Women business owners fight for equality

SAN ANTONIO – Wage inequality is a big topic as our nation strives for gender equality, but advocacy agencies say the conversation needs to go further.

Even women who own businesses face obstacles because of their gender.

Lucinda Leal was a single mom building her career 15 years ago. She saw flaws in her industry and decided to open her own business, Labor on Demand.

She needed capital so she headed to the banks but found little success.

"They wouldn't even look at me. I had this whole file. 'Here I am!' Being Hispanic and being a woman and they said, 'OK, we'll get back with you.' And I feel like if it was a man there with a handshake, it would have been different," she said.

Leal said times have changed and things are getting better, but the gap is still wide open.

The National Women's Business Council said men tend to start their businesses with nearly twice as much financial capital than women and acquire loans with more favorable terms.

"There's already an inequality in wages, and when that translates to entrepreneurship, it creates a bit of a struggle for women to demonstrate capacity to take on new debt," said Margot Slosson, Liftfund director.

Liftfund is a nonprofit small business lender that focuses heavily on women.

We are "helping with business planning, helping them put together that startup budget, helping them look at financial projections so that they feel more secure and confident when they do go to access that capital," Slosson said.

Slosson said she's seeing a shift as industries come together to address a real issue.

"Women have been in entrepreneurship for ages, and I think there's just more momentum now and that's why it's coming to the forefront," she said.

Organizations such as Liftfund and the Small Business Administration have made it possible for Leal to find success and pride.

"I make it known. I am Lucinda. I am the owner," Leal said with a smile.

Both Leal and Slosson encourage women in business to take advantage of all the local resources available to them. Liftfund has a Women's Business Center at San Antonio's central library. It has individual business counseling, educational events, business and financial services, links to resources and experts.

The fifth annual Women Supporting Women Conference is Friday, March 30 in San Marcos. The collaboration between Liftfund and the Small Business Association offers women education and networking.

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