Valdosta Daily Times

October 27, 2013

Women in Business

The Present and the Future

Stuart Taylor
The Valdosta Daily Times

-- — While there’s still a ways to go, there’s no denying that the last decade and a half has seen a rise in women in business.

Consider the percentage of women on the boards of Fortune 500 companies. Since 1997, the number has risen by more than 50 percent, from 10.6 percent to 16.6 percent.

It’s a change supported by the bottom line. Multiple studies have found that for companies throughout the world, a board that’s gender diverse leads to greater performance for the company, outperforming companies with boards composed of solely men by up to 26 percent.

But the growth of women in business is not just at the upper levels of Fortune 500 companies.

The last 15 years have seen a 54 percent increase in the number of women-owned businesses in the United States, totaling up to 8.3 million women-owned businesses in the country that are responsible for employing 7.7 million people.

While statistics can be illuminating, to really get the story you have to talk to these women.

Women like Victoria Copeland.

After getting her first job on her 14th birthday, Copeland worked in a variety of businesses before becoming a real estate agent in 2007 with ERA Joyner Realty.

Now, she’s opened her business, Valdosta SOLD, which focuses on managing rental properties, while still working as an associate broker for ERA.

“I’ve just always wanted to be a business owner, to work for myself,” said Copeland. “I've always had that drive to go up the ladder.”

She gets support from her family, all the way from her grandparents and parents, who have always encouraged her in everything she does, to her husband and children, who encourage her everyday.

Along with the economy, Copeland credits the rise of women in business with the rise of women in high-profile positions, such as Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin’s recent presidential campaigns.

Lori Cauley also points to the economy as a reason for the rise of women in business.

“It’s gotten to the point where a lot of women have had to join the work force,” said Cauley, who serves as Southeastern Federal Credit Union’s vice President of marketing and business development. “Once they get there, a lot of them are excelling.”

She credits businesses like SFCU, where three of the eight executive positions are held by women.

“I think the workplace in general is beginning to see how much women have to offer. We multitask very well, which is something we bring to the table that sets us apart from our male colleagues.”

Like Copeland, Cauley also receives encouragement and support from her husband.

“I think that’s crucial, though I admire women who are able to do it alone.”

When she started at SFCU, she also found a mentor in her boss, the then-VP of marketing. Now that she’s a vice president, mentoring is something she finds herself occasionally doing.

“If you’re open to that sort of thing, it can really be helpful.”

Mentoring is something that Molly Deese knows. She’s come a long way from her start in an internship at the Kings Dominion theme park in Richmond, Va., to her current role as general manager of Wild Adventures.

“I was fortunate enough to have a female manager early in my career who helped me get to where I am today,” said Deese. “Through her encouragement, support, and pushing me to be better, I was able to move forward in my career.”

It’s something Deese advises other women to do, whether it’s at the workplace, or between friends or family members.

As for Cauley, she advises women to be open to change and opportunity.

“I think being open to your options is really crucial when you enter the workforce. A lot of employers look for that flexibility,” said Cauley.

And as you might expect from a woman who has been juggling jobs since before she could drive, Copeland’s advice is to take your work, whatever it is, seriously.

“I always tell (my children), whatever you do, be the best at it ... no matter what career path they go into. You can’t shortcut it. You have to treat it as a full-time job.”

The numbers and statistics cited at the beginning of this article show growth, and while growth is good, as any businesswoman will tell you, there’s still a ways to go.

“I would tell other women that it is OK to be assertive and go after what you want,” said Deese. “Don’t be afraid to have a family and a career. It is all about the balance.”