On being a women-owned business…

By Mary Ellen Eagan

we-can-do-it

Over the past several months, as we’ve negotiated and finalized the internal sale of HMMH, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what it means (or might mean) to be a women-owned business (I’ve also spent a lot of time learning all the designations and abbreviations: WBE, WOSB, EDWOSB, etc. For simplicity, let’s just go with WBE). On a surface level, there should be no difference – after all, I’ve been president for more than 10 years, and Diana has been COO for two. And yet, I think it will make a difference for HMMH and for me.  Here’s why.

First, many people already assume we are a WBE – but now, we can even better serve our clients by helping them meet W/DBE contract goals.  I just spent the day at the City of Chicago Department of Aviation’s W/M/DBE workshop, and was stunned to learn that the CDA achieved a 39% W/M/DBE goal last year.  We hear from firms all the time that it’s hard to find “quality” DBE firms – I’m confident that our 34-year history of excellence will help in some small way to change that perception.

Second, it has forced me to think about what it means for men at HMMH – I’ve thought a lot about the trust and confidence displayed by the men who sold their stake in the company to Diana and me, but even more about the future of current and emerging male leaders within our firm who are also significant owners and contributors.  We may be unique among WBE firms to have so many talented men in leadership positions – I think that makes our firm rich.

Finally, it has brought back some of my inner feminist.  I was recently encouraged by a close friend (an enlightened male) to read Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, an examination of how women’s lives have, and have not, changed over the past forty years.  It made me realize how lucky I am to have been born when I was and how grateful I am to have been able to make the choices I’ve made (I am a contemporary of the author).  If my mother had not been an unsatisfied “housewife” at the height of the Gloria-Steinem-bra-burning-days, she might not have been the Tiger Mother who insisted I study something (anything) other than teaching or nursing in college.  I hated engineering (and my grades proved it – HMMH would never hire me today!), yet somehow I never lost the sense that I needed to forge my own path.  If I’d been a little older, many of those paths would have been closed to me (as it was, I have my share of horror stories – like the time the professor told my entire class to ‘Let the Lady Engineer show us how to do it’); if I’d been a little younger, it might not have been so important for me to prove myself (I look at my niece – who’s about to graduate from WPI as a biomedical engineer – and suspect gender is not an issue for her, except that the boys can’t keep up).  The challenge that remains – for women and men alike these days – is that of making choices.  We can do anything, but we can’t do everything.  When folks ask me how I ‘do it all’ (and by that, I assume they mean CEO, parent, wife, friend, volunteer), my stock answer is that I don’t do any of it well (and by that, I mean that I’ve had to accept the fact that I’m not perfect at anything).  But I get a lot done.

This quote from Wonder Women sums it up for me:

“Women should seek empowerment in their lives, but not control. They should be empowered to use their bodies as they desire; empowered to make the choices they prefer; empowered to seek happiness wherever they may find it. But control, like that ephemeral “all” again, is an illusion. Because in the end, the only thing you can really control is your thighs. And they just don’t matter that much.”

Amen, sister.

 

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