*Secondary Locations in Davenport, IA; Columbus, OH; Washington, DC; Tampa, FL; Minneapolis, MN; Raleigh, NC.
American Business Women’s Day has been celebrated in the U.S. on September 22 since 1949 when the American Business Women’s Association was founded. The holiday was first nationally recognized in 1983 when President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation honoring the influences and legacy of the millions of hard-working American women.
According to statistics provided by Team Stage , in 2022, women will hold 50.04% of all jobs in the United States. This figure is higher than the percentage of women in the workforce back in 2012, when 45.7% of all jobs were held by women. The Women’s History Project, the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), and Team Stage teamed up to recognize these accomplishments and the role women play in business. Their goal was to spark interest and inspire young girls to pursue their dreams.
There are so many inspiring stories of women who’ve made a difference, overcome difficulties, or started companies that have changed our world in some way. Here are three of the many stories of successful American businesswomen, how they got started, the challenges they faced, and how they were able to preserve and become the influential figures they are today.
Sarah Breedlove (Madam C.J. Walker) was born in 1867 and was the first female African American millionaire. Her parents were sharecroppers born into slavery in Louisiana and Walker was the first of her family to be born free after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. At a young age, her family moved north to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and she learned how to be resourceful during the harsh economic times. One of her first jobs was as a cook for her mother’s household.
Walker’s business dreams began with a personal struggle as she suffered from a scalp disorder that caused her and other African American women to lose a lot of their hair.
She wanted to create hair products specifically designed to treat Black hair. Walker saw a market for her products and began visiting customers while selling jars of her homemade remedy on the side of the road using a wheelbarrow. She eventually earned enough money to open her own salon and began making African American hair care products in 1907. Her method of treating this condition was dubbed the “Walker System,” consisting of using lotions and iron combs.
In 1908, Walker established a beauty school and parlor in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Walker’s business eventually grew and in 1913 she incorporated it and officially named it Madame C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company, Inc. which was the first and only African American-owned business to be publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange in 1922. Walker’s success was not without controversy. She was a vocal advocate for African American, female, and poor workers and in the 1920s. She also campaigned against racial segregation and raised money for the Red Cross and other charities.
Through all of her ups and downs, Walker lived a fulfilling life and continued to work until her death in 1919 at the age of 72. She was an influential member of the African American community as well as a successful business owner. Walker’s legacy continues to inspire younger generations and thus, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.
Everyone probably recognizes Barbara Corcoran from sitting with Mark Cuban and “Mr. Wonderful,” Kevin O’Leary on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” but not everyone knows how many personal struggles she’s had to overcome before earning her seat in the tank.
Corcoran was born in Edgewater, New Jersey in 1949 and was the second eldest of 10 siblings. She struggled in school and later learn that she had dyslexia and graduated from Leonia High School in New Jersey with straight D’s.
Despite her academic struggles, Corcoran excelled in her higher education career and graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas College in 1971 with a degree in education. Her first job as a teacher only lasted a year but she had worked 20 jobs by the age of 23 including waitressing and renting apartments in New York City, where she later discovered her passion in the real estate industry. Corcoran began her career in New York as a real estate agent and later as the founder of her own firm, The Corcoran Group, a full-service real estate corporation. In 2004, she was awarded the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for New York.
Along with her success in the real estate industry, Corcoran also wanted to help other passionate entrepreneurs follow their “American Dream” and joined ABC’s “Shark Tank” in 2010, listening to hopeful small business owners pitch the company of their dreams to persuade Corcoran and the other “Sharks” to invest and offer guidance to help them reach success. Corcoran also documented her career journey in her book “Shark Tales: How I Turned $1,000 into a Billion Dollar Business!”
In 2016, Corcoran sold The Corcoran Group to the real estate firm CBRE and on September 24, 2016, she was named Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of CBRE Global Investors. She also sits as a board member for numerous non-profit organizations including the National Association of Women Business Owners and the USC Marshall School of Business.
Corcoran continues to be an inspiration to female entrepreneurs and women in business. She was named one of the most powerful women in New Jersey and was listed as one of the nation’s Top 100 Most Fascinating People. Despite her success, Corcoran still remembers the challenges she faced in school and as a young entrepreneur and continues to help women overcome their personal struggles through her various foundations.
Oprah Winfrey has become one of the most recognized faces in the business world and it all started with a humble beginning.
Winfrey was born in 1954 in Kosciusko, Mississippi and spent the first six years of her life living with her grandmother. Her family struggled with poverty to the point where Winfrey would wear dresses that her grandmother would sew out of potato sacks. However, her grandmother taught her to read at a young age. At the age of 12, she moved with her family to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where she attended Webster High School. She dropped out of high school when she was 15 and worked as a maid and a seamstress.
Winfrey went on to study radio and television communication at Tennessee State University. Her career began as an anchor and news reporter for a local TV station in Baltimore, Maryland. After that, she moved to Chicago, Illinois, and landed a job as a news anchor for WJZ-TV. However, Winfrey became frustrated with being a news anchor and decided to branch out and focus on other opportunities like hosting a talk show. Winfrey began her talk show in 1976 and gained a following as the host by interviewing celebrities. The show’s success led to a spin-off, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which aired in 1986. She then launched her own network, The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) after her show ended in 2011. Since then, Winfrey has also become a prominent name in the magazine world and has created her own publishing imprint, Harpo Productions, Inc.
Aside from her successful media career, Winfrey had a passion for philanthropy. She was the founder and first chair of the board of The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, a high school for girls in South Africa, she was the president of the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, which focuses on fighting against racial inequality, and co-founded The Harpo Foundation. Winfrey was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, in 2011 and has been recognized for her contributions to women’s and minority rights.
Although she has received numerous honors, Winfrey didn’t forget her roots. She continues to give back by funding the Oprah Winfrey Endowed Scholarship at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
These three women and many others have and hope to inspire future generations to follow their dreams and reach for the stars. Before success, there are always challenges one must face and overcome and it will not happen overnight. However, these women proved that with hard work and dedication, anyone can make it in today’s business world. Their determination and passion for helping others stay true to their dreams have inspired other women throughout history and the present day.
Today we celebrate all the women who have pushed boundaries and continue to inspire women and girls today to dream big and achieve their goals. We celebrate the women who have positively and profoundly impacted the communities they serve. We celebrate the women who have managed to overcome the odds to reach their goals despite many challenges. We also celebrate the women continuing this legacy through today and moving forward with new opportunities, challenges, and goals to achieve.
ICONMA is a proud certified Woman-Owned Business Enterprise (WBE); certified by Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), and the National Women Business Owners Corporation (NWBOC)
September 16, 2022