Local storyteller Donna Washington recalled the first piece of advice she received when she began her career in Chicago 27 years ago.
“Find out how much the boys are making and ask for that,” she told Knightdale Chamber of Commerce members during a special “Got a Story” event.
The chamber hosted the event to allow female business owners in the area to get together and share their challenges in a largely male-dominated field of business ownership and entrepreneurship.
According to the U.S. Census estimations, there are 7.8 million women-owned businesses in the country. That number has increased since the 2013 estimation, but as Washington recounted through original stories, there have been and still are challenges for women business owners.
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Washington, who now runs her business full time as the company’s CEO, walked the group of women through some social history, highlighting major events that brought women into the workforce and the efforts that often followed to bring women back to the home.
And now, she said, there’s the idea that women should be ‘Superwoman,’ succeeding in work and home life.
Washington asked the group of women – which included health care workers, financial workers and at-home businesses owners – if they ever felt guilty for something going wrong at work or home.
Almost all the participants raised their hands.
Mary Yount, the Chamber’s executive director, said most female business owners operate at home because of family demands, usually related to childcare.
It’s changing as more fathers take on the stay-at-home role, but it’s still a challenge for women business owners to be taken seriously, Yount said.
“People will tend to give you this 'Oh that’s nice' kind of thing,” she said. “We just want to support people.”
Washington spoke about the lack of support she received when she began her career in her early 20s. As a storyteller, many people, including her husband and father, were unsure of what she did.
And her mother often pressured her to stop working and focus on building a family once her career just started to take off.
“Nobody was really giving me space to do (my job) because I was on a clock,” Washington said.
She did take seven years off of work to focus on her children, but returned to her business. When she did, she turned her business from unofficial to official, incorporating it and creating DLW Storyteller, Inc.
And even though Washington overcame the challenges and pressures she faced early on and the number of women-owned businesses continues to increase in the United States, she said women are still trying to break out of the roles they’ve traditionally been prescribed: Super woman, a stay-at-home mother or a mother who works, but isn’t a good mother.
“There are so many possible narratives and (those are the ones) we get slammed with,” she said.