It’s 1968 at the Sterling Cooper & Partners advertising firm on New York City’s Madison Avenue. Male executives bustle about their offices, chain-smoking, consuming adult beverages at all hours of the day and occasionally meeting with clients, while female secretaries sit close by, in skirts, with perfect hair and makeup, clacking away on typewriters and ready to cater to their bosses’ every beck and call.
Mad Men fans know SC&P as the fictional offices where ad executive Don Draper reigns. Almost 50 years later, while women have made great strides in the workplace, becoming CEOs, board members, executives, and self-employed entrepreneurs, many obstacles still hinder their climb to the top, and often keep from them the recognition they deserve.
“Women entrepreneurs contribute significantly to the U.S. economy,” says Marlies Schoenau, president & owner of Think Tank Studio (asi/320771). “Womenable Research Consultants found that we own over 8.6 million U.S. businesses, which, according to the U.S. Economics & Statistics Administration, generate more than $1.3 trillion in revenues and employ close to 7.8 million people.”
Despite these numbers, women still find it challenging to access credit and capital, as well as balance work and family life, leaving little time to focus on business. This is where the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), a third-party certifier of women-owned businesses comes in. “Women need to offer support to one another,” says Schoenau, “and organizations like WBENC, that champion and support women-owned businesses, can be a tremendous help.”
Schoenau’s company, established in 1998 as a boutique graphic design studio, broke into the promotional industry a few years later to offer increased services to current clients and cater to more prospects. Today, the firm offers creative solutions for company stores, events and trade shows, customer appreciation and incentives, employee recognition and support, and wellness and safety programs. Current clients are from industries like health care, construction, media and entertainment, nonprofit and education. “Our clients range from small entrepreneurial businesses to large corporations with hundreds of employees,” says Schoenau.
To lend their support to women entrepreneurs, and to be recognized for their own efforts, Think Tank Studio recently underwent the meticulous two-part WBENC certification process. To begin, the company first provided documentation and financial reports proving that it met a strict set of criteria, most importantly that it is at least 51% woman-owned and -controlled. The owner must have education and experience in the business’ industry, and must also be in direct control of company policy, business direction, major decisions and daily operations. Once WBENC reviewed Think Tank Studio’s documentation and financial reports and made sure requirements were met, representatives scheduled a site visit. Finally, an evaluation committee examined all the reports to determine eligibility. Think Tank Studio passed the certification process in June 2014.
Now, with its new certification firmly in hand, the team is looking to grow its client base to serve the needs of larger companies that support minority-owned enterprises. “Being WBENC-certified will expand our visibility among large corporations in the private sector and help us to be noticed by decision-makers in corporate supply-chain diversity and procurement,” says Schoenau. “WBENC is recognized by many federal, state and local government entities, so we’ll have more access to training, mentoring and opportunities to connect with other WBENC-certified companies for potential business partnerships and joint ventures.”