are they?
In my life and career, I choose to be bold. My future. My choices. My path. I choose my partners and associates and embrace the excitement of succeeding and failing as an entrepreneur. No corporate ladders for me.
As robust and promising as our American business culture is today, I do believe that there remains a limitation on my ability to succeed that may continue to frustrate others as well. My gender.
It is one thing to need a law that allows women to gain access to capital. It is quite another to overcome what remains: an unconscious bias against women entrepreneurs.
It shows up when least expected. When I first opened a business, my husband and I were having breakfast at a local café. A local business leader and acquaintance approached our table and enthusiastically congratulated my husband for the recent successes of “his” franchising company. “Great job,” he said.
My husband and I chuckled, half shocked and half entertained, as the guy walked away. As my husband understood very well, it was I who started the company and successfully brought two thriving national franchises into our community. And yet the guy assumed it was my husband who did so because, well, he is a dude.
And it is not just men. Last September my company, The Insight Studio, was recognized on a list of up-and-coming startups by a local organization in high-tech. It is an exciting and special recognition for me and my colleagues, having worked so hard to quickly build the new company.
A local publication dispatched a reporter to interview me for what she told me was a feature about The Insight Studio and our recent recognition. We had a good conversation and I appreciated her interest. Yet, in the resulting article she gave equal billing to my husband, a successful business person and entrepreneur, featuring some of the companies he owns and operates. She called his companies “an impressive portfolio of businesses.” It was supposed to be an article about my company. She did not even interview my husband.
Don’t get me wrong. My husband is awesome. He has great business acumen and is a wonderful life partner. We share a busy schedule as parents to our two young daughters, and equally busy schedules operating our multiple companies. We credit our senses of humor as much as we do our entrepreneurial spirits for our ability to overcome barriers and to achieve success. He deserves any recognition he gets. Our hard work and effort has helped the companies we own together thrive. And the companies we own individually are doing well too.
Yet, the local publication did not feature the careers and businesses of the wives and/or spouses of the male leaders of companies it covered who had also been recognized by the local high-tech organization. Why were my husband and his companies featured in an article about my company?
I’m just saying … we have more work to do beyond the signature of President Ronald Reagan.
Stefanie Sample is CEO and Founder of Montana-based startup The Insight Studio.