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Local business women in startup, corporate cultures discuss how gender affected their careers

March 18,2018 15:22

In Lancaster County, 30 percent of all businesses are owned by women, but only 10 percent of construction companies have female leaders, according to U.S. Census statistics from 2012, the most recent available. Men own 61 percent of the county's 46,585 ...


It’s 2018, not 1958, so a woman starting or running a business is not going to stop the presses.
“Look, we’ve all earned the role, and we have a lot of pride in that and also in continuing to show that we have the expertise,” said Lisa Riggs, president of the Economic Development Co. of Lancaster County.
Nevertheless, even though women have been getting more and more entrepreneurial, Riggs says she is still often a “committee of one” at business meetings dominated by men.
Despite the progress made in recent years, women still lag behind men as business owners, especially in fields such as construction and technology.
In Lancaster County, 30 percent of all businesses are owned by women, but only 10 percent of construction companies have female leaders, according to U.S. Census statistics from 2012, the most recent available.
Men own 61 percent of the county’s 46,585 businesses with the other 9 percent jointly owned by men and women.
On the occasion of Women’s History Month, LNP caught up with a few women business leaders and entrepreneurs including some who shared thoughts on working in fields still dominated by men.
Donna Shoff
When her family started an excavating business in 1988, Donna Shoff handled basic office functions at the company whose name — H.L. Wiker & Sons — seemed to indicate her minor role there.
But that role grew along with the company, and in 2004 Shoff was chosen to lead the business after her dad retired.
And before she officially became president in 2007, the company’s name was tweaked to H.L. Wiker, reflecting its new, female face.
Shoff, 58, said that while she initially struggled with being confident enough to visit jobs sites, she hasn’t felt any barriers because she’s a woman.
“I can’t speak for other women, but I’ve never felt, or been made to feel, less relevant because I’m a woman,” she said.
Shoff said she’s worked hard to build relationships and gain respect of people she works with, saying that’s more important than trying to figure out how her gender affects her job.
“Sometimes, in our country, political correctness gets in our way of really being successful,” she said. “I really do believe that.”
Lori Maley
When Bank of Bird-in-Hand opened in December 2013, it was the first newly chartered bank in the United States to debut in three years.
Lori Maley, who was chief financial officer at the time, became the bank’s CEO last March.
When she worked in accounting, the 52-year-old Maley said she learned to speak the language of business, which prompted a supervisor to tell her that “you think like a man,” which Maley says she took as a compliment.
Maley also remembers an instance in a meeting where it took a shareholder a few minutes to figure out that she was actually the one with the answers, not the male CEO of the bank.
Nevertheless, Maley downplays any obstacles being a woman has presented in her career.
“The only limitations are the ones that we put on ourselves,” she said. “I am a firm believer that hard work and determination negate the concept of a glass ceiling.”
Kathryn Ross
Kathryn Ross has more than 25 years of experience working in sales and marketing for a variety of companies, including small and large manufacturers.
Three years ago, Ross founded Kross Strategies, a Lancaster-based consulting firm that works with companies on marketing plans and various other issues.
Ross, who moved to Lancaster 10 years ago from the New York City area, says that while things continue to change for the better, women can still face obstacles in male-dominated corporate or startup cultures.
Ross said women still need to work harder than men to get people to see them for their skills and experience.
She suggests that younger women especially should take on the role of a sister, instead of playing up their femininity.
“Everybody advocates for their sister,” she says.
Zeta Smith
When she worked as a territory manager for ExxonMobil, Zeta Smith said she was sometimes called “Honey” and saw racy calendars in back offices when she visited gas stations.
“I kindly let them know that I preferred to be called by my first name and that the calendars were offensive,” she says.
Smith, a Hempfield High School graduate who spent 14 years with ExxonMobil, said sharing her thoughts like that proved an effective way to nudge male colleagues into more respectful behavior.
“In many cases, it is just lack of knowledge,” she said.
Today, the 49-year-old Smith lives in Seattle and works as divisional senior vice president for Starbucks.
Over the course of her career, Smith said she’s found that being successful is not about your gender, but about being good at your job.
Yet she adds that being a woman in male-dominated industry made her stand out more if she did well.
“For me, I always believed that I could be anything I wanted to be, if I worked hard, achieved results and treated people the way I would want to be treated,” she said. “Being a woman is what I am, not who I am.”
Cinthia Kettering
As a child in Ecuador, Cinthia Kettering says she was indoctrinated with the idea that education was the most important thing — because no one can take it away from you.
That belief motivated her to go to continue her education even while working full time, a path that led her through jobs in banking and into a role as an entrepreneur.
“I always said, have a goal in mind. If you have a goal, you have something to fight for,” said Kettering, who is the president of operations for The Bagnall Shaw Co. and 401 Services LLC, a 13-employee insurance brokerage and title, tag and registration service in Lancaster.
The 40-year-old Kettering, who started her career as a secretary in the all-male auditing department of a bank in Ecuador, said being a woman didn’t make it harder.
“It was intimidating because the job was hard, not because they were men,” she said, adding that if she was treated differently it was because she was young and inexperienced.
“It’s not always because you’re a woman,” she said.
Kettering, who moved to the United States when she was in her early 20s, says she hasn’t felt disadvantage in the workplace because she’s a woman even though men sometimes don’t understand that women may have more childcare responsibilities.
“I believe anybody can succeed if they want to learn, they want to advance and they do a good job,” she said.
Martha Harris
Last October, Martha Harris was one of nine tech startup founders who pitched their companies to AOL co-founder Steve Case, who was seeking to make a $100,000 investment as part of his Rise of the Rest tour.
While Case chose another firm in which to invest, Harris has continued to develop Fizika Flex, a brain fitness program for people at risk of Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia.
For the 62-year-old Harris, her technology startup continues a four-decade career as a leader and innovator in the public and nonprofit sectors.
Harris, who has mostly worked in fields dominated by men, says she early on found some women who became mentors.
And while she says getting financing for new ventures can be harder for women than it is for men, being successful has more to do with sticking to your values and persevering.
“I’d like to think that there are no barriers anymore,” she said. “But it takes more women breaking through whatever barriers there are to be able to prove that.”

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