Breaking Barriers: McPeake in Rare Air for Women-Owned Firms
Bonnie McPeake turned to her mother for advice three decades ago before leaving the coal fields of West Virginia with her family for a hotel ownership opportunity in North Carolina.
“Do it, Bonnie,” Myrtle Faye Wisen told her at the time. “You can always come back to this.”
Although her mother never worked outside the home, McPeake credits her with instilling a belief that she could accomplish anything.
“Sometimes, it’s just a very few words that encourage you,” McPeake says.
Today, McPeake runs McPeake Hotels Inc., a Southern Pines-based company that owns the Hampton Inn behind Aberdeen Commons, the Best Western on U.S. 1 in Southern Pines, another hotel in South Carolina, Sandhills Business Park on U.S. 1 in Aberdeen and the Belvedere Hotel office complex in downtown Southern Pines.
McPeake, the company’s vice president, oversees more than 100 employees, and the entities generate well more than $1 million in annual revenue, shattering two barriers holding other female business owners back nationwide, according to a new report.
While the number of women-owned firms in the U.S. increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011, only 1.8 percent of such firms had $1 million or more in revenues, a figure that remained unchanged over the 14-year period.
“Something is putting women-owned firms off their stride as they grow larger,” the report says. “They fall behind toward the end of the entrepreneurial marathon.”
Julie Weeks, a research adviser and author of the study, believes that there are “far fewer” female mentors and role models at the $1 million and above level.
“Having more visible role models at that level will show women they can break through,” Weeks says. “But I don’t think there’s one magic answer, or one switch you can turn on.”
The study found that North Carolina was one of the top five states as far as number of women-owned businesses — an estimated 236,100 — but the state ranked 45th in percentage growth of female firm revenue between 1997 and 2011.
“Unfortunately, in this country, we tend to measure everything by how large it is,” says Vicki Donlan, an author, business coach and consultant based in Hingham, Mass. “To me, it comes back to the same issues.”
Donlan asked more than 1,000 women the same question — what’s holding women back from leadership?— for her 2007 book, “Her Turn: Why It’s Time for Women to Lead in America.”
“The answers are the same today as they were back then — women hold each other back, the old boys’ network and the image of what women want — in exactly that order,” Donlan says. “So if women want to get ahead they need to support each other unconditionally. We need to create a new girls’ network. This is a call to action.”
Donlan also seeks a cease-fire in the “war” between women who work and those who stay at home.
“It is absolutely a personal choice,” she says.
The report notes that sales and employment at women-owned businesses lag behind the national average. It also touches on the industries — health care, social assistance and educational services — that are most attractive to women.
But Weeks adds that women-owned firms are diversifying into “pretty much” every industry.
“You can retire the term ‘non-traditional industry’ because it just does not apply today,” Weeks says.
“It’s been a hard fight to get where we are, but we’re still not there yet,” she says. “These reports wouldn’t continue to be written if women had full equality with men, and I am not a male-basher.
“Gloria Steinem said in the 1960s that women are not going to be equal outside the home until men are equal in it. We’re not there yet.”
The report was released last month by American Express OPEN, the financial-services company’s small-business division. Its findings were extrapolated from U.S. Census Bureau data.
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at email@example.com.
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