An Office Of Her Own

Black women have proven themselves a force to be reckoned with in the world of business. But is the best yet to come?

the least likely to borrow capital to launch their enterprises. But when the need to borrow arises, they are more likely to be turned down for a start-up loan. Similarly, women business owners of color are less likely to be granted a line of bank credit (see "Up the Mountain," Newspoints, August 1998).

Access to capital continues to be an important issue for black women entrepreneurs. Employment and sales growth in black women-owned firms lagged behind that of Hispanic and Asian women-owned companies just two years ago. "A significant reason for this may be that black women are far more likely to have started their businesses on a part-time basis while holding down another job," says Haber. "They are also far more likely to have started their business alone," without the financial support and credentials of other partners.

Despite a lack of confidence on the part of institutional money lenders, sister entrepreneurs have never lost faith in themselves. They have taken the worst that has been dished out and transformed their situation for the better, usually to the amazement of others.

Today, black women-owned firms represent roughly one-half of all black-owned companies. They employ more than 28% of the black business workforce and generate more than 24% of the sales. The majority of sister businesses (61%) remain in the service industry, with 17% in retail and 6% in finance, insurance or real estate. Most of their growth, however, has occurred in such nontraditional sectors as agriculture, up more than 277%; transportation, communications or public utilities, 264%; and construction, 190%, between 1987 and 1996.

Having a business in a nontraditional industry certainly has its advantages. "My company is immediately recognizable because it’s headed by a black woman and because we’re good at what we do. Marketing isn’t much of an issue for me," says Alice K. Houston, CEO of Automotive Carrier Services in Louisville, Kentucky, with a smile. Her transportation and logistics company grew from a small, two-truck operation in 1987 to a 465-person company that grossed $64.5 million last year.

Though being unique can be an asset to a business, at times it can also be a burden. "Because I’m involved in an industry dominated by white men, there are fewer networking opportunities," says Houston, whose company debuted at No. 38 on this year’s be industrial/service 100 list. Nonetheless, she encourages other women to follow her lead. "Go where the opportunities are and don’t limit yourself."

To continue the success they enjoy today, sister entrepreneurs and professionals alike must not only heed Houston’s advice, they need to work even harder to overcome the challenges that could undermine what they’ve achieved so far.

Indeed, women of all colors have fought hard to ride out the lows and realize the highs of career and entrepreneurial accomplishment. The future of women in business looks promising, provided that they pursue the opportunities presented to them-and, when necessary, create their own-with the same

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