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Athena, CEO

Meet nine of the more than eight million women entrepreneurs who are beginning to reshape American business.

The story of every late 20th Century businesswoman began in 1848, when two bold and brassy suffragists drafted a declaration of independence for women in the New World. At their historical Seneca Falls conference, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan Brownell Anthony asked for nothing less than equality. More than 150 years later, like-minded businesswomen are no longer asking – they are taking what belongs to them and offering no apologies in return.

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Though myriad obstacles to success remain in tact, more than eight million women entrepreneurs are forging ahead with a revitalized sense of community, support and determination. With their construction firms and investment banking models they are demolishing traditional notions of women’s work, with their consulting practices they are demonstrating the unique perspective of women in business, and with their burgeoning support networks they are bolstering and encouraging each other with renewed resolve.

Meanwhile, organizations like the Center for Policy Alternatives are chipping away at the barriers with forceful demands for accelerated financing of women-led start-ups, better training and education programs, wider access to market opportunities and business networks, and increased national awareness of the power of women in business. On June 3, the Center of Policy Alternatives sponsored an entrepreneurship action day in 18 states designed to draw attention to strategies that capitalize on women’s economic power.

In conjunction with that national event, the center also identified nine women entrepreneurs from across the nation that stand as models of accomplishment and wisdom to women with vision everywhere. Fast Company spoke with these nine business pioneers in order to better understand the drive, conviction, and sacrifice necessary to succeed in a male-dominated world.

Stephanie Allen
President of the Athena Group
Denver, Colorado
“MBAs were invented by men to train men. They don’t acknowledge style differences in how many women lead and manage.”

Melissa Bradley
President and CEO of Bradley Holding Company
New York
“They told me I was 21, I was black, and I was a woman, so there was no way I was going to make it in the financial service industry.”

Susan Defife
President of Womenconnect.com
Mclean, Virginia
“In technology, there is a severe workforce shortage and we have to use the best minds we can. It doesn’t matter whether that mind belongs to a man or a woman, or a Martian quite frankly. It is really who can do the job and get it done… Technology is an incredible equalizer.”

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Dawnna Dukes
President and Founder of DM Dukes & Associates
Austin, Texas
“Men do not believe women have the savvy or the courage to make the tough and hard decisions…I am not sure why they tend to think this, as we prove them wrong every time.”

Joline Godfrey
President and CEO of The Independent Means
Santa Barbara, California
“Women have a hard time saying, ‘I’m going to start a company and it’s going to be global. It’s going to be a chain, and we’re going to do a billion dollars a year in revenue.'”

Melissa Moss
President of Women’s Consumer Network
Washington, D.C.
“The power of women in the marketplace is extraordinary. They spend a lot of money, but many products and services are targeted toward men. We’d like to flex women’s economic muscle.”

Cec Ortiz
Principal of ALMA Resources
Denver, Colorado
“The good news is that I’m driven, the bad news is that I’m driven, so it’s hard to figure out how to balance work and home, especially when I’m home.”

Vivian Shimoyama
Founder and President of Breakthru Unlimited
Manhattan Beach, California

Carolyn Stradley
President and Founder of C&S Paving
Marietta, Georgia
“I’ve been told today?by white men, very powerful men?’The majority of decisions are made in the men’s room.’ No longer can a man in a meeting pinch me on the tail…but there still exists a different type of discrimination.”

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