Local businesswomen speak out at event

State Rep. Cambensy, Sen. McMorrow in learning mode

State Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, center left, and state Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, center right, co-chairs of the Progressive Women's Caucus Women in the Workforce Task Force, speak with local women from a variety of industries to learn about their experiences, challenges and successes in business at an event held Monday afternoon at the Delft Bistro in Marquette. The legislators will hold another event of this type in McMorrow’s home district and are currently running a social media campaign encouraging women from all over Michigan to share their stories online. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — Women make up more than half of Michigan’s population and workforce. However, women in Michigan earn just 80 cents for each dollar a man earns and comprise just over 30% of Michigan business owners, according to data from Status of Women in the States.

To learn more about the issues Michigan businesswomen face, and what can be done at a legislative level, state Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, and Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak — co-chairs of the Progressive Women’s Caucus Women in the Workforce Task Force — gathered local women from a variety of industries to hear about their experiences Monday afternoon at the Delft Bistro in Marquette.

“These women have really made it work,” Cambensy said. “So we want to take their recipe for success and expand on it, and see if we can’t help more women who want to stay and work in Michigan really be successful.”

The group included women from diverse leadership positions, with restaurateurs, artists, writers, managers, CEOs and business owners represented at the table, including: Andrea Pernsteiner, owner of Ore Dock Brewing Co.; Natasha Koss, development manger for Northern Initiatives; Amy Clickner, CEO of the Lake Superior Community Partnership; Laura Gordon, owner of Lakeshore Photography; Katie Bonzer, owner and chocolatier at Towner’s Pastry and Chocolate Shoppe; Michele Butler, owner of Vango’s Pizza & Cocktail Lounge; Stephanie Jones, realtor at Select Realty; Jessica Sandstrom, human resources manager for Eagle Mine; Jennifer Ray, co-owner of Donckers and the Delft Bistro; Renee Prusi, staff writer at The Mining Journal; and Madeline Goodman, owner of MadGoodies Studio.

“We really wanted to hone it down to a group of women in our community that have really been pioneers in starting their own businesses, tackling the tough issues, whether it’s getting loans or marketing and really being successful at having them last — some of them here today for decades,” Cambensy said. “We’re excited that so many wanted to participate and come together and work with us, and we’re hoping it will inspire the next generation of small business owners, particularly women.”

The event, which is the first of its type held by the legislators, is part of their Michigan Women at Work initiative, which came about after the pair met on the Progressive Women’s Caucus Women in the Workforce Task Force.

The pair found that while they had very different districts — one urban and one rural — the two districts had many similarities, and both legislators wanted to learn more about how to help support women in business.

“Women can go to college, we can start our own businesses, we are in all of these different industries. But then when you look at the numbers, we’re still radically underrepresented in owning businesses, in construction and trades, in car design — where I came from — and even in owning small businesses in the community,” McMorrow said. “The last data point that I saw says that it’s only about 30% of small businesses in communities are owned by women. So our hope is that we continue to make progress and learn what are the things holding women back from continuing to make gains on the gains we’ve already made.”

It’s critical to recognize how supporting women in business can support Michigan’s overall economy, they said, noting they hope to learn more about and address the structural and systematic challenges women may face in business.

“When we look at the economy, helping women earn more, helping more women participate is going to be a huge boost to the economy overall,” McMorrow said. “So we want to make sure that families have more spending power, that if families are choosing to be dual income, that they have the opportunity to make significantly more and that will go back into our economy and benefit everybody.”

The opportunity to connect with legislators and fellow businesswomen on the issue was welcomed and appreciated, said Madeline Goodman, owner and operator of MadGoodies Studio and member of the Lake Superior Art Association Board of Directors and the Marquette Arts and Culture Advisory Committee.

Goodman, who opened the studio last fall in Marquette, said she’s found: “it is a learning process, being a woman in business — you have to work harder.”

However, she emphasized that: “Being a women doesn’t lessen me in any capacity, it empowers me even more.”

As a woman who recently opened her own business, Goodman has worked to foster collaborative, supportive relationships within her business, as well as with other businesses, she said.

“Having another woman backing you up is great,” Goodman said. “That is something that I see in my shop every day, everyone that I work with, we all back each other up, we all empower each other … All the other local women in business too. All the other local small business shops, I support them and they support me. It’s a great sense of community. It’s been a great experience.”

A second event of this type will be held in Troy, which is in McMorrow’s district. But the two lawmakers hope to hear from women all across the state, as they’ve launched a social media campaign encouraging Michigan women to share their stories.

“We’re starting here in Marquette and we’re also kicking it off online,” McMorrow said. “I posted a launch video (Sunday) explaining what we’re doing and asking women from around the state just to start by telling us where they’re from and what they do. And then as we go, we’ll be posting additional questions online.”

To learn more or share your story, visit McMorrow’s page on Facebook or Twitter, or search the hashtag #MIWomenatWork.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal.net.