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Posted at 04:05 PM ET, 07/23/2012

Opinion: Women business owners must lose the “us-vs.-them” gender mentality

Every day I wake up excited. 

With the establishment of the 8(m) set-aside program, the federal government officially recognized that women-owned businesses in underrepresented industries have had limited  opportunities in the federal and commercial procurement arena.   No doubt, this development and the much-anticipated opportunities this represents have brought new momentum to the woman-owned business arena.  


Peebles’ construction firm has taken advantage of some of the new set-asides created by the federal government. (Robert Ray - AP)
My construction firm is classified as as a service-disabled veteran, woman-owned business. Thus, I am all too familiar with the obstacles that women face in the business arena, and as a result, I approach the day with the mindset that every opportunity is a gift wrapped in a challenge.

I can speak from my own perspective in construction but would suspect that many of my observations would apply to other industries. 

One of the first obstacles in construction is that the industry has a reputation for being hostile to women.  This perception creates an initial barrier to entry and discourages capable and talented individuals from considering this as a business endeavor.  Fewer women in the industry means fewer key contacts and the fewer contacts and relationships  means fewer “deals.” The result is that women business owners often can’t get optimal pricing from vendors. Their access to capital is limited and exposure to  power brokers is restricted.

However, when you do succeed, you stand out. These challenges that my business partner and I have faced made us stronger, fortified our resolve and created a level of unsurpassed confidence.  Thus, we pursue new opportunities that we would not have considered previously.  Furthermore, due to our unique status as a service-disabled veteran, woman-owned, HUB Zone construction company, we have leverage concerning the terms and conditions under which we operate — in other words, we now operate from a position of strength.

In 2011, we were almost decimated when a large business partner of ours went bankrupt and nearly took us down in the wake.  It left us in an extremely vulnerable position and became a defining moment as to who we truly are and how we would conduct ourselves in this crisis. 

My business partner and I are both Marine Corps veterans, so quitting or failing was never an option.  As a result of our conduct and performance in this crisis, we recently received the American Express Victory in Procurement Small Business Government Contractor of the Year Award.  Nearly losing everything was ultimately an opportunity wrapped in a challenge.

Aside from dealing with some of the challenges within the industry, I think that the future is loaded with opportunities for the women who own businesses.  As we continue to gain parity and a more level playing field, we can stop spending our collective mental and emotional energy on issues of equality and an “us vs. them” mentality, thus freeing us to utilize our resources and acumen to address and resolve, both in a goods and services and in a leadership capacity, the tremendous issues facing our country.  

The realization that what I do and who I am as a business owner will contribute to the future good and prosperity of America makes for a very exciting wake up call.

Amber Peebles is president of Athena Construction Group, the nation’s only service-disabled veteran, woman-owned, HUB Zone construction company, and a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.

By Amber Peebles  |  04:05 PM ET, 07/23/2012

Tags:  small business

 
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