A Business article yesterday understated the revenue generated by businesses owned by women in the Washingtn area and nationally. The numbers should have been $4.9 billion for the area and $280 billion nationally. (Published 10/4/90)

In the early 1970s Alison D.K. Diamond noticed an odd thing. Although it was not even considered part of the paper industry, Xerox Corp. sold more paper than almost any other company in the country. Likewise, International Business Machines Corp., with all its manuals and documents, was one of the nation's largest publishers.

"It dawned on me ... there was a whole line of distribution" that nobody had noticed, she recalled yesterday. So, starting in her basement, Diamond, already a successful attorney, started a sideline: supplying copier paper for offices.

Today, Diamond Paper Corp. of Sterling has revenue of about $15 million annually, supplies a full line of business paper and office supplies and employs some 70 people. That makes Diamond a leading example of a trend documented by new Census Bureau figures to be released today. The number of businesses owned by women has been climbing dramatically, their volume of sales and profits are up and female entrepreneurs are moving into all sorts of new areas.

In addition, the Census Bureau found that the Washington area ranks fourth in the nation in total number of women-owned businesses, with some 78,700 in operation here. While it trails the nation's biggest areas -- Los Angeles, New York and Chicago -- Washington outranks such areas as Houston, Philadelphia and Detroit.

Traditionally, this area's success in spawning small, minority- and women-owned businesses is ascribed to the federal government, which buys vast quantities of goods and services and has specific programs aimed at funneling business to minority-owned firms.

In addition, the area is dominated by service companies, a sector that has attracted women business-owners.

The District, in fact, has a higher percentage of women-owned businesses than any state -- 37.57 percent -- and the whole area generated $4.9 million in annual revenue for women-owned businesses in 1987, the last year for which figures are available.

Roma Malkani is another successful entrepreneur, much like Diamond, except that she started 10 years later in her garage and her business is computers. Today, her Information Systems & Networks Corp. (ISN) of Bethesda has some $57 million in revenue, employs 400 people and "is the largest federal government contractor owned by a woman," she said yesterday.

"It was a disadvantage" to be a woman, Malkani said, but only at first. With the company established in business, "it is now no longer a factor that ISN is owned by woman," she said. "It has its own reputation. In the beginning, the company is the person."

And despite the growth of many companies, such as Diamond's and Malkani's, the company still is the person for many women-owned businesses. While the number of women-owned firms grew 57 percent between 1982 and 1987, only 15 percent of the companies in 1987 had other employees on their payroll besides the owner. And those with employees accounted for 81 percent of the receipts of women-owned firms, the census found.

Nationally, women-owned businesses had $280 million in annual receipts as of 1987, which was about 14 percent of the total for all businesses, according to the figures.

"These figures confirm that women-owned companies are the fastest-growing sector in our economy," said Susan Engeleiter, head of the Small Business Administration.

She said that SBA's projections show that women will own 37 percent of the nation's businesses, compared with 30 percent in the census study, "but the vitality that women-owned businesses are demonstrating leads me to believe that our projections may turn out to have been conservative."

And while starting a business may be a struggle, Diamond said she feels the rewards are all the entrepreneurial folklore claims them to be.

"I've been lucky. I've been asked any number of times by women what were my difficulties, and I think they are the same difficulties any person would have" -- the need for more credit and more information and ways to do things better, she said.

Today, she said, at 58, when many of those who work for others are dreaming of retirement, she comes to work each day eager to encounter "the new things that are going to happen."