Sunday, October 12, 2003

Women's chamber shows it means business

The Enquirer's Cliff Peale recently talked with Rhoda Thompson, the driving force behind the Greater Cincinnati Women's Chamber of Commerce, to talk about the group, its first anniversary and Friday's celebration.

Question: Why do we need a women's chamber?

Answer: Women make a lot of the buying decisions. While I was with the African-American Chamber, I started doing research on different women's organizations, and I found there already was a women's chamber in Denver. And they've been in existence for 15 years. There's also a women's chamber in Palm Beach County that has now just celebrated its ninth anniversary, and they have 270 members. So I felt that the time is right for a women's chamber here. How do you bring all the women's organizations together so they can be on the same page? To get rid of all the divisiveness and the fragmentation. The only way to make it happen was to have a women's chamber.

Q: Can't bigger chambers, such as the Greater Cincinnati Chamber, fill some of those roles?

A: I'm sure it does. Because I am a member of the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. So I'm sure it does to an extent. However, it has not - yet - pulled all these women's organizations together as the women's chamber has. I must say, we're planning on doing this with the Greater Cincinnati Chamber. I am on the Small Business Advisory Council for the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce.

Q: Is it still, in this day and age, harder for a woman to start and maintain a business than a man?

A: I've heard a person from the SBA (Small Business Administration) say that he couldn't attend some of the meetings that we had because the start-up of women's businesses was keeping him so busy. So I don't imagine that it's as difficult as it used to be, because ... it's more well received now, that women mean business. And that's why we've called this conference, "Women Mean Business." With the way things are happening in corporate (America), those situations we all know about, women are saying, "OK, I'm put out, I'm outsourced, or whatever, I will start my own." And they're being very successful at it. And women do business very well with other women.

Q: What are your immediate goals for the chamber?

A: To give women more of the programs and services that women are looking for, to bring together the coalition of women and the cohesiveness of the organizations, to de-fragment the organizations, to be the umbrella organization for not just the women's organizations, but for the legal women who would like to be more visible, to show other women they're in business for themselves, real estate women, women in communications, women in different organizations with different capacities to do business. To show other women how to get there. Also, we're talking with women who are in the top Tristate women-owned businesses to give them an opportunity to help the women who are aspiring to be on that list. To give them an opportunity to mentor.

Q: What do expect to accomplish at your event?

A: Opportunities. Allowing women to give their voice, to share what they know, to give back, to come and learn, to rub elbows.

Q: Do you think Cincinnati is on par with other cities in providing opportunities for women to start a business?

A: Cincinnati is like no other city in the world. However, Cincinnati is a wonderful place. I spoke with a young lady who is one of the panelists, and I shared with her my aspirations, why I'm doing this, and she said, "Why Cincinnati?" Because I could have gone anyplace in the country and started a women's chamber. But this is my home base region ... There are women's chambers already in existence. When Cincinnati gets it, I believe there's going to be a ripple effect across the country. In addition, people say, "If you can make it in Cincinnati, you can make it anywhere." But they just don't understand the viability, the wonderful city that there is here ... When we come together, we don't see race. The majority of the women who are doing business with the women's chamber, we don't look at each other with regard to the color of our skin. We look at our gender. We look at what we can do with each other. We're going to make a change. We're going to make a difference.

Q: In the long term, what will constitute success for the women's chamber?

A: That the major corporations in Greater Cincinnati will grasp hold of the idea that women mean business and that doing business with women means business for them. And one of the major corporations in this city (Procter & Gamble Co.) does more of its business with women, which is why it's so successful. But now it's time for them to give back in another way, because women have given to them to make them as successful as they are ... They (P&G) market to women, they buy the Pampers, they buy the Tide. Now it's time for them to give back to the women in a different way. Women are starting businesses, let them help the women in business in this way.

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