Why we honor women in business | Reporter’s notebook

By Diane Craig

Journal staff

Why, after more than 25 years, do we still publish “Women in Business,” a once-a-year special section that celebrates businesswomen of the San Juan Islands?

After all, women have careers, own their own businesses and run multi-million dollar corporations? So why do we devote a special section after all these years?

Allow me to offer at least one reason: It wasn’t always this way.

There was a time, in the not too distant past, when women had far fewer rights than they do now. Far fewer.

For example, in America in the 1970s, married women, when referred to in print, never had first names: It was Mrs. John Smith or Mrs. William Jones. Banks had the right to refuse you a line of credit without your husband’s signature. If you were lucky enough to get a professional job, getting pregnant could result in termination. Airline attendants (stewardesses) were exclusively young, attractive, single women required to maintain a designated weight, and stay single or risk losing their job.

Not that long ago, women did not report the TV news, few were admitted into law school, medical school or the military; mailmen, firemen, policemen were all off limits.

The idea of a woman owning her own business and competing with men in a man’s world was not particularly encouraged. In fact, some thought the idea laughable.

Against this backdrop of patriarchal regulations, and fueled by a rising feminist movement evidenced by the formation of the National Organization of Women, Ms. Magazine and a growing wave of feminist literature and spokespeople, American women began to demand equality. The Equal Rights Amendment, first introduced in 1923, was finally passed by Congress in 1972 to guarantee the constitutional rights of all regardless of one’s sex, and went to the states for ratification. That same year, Title IX prohibited federally funded educational institutions from discriminating against students based on sex, opening viable school sports to young girls.

As recently as 2009, the issue of equal pay for equal work was addressed when President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that restored protection against pay discrimination. American women still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. The goal of economic parity remains a challenge and focusing on increasing the number of women-owned businesses in our state and the country is a powerful tool toward achieving that goal.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 402,000 women-owned businesses were recorded in 1972; 46 years later that number has increased 31 times over with a total of 12.3 million businesses owned by women. Washington accounts for 209,400 of those in 2018. In 2016 women received just over 2 percent of investor and venture capital funding and women-led businesses comprised only 4.9 percent of VC deals.

Why do we continue to publish “Women in Business”? Clearly, much work remains. Moreover, if we’re not diligent, we will lose the ground we’ve gained.