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NM women in business: A rising tide

WESST President Agnes Noonan stands next to signs depicting the areas around the state served by the organization. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For many New Mexican women in business, economic progress is slow. But some changes promise a better future.

“It’s a complex matter. Growth of women creating businesses is outpacing men, but women-owned businesses have had very little progress in revenue generation. That hasn’t really changed in 20 years,” said Agnes Noonan, president and CEO of WESST, an organization that has been serving entrepreneurs across the state, especially women and people of color, for 30 years.

The good news is that, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s latest numbers, women-owned employer firms grew at 6%, double the rate for similar firms owned by men.

For many women, the reason for starting a business is a lifestyle decision – it provides flexibility for family and revenue expectations are not as aggressive.

So, “despite their growth, women-owned employer businesses’ share of employment and receipts have remained unchanged,” Noonan said.

Revenue growth for all women-owned businesses is now about 8%, after hovering at 6% to 6.5% for many years, Noonan said.

Michelle Coons, president of Washington Federal and a board member of the nonprofit micro-lender Accion, soon to be DreamSpring, said 43% of Accion loans go to women.

As for her success, she credits a lot of it to having valuable mentors and hard work.

“I was so fortunate to have a number of mentors as I was climbing my career ladder in banking. They instilled in me a strong work ethic and a commitment to the community and while it was a much more male-dominated field, those lessons they taught me are still relevant for a man or a woman today.”

Noonan, like many New Mexico business women, does not believe the playing field has leveled: “White men have a 250-year history of starting and growing businesses and accumulating the wealth that comes from that. Any diverse group has a pretty short history in business and wealth accumulation, comparatively.”

Still, in New Mexico, she estimates that women own about 40% of New Mexico’s businesses.

Coons acknowledged that exact parity is not there yet – 30% of Washington Federal’s regional presidents are women. That’s not 50%, but it’s far more than when she started.

And Coons and Noonan are not alone as women leaders in New Mexico.

Women hold top posts in education, with Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Racquel Reedy, University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes and CNM President Katharine Winograd; on the judiciary, with Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura; and in government, the most obvious being Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

On the business side, some of the largest business organizations are led by women. Terri Cole is president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and Lynne Anderson is president of NAIOP, one of the nation’s biggest commerial real estate organizations. The Albuquerque Chamber board chair is Pat Vincent Collawn, president and CEO of New Mexico’s largest utility, Public Service Company of New Mexico, and the incoming chair for the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce is Mary Martinez, CEO of Home Instead Senior Care.

In the health field, Barbara McAnemy is founder and CEO of the New Mexico Cancer Center and past president of the American Medical Association, Cheryl Wilman is director and CEO of the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center and Kate Becker is CEO of UNM Hospital.

Hurdles

Still, working your way up the ladder in New Mexico, a poor state, is more difficult for women.

According to the latest data from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), an organization devoted to gender justice, 18.9% of New Mexican women live in poverty, compared to 12.4% nationally.

Despite a federal law in 1963 and another in 2009 that require employers to pay the same wage for the same work and qualifications, gender wage gaps still exists.

The NWLC reports that overall New Mexico women make about 83 cents for every dollar a white man makes, a little better than the national figure of 80 cents. Black women make about 64 cents while Latinas and Native women in the state make about 55 cents for every dollar white men earn.

“A man is offered $5,000 more a year to start than a woman with the same qualifications and experience, why is that?” Noonan asked.

Fatima van Hattum, program co-director of NewMexicoWomen.org.

Fatima van Hattum, a program co-director of NewMexicoWomen.org, a women’s fund and advocacy group, says the roots of gender discrimination run deep in the state.

The group interviewed focus groups across the state to find out what women say are obstacles to their economic success.

“We talked about the lives of women as they intersect with cultural and social dimensions,” van Hattum said. “The majority of people in our state are people of color.”

Issues of racism, access to healthcare in rural communities, patriarchal views of women as less valuable than men, English as a second language, immigration status and deep historic wounds of land loss and family disruptions, especially in Native communities, added to women’s stories of poverty and discrimination.

“What we saw was a deep internalization and wounding from these systems,” she said.

To address the issues, the advocacy group, part of the New Mexico Community Foundation, began to make small grants to address their goals of gender justice and healing.

Commission reborn

NewMexicoWomen.org organized when the former administration defunded the New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women.

This past legislative session the commission was funded again.

“Yes, it is absolutely great to hear,” van Hattum said. “It is so important given our legacy of underinvestment in women in our state.”

She said she is also encouraged and hopeful by the rising tide of women lawmakers, both statewide and nationally.

In the 2018 midterms, not only did New Mexico elect its second woman governor in Michelle Lujan Grisham, but two out of three of New Mexico’s U.S. Representatives are now women. In the 70-person state House, 31 women won seats, women judges increased and a woman was elected as state land commissioner for the first time.

Nora Sackett

Nora Sackett, the governor’s press secretary, says the New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women is in the process of identifying commissioners and will soon be up and running.

Other measures from the past legislative session will also support women.

“Ensuring safety, wellbeing and opportunity for women is a top priority for Gov. Lujan Grisham,” Sackett said in an email interview.

Wealth accumulation

But many factors contribute to the lack of wealth accumulation for women-owned businesses, including the type of businesses they start, Noonan said. Women often start service-sector businesses, which don’t generate as much revenue as other fields, such as tech firms.

Women often start smaller businesses. If they are solo entrepreneurs they may not be able to work full time in their businesses, because of family and other responsibilities. “Women-owned businesses are not a homogenous group. There is lots of variation on the theme.”

Access to capital is less available to women and people of color, according to venture capital studies, she said. Of all venture capital funding, 87% goes to white men. Women get about 7%. People of color and other groups account for the rest.

Coons said on the commercial side of banking, women business owners make up less than 20% of Washington Federal clients, but that’s still much higher than 10 years ago.

“However, if I look at our smaller loan clients that our community bankers handle; over 40% are husband and wife teams,” she said.

‘Time of transition’

There are many women in New Mexico who have climbed the ladder to the top, even in male-dominated industries.

To name just a few: Cynthia Schultz, president of Bradbury Stamm, one of the major construction companies in the state; Debbie Harms, CEO and president of NAI Maestas & Ward Commercial Real Estate; and Tina Cordova, president of Queston Construction Inc. and past president of the New Mexico Roofing Contractors Association.

Joining Coons in the banking and finance industry are Jennifer Thomas, chairman and CEO of Bank of Albuquerque, and Marsha Majors, president and CEO of U.S. Eagle Federal Credit Union.

State Rep. Melanie Stansbury

“It’s a time of transition for women,” says state Rep. Melanie Stansbury, a newly elected Albuquerque Democrat. “The 1970s awakening of women pointed us in this direction, but we are becoming increasingly aware of the ways the system is not set up for women to succeed.”

Stansbury, a New Mexico native, is a natural resource and community consultant and worked on Capitol Hill for many years.

“I’ve worked in male-dominated fields since I was 14 years old in my dad’s landscaping business and I can see changes,” she said.

“Just five generations ago women couldn’t vote,” she said. “But our (boomer) mothers trail blazed into careers and late Gen-X’s and early Millennials are moving into leadership positions.”

“We’ve just seen the largest women’s marches in history. The times we’re living in are overwhelming and scary, but I think the net outcome is a generation of change.”

Journal staff contributed to this story.

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