National Association of Women Business Owners events are always an inspiration to me, and last week’s reception at Susan Davis International in Washington, D.C., to welcome President and CEO Diane Tomb was no exception.
Host Susan Davis welcomed Tomb and reminisced about her involvement in the early days when NAWBO was first incorporated as the Association of Women Business Owners in 1975. She recalled how the members gathered recipes from notable women, including then-Arkansas first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and used them to make treats for a big bake sale that brought in the money they needed to start a political action committee.
That committee, a NAWBO board member recalled, was instrumental in pushing through the 1988 passage of H.R. 5050, which included a number of measures that made life easier — and more fair — for women business owners and, most importantly, ended all state laws requiring women to have a male relative’s signature to apply for a business loan. Yes, that was still a legal requirement in some states less than 25 years ago.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., recalled her own experience of being asked to get a man’s signature before she could secure credit to buy a washer and dryer. It was the mid-1970s and she was in her 20s experiencing wild success as the head of a division at a chain of department stores. Her colleagues referred her to a nearby store that offered deals to the company’s employees. Blackburn said she was ready to pay cash, but the salesman suggested she take the six-months-same-as-cash deal instead.
When she finished the paperwork, Blackburn was prepared to schedule delivery, but the salesman said she would first have to go home and “get it signed.” Blackburn ripped up the credit application in front of his face and told him he had just lost a sale. She then went to another store, paid cash and had her washer and dryer delivered before her husband returned from a business trip to hear the whole story.
The stories these women shared show how far we’ve come, but my own experience and those of other younger women demonstrate that there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
Fortify.vc‘s Carla Valdes told me about her frequent experience of attending events for her company and its tech-startup accelerator The Fort and meeting people who would immediately turn their focus to her male intern or assistant.
Just four years ago, when I set out to buy my first new car, I took along a male friend to keep me company. Although we explicitly told the salesman that we were just friends and that I was the one who would be purchasing the car with my money, he only spoke to my friend. Just like Blackburn’s appliance salesman, he lost the sale.
What tough-to-believe but true experiences have you had in your life as a professional woman? Share them in the comments and join the conversation.