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The Southern California Woman: ON THE JOB : New Worlds of Work : As the Fast Track Becomes the Beaten Path, Women Are Finding Innovative Ways to Achieve Personal and Financial Satisfaction

December 04, 1988|NICOLE YORKIN

IN 1978, after 13 years of dues-paying in county government, Sylvia Fogelman was invited to become associate director of a major nonprofit agency's planning and budget department. It was a move that she says "sounded wonderful" and fit right in with her career goals. When the agency's director left after two years, the 43-year-old Fogelman was logically next in line to take over her boss's job. Instead, she found herself watching the position being handed to a young man from outside the agency, and with limited experience in that area.

Her view of the situation is simple: "The tilting factor was that I was a woman and he was a man, and in that particular area, no woman had ever had that position before."

Rather than stay with the agency, in 1980 Fogelman decided to strike out on her own. Today, she has her contractor's license and is president of the Pasadena-based Shur Corp., a real estate development and construction company that grosses $8 million annually.

"I never expected to open my own business and be in the area of development and construction," says Fogelman, 51, who has a humanities background and a master's degree in social work from USC. "If you'd asked me 10 years ago, I would've looked at you with a large question mark on my face."

Fogelman is not alone in her new status. In fact, she is at the forefront of a movement sweeping California and the nation, as millions of women become entrepreneurs.

The U.S. Small Business Administration estimates that women own one-third of the nation's businesses and account for the fastest-growing segment of the small-business population--starting businesses at twice the rate of men, according to Harriet Fredman, program manager for the SBA's Office of Women's Business Ownership.

Women now own at least 3.7 million of the more than 13 million sole proprietorships in this country, with annual revenues of $65 billion, an increase of nearly 100% over the 1.9 million businesses women owned in 1977, according to the Department of Labor Statistics. And once again, the local economy mirrors this national trend, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In California, women owned 396,294 businesses, according to 1982 Census Bureau statistics, the latest figures available. They generated sales of $12 billion, with the 185,017 women-owned firms in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties accounting for nearly half, at $5.8 billion.

"Entrepreneurships are the wave of the future for women," says Mary Ann Von Glinow, associate professor of management and organization in USC's School of Business. "They're being their own bosses and being productive and getting the same kinds of strokes--benefits and rewards--that the large companies aren't giving them."

Women are becoming entrepreneurs for many reasons. Some are bailing out of corporations after feeling trapped by what they perceive as a "glass ceiling"--a subtle barrier that prevents women from moving up in large companies, because they are women. Some are frustrated by slow-moving corporate bureaucracies, while still others have been bitten by the same entrepreneurial bug that historically has been the American--although traditionally male--way of doing business. Los Angeles entrepreneur Tobey Cotsen, for example, had already guided her first venture, WendySue and Tobey's muffins, from yearly sales of $60,000 to $1.3 million in four years, when inspiration touched her again. "I came up with an idea and it sounded like such a great deal that I couldn't understand why nobody else had done it," explains Cotsen, 30, about her second business, Bundle of Convenience, a home diaper and baby-product delivery service that has built a client base of 175 in its first year. "I kept tossing it around and couldn't find a fly in the ointment. Finally, I figured I'd better do it before somebody else did."

Last spring, the U.S. House Small Business Committee held hearings to study the growing role of women entrepreneurs in the economy. The committee's report, "New Economic Realities: The Rise of Women Entrepreneurs," called them a "gold mine of human capital" and contended that "women-owned businesses have become a central factor in the American economy and will become even more crucial in the years ahead."

The growth of the entrepreneurial spirit is but one indication of the changing nature of the way women work in Southern California, as well as the nation, observers say. For one thing, as the '80s come to a close, increasing numbers of women are being drawn to business careers. More than one-third of the 70,000 MBAs graduating each year are now women, up from only 12% in 1977 and 2% in 1967.

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