Today Phrantceena Halres heads a global security firm that protects infrastructure assets for private, municipal, corporate, nuclear and government installations and power plants, but when Halres started her company in 2002, the small-business owner soon found herself right smack up against the glass ceiling.
“Security has always been a vastly male-dominated sector, and my introduction into this old boys’ club industry was met with serious criticism and scoffs,” says the chairman and CEO of Total Protection Services Global (TPS). “In fact, for a long while, it was difficult to land any big contracts for the sole reason that I am a woman and an African-American.”
Unfazed by the old boys’ club barriers, Halres persevered. Today, besides growing as a successful security company, she has managed to build TPS into a leader in nuclear security.
If you’re hitting the glass ceiling, there are actions you can take to break through.
Believe in Yourself and Your Business
Michelle McCloskey (below, left) is owner of Run Around Betties, a company that provides small-business owners and consumers with personalized services, such as errand running, shopping and making travel arrangements. Last spring, she and her business partner enrolled in a 6-week workshop that promised mentorship and useful information on customer development, but they found themselves in the thick of the old boys’ club.
“Right now, the boys' club seems to be enthralled by tech and all things digital, even though service businesses are the fastest growing sector of the economy,” she says. McCloskey and her partner were the only female team present at the event, and when they attended the only mentoring meeting they were given during the workshop, their assigned mentor told them that they might have “a nice little business" someday, but they shouldn't expect it to generate big returns.
“We look at all of the hot, fast-growing, female-led service businesses like Drybar and believe that Run Around Betties has a lot more potential than those guys think,” McCloskey says.
“Attitude, preparation and endurance get you to where you want to be,” Halres adds. “There are definitely major issues concerning women in the workforce, but that doesn’t mean that with effort, women can't be a dominant force in any business sector. I did it, and there will be many women to follow.”
Take Advantage of Today’s Resources
There are far more resources now than there were 35 years ago, so don’t be shy about using them, says Judith McQuown, author of the bestseller Inc. Yourself: How to Profit by Setting Up Your Own Corporation. She experienced the glass ceiling in the 1970s while working as a Wall Street analyst and New York City senior investment analyst.
“My boss told me he wanted to promote a younger, less competent, less productive man instead of me, so I responded by forming my own company providing writing and editorial services to the financial and publishing industries,” says McQuown, who has always taken advantage of resources aimed at women-based businesses.
“The SBA offers a great minority program under Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act. In this program, small, minority-owned businesses can bid on contracts that provide services to the federal government, and in fiscal year 2012, these contracts amounted to $15.9 billion,” she says. “Most states and cities offer similar programs, as do many Fortune 500 companies.”
Change the Playing Field
Jockeying for a position of respect and authority sometimes means altering the landscape in which you’re operating. In this case, the best way to change how those on the playing field react to you is to change yourself.
"Show you’re serious about your business by establishing a credit record immediately and become better acquainted with your bank manager,” McQuown suggests. Showing you’re fiscally responsible conveys the message to yourself and those in the business community that you intend to stick around. Also network and join professional organizations and volunteer for leadership positions.
In order to succeed as a woman business owner, Halres lives purposefully every day. “My greatest lesson as a woman business owner was understanding the importance of knowing who I am as a woman and exactly what kind of business I wanted to create,” she says. “With my company, it would have been easy to copy other players in the security space and emphasize the same values, but I wanted to be different and lead with innovation, vision, openness and dedication to the community. Standing out is tied to your purpose.”
A freelancer since 1985, Julie Bawden-Davis has written for many publications, including MSN Money.com, Parade.com, Entrepreneur, Better Homes & Gardens and Family Circle.
Read more articles on women-owned businesses.
Photos: Thinkstock, Run Around Betties