Right after Henderson mother Gina Robison-Billups started the National Association for Moms in Business, she discovered just how hard it was to be a mother in the work force .
I was at a womens expo promoting the association, Robison-Billups said. A guy I think he was a mechanic selling his services as women-friendly came up to my booth. He said, Moms in B usiness. Sounds like a reason for women to sit around, drink coffee and chit chat, and because they pass mascara across the table, they can call it a business.
Robison-Billups was shocked.
That story is becoming famous in some circles, Robison-Billups said. I realized that if this is what Im getting from a guy who is selling a service for women, what are other women out there facing?
Robison-Billups realized that women, in particular mothers, who are struggling to be professional while maintaining their family lives, were being bombarded with negative comments.
More important , she realized that her notion to start this group was needed to encourage other moms in business.
As a mother, and a single working mother at one point, she knew the struggles of being in the professional world with people who found her incompetent because of her gender.
After Robison-Billups stepfather died in 1990, she took over his business, which booked entertainment in casinos .
He died on Thanksgiving Day, Robison-Billups said. The day after, the very next day, his competitors called and told his clients they should switch over to their businesses. They said I was a girl and too soft and couldnt handle the businesses. Good thing I had already built a relationship and my clients trusted me.
She left the industry years later and started doing marketing and business consulting.
As Robison-Billups would present marketing and business seminars to large groups, there was a gap between the women and men in the room.
All the women had an extra set of challenges, Robison-Billups said. Men werent having the same problems.
Robison-Billups said some problems might include anything from juggling family responsibilities while taking care of the business to not being taken seriously in the work world because they are mothers.
I have had women say they have had difficulties because men didnt believe they owned a multi million-dollar construction company, Robison-Billups said. They are always asked, Where are the men involved with the business?
At first, Robison-Billups thought she would just have a separate seminar just for working, professional mothers.
She even considered starting a local networking group specific for moms in business.
Women kept coming up to me and saying they thought about starting a group like that, Robison-Billups said . By the third person, I realized there really wasnt anything. So I had to decide. Was I going to be the one who keeps saying, I thought about (creating a group), or was I going to be that woman who finally said, I did it. We could go another 100 years before something is started for us.
After lots of research, she couldnt find any national organizations from which she could branch off.
I found an association for professional miniature golfers, Robison-Billups said. I was surprised that all these organizations had been around and there was nothing for moms. They hadnt created anything for themselves, which, if you think about it, is typical.
By trial and error, Robison-Billups started the National Association for Moms in Business in 2003.
Everything I could have done wrong, I did, Robison-Billups said. But the good thing about that is people dont have to learn from my mistakes. They know how to do things the right way.
The association allows professional mothers to come together for education and business support and to connect with other like-minded women while being able to talk about being a mom.
They can talk about the struggles making payroll and switch to talking about problems with teenagers and switch back to talking about marketing strategies without missing a beat, Robison-Billups said. Thats how womens minds work. Its like a pingpong ball.
The support system is one of the highlights of the association.
The association, which said it is the voice of the 15 million entrepreneur and executive moms in the U.S., represents more than 1,000 businesses from law firms and medical practices to shoe companies.
Additionally, a lot of the businesses are microbusinesses, which are small businesses that usually have five or fewer people.
Every time she felt like giving up, she found the strength to keep persevering.
I think people always think they arent making a difference, Robison-Billups said. But every time I was close to quitting, I had someone come up to me and tell me, I started my business because of you, or, I decided to expand my business because of you.
Robison-Billups had a setback when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2009.
The case was so severe, with a seven-centimeter lump that developed in the course of weeks, that she was immediately put on chemotherapy.
I worked from home, from bed, Robison-Billups said. Ive been back since July going full force and making up for lost time. Robison-Billups is currently in remission.
Being appointed to the National Womens Business Council at the beginning of April was a dream come true for Robison-Billups. The council thought Robison-Billups would be a great addition because of her background working with professional moms.
According to Dana M. Lewis, the executive director for the National Womens Business Council, the council weighs in on and makes policy recommendations to the president, Congress and the U.S. Small Business Administration on economic issues of importance to women business owners.
We are a bipartisan council, Lewis said. We do not advocate, lobby or endorse. We do research on federal policy and give our recommendation.
The term is three years.
Lewis said Robison-Billups, who is slated to be sworn in Thursday , is a great addition because of her knowledge of microbusinesses .
We look at people who reflect diversity on many levels, Lewis said.
Since the National Association for Moms in Business is composed of a high percentage of microbusinesses, Robison-Billups is able to discuss what policies can help and hinder start up businesses.
So many businesses are started from home, Lewis said. Some are developed from the need to make extra income and some out of a longtime desire to have a business. It is critical to have a reach into that revenue stream, help women starting their businesses from the kitchen table and help policymakers understand their needs.
Robison-Billups said this opportunity will further help other mothers in business succeed.
I always thought if I could get on the council and be one of those women, it would be a huge step forward, Robison-Billups said. I would be able to represent (all) moms in business so we are seen as the powerhouses we are and not the gossiping women just passing mascara across the table.
Contact Henderson and Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at email@example.com or 387-5201.