Dawnna Dukes

President and Founder of DM Dukes Associates, Austin, Texas

Established in 1992, DM Dukes & Associates is a consulting firm that focuses on the areas of criminal justice, safety and loss control, research planning, and business resource development. Dukes has a background in business resource development for small minority/women-owned businesses and is currently serving as a state representative in the Texas House of Representatives. She recently received an award from the National Association of Small Disadvantage Businesses for authoring legislation in Texas that facilitates and encourages women and minorities doing business with the state of Texas.


Do you think of yourself as a pioneer in business today?

I do not. However, my friends and others attempting to start up small businesses seem to see me that way. Individuals who wish start their own firms or chart their own future think that I am courageous and have some God-given hidden talent that allowed me to start and succeed with my firm seven years ago.

How did you get involved in your company?


Eight years ago I worked for a criminal justice architectural firm. Through hard work and the onset of governmental affirmative action policies, I worked my way up in the firm. The firm folded a few years after I arrived, largely because of poor financial planning. The majority partner requested that I start a business similar to the prior with him as a partner.

I felt the market was changing and we need to diversify our services and become more politically active. He disagreed and told me my heads were in the clouds. Since profit sharing was not on a equal basis for me, I filed a dba and starting pursing other opportunities. Once I landed one contract to sustain me, I left the partnership and started my own business. I also became politically active, ran for office and won. Within 18 months of departing the partnership I had succeeded at both of my goals: creating my own consulting firm and gaining political office.

Who are your greatest mentors and role models?


There is no doubt that my greatest mentors and roles models are the matriarchs in my family. Early on they taught me that I was smart and could do anything I so chose to do. In addition, my maternal grandfather was an entrepreneur. He retired at age 39. I always aspired to do the same.

During the summer as a child my siblings, cousins and I would stay at my maternal grandparents house. We had to play outside in a “let’s pretend” city that they helped us create. We created retails stores, craft shops, restaurants, post offices, car dealerships, groceries, engineering/architectural firms, law firms, real estate companies, doctors/dentist office, etc. We mimicked all the professions of our relatives and people we knew. My grandparents taught us how to manage our money with the play money we created. It was a game to us, but in essence they taught us entrepreneurship in a fun way. I am living every aspect of that game now.

What do you do within the parameters of your own company to promote and encourage the success and advancement of women?


I believe that it is important to give women equal opportunity with me. As a matter of fact I try to hire women whenever I find a likely candidate to fill a position. I talk to women to encourage them that they can do anything they wish if they study and apply themselves in a assertive manner. I discourage them from using crutches in a man’s world to avoid the hard pace necessary to succeed.

Has your gender helped or hindered (or not affected) your career?

It has hindered my working relationship with large majority firms that have assumed that a female-owned firm is not a professional firm. One firm even said so. There have been times that in order to meet contracting goals the majority firm would offer the smallest contract size regardless of the fact that my firm could capacitate a larger contract size. With this same goal in mind, being a female owned firm did assist me in getting a small opportunity. However, the opportunity remained small until I worked and pushed to pursue larger contract sizes.


Are there unique problems for women in power?

Networking. Good ol’ boy systems. Men do not believe women have the savvy or the courage to make the tough and hard decisions. It is believed that women will be bleeding hearts on financial and social issues. Also that we will not put in the hard hours to learn the minute mechanisms of the problems facing our company or the political/policy arena. I am not sure why they tend to think this, as we prove them wrong every time.

Compared to your own experience, in what ways will the entrepreneurial experience differ for businesswomen starting out today?


It is difficult for the majority world to believe that women are capable business persons. They attempt to put them in a subordinate level. Sometimes they just don’t know how to deal with us because we do not find the perverse jokes as funny as some of the guys. Networking on the golf course is somewhat more difficult for us or in the gym, thus it is sometimes more difficult for us to build relationships that lead to opportunity.

What are the greatest barriers to success still facing women entrepreneurs today?

Male skeptics, anti-Affirmative Action critics and balancing the traditional role of motherly caretaker with hard working entrepreneur.


How can national and state governments work to bring women’s voices into their economic agendas?

First and foremost, national and state government needs to acknowledge that the Good Old Boy world still exists. They need to acknowledge that creating opportunities for women to compete and succeed in business does not put the majority male world out of opportunity or take away jobs from men. On the contrary it creates new tax payers, creates new jobs, and creates a healthy economy for ALL Americans. Government needs to close the pay equity gap. On any given job, a woman-owned firm is requested to perform a job for a lesser fee than a male-owned firm. This is ridiculous as it promotes the unrealistic theory that a woman’s capabilities are of a lesser quality than that of a man.

Government needs to acknowledge that “Affirmative Action” programs are about qualified firms having an equal opportunity in a market that has historically been difficult for women to break into. Government needs to take the lead on creating a better business climate for ALL.


Do you feel women entrepreneurs face excessive roadblocks when seeking funding and investments for their start-ups?

Yes, this tends to go back to the “Networking” barriers. As well, many tend to believe that women just can’t figure the numbers. However, the world is changing as women start to help other women and SMART men look at good investments.

Do you feel that MBA programs need to tailor some curriculum specifically for women entrepreneurs?


Not necessarily. However, if there were more women teaching MBA programs the real message about our world of entrepreneurship would come across. As well, it would make men more sensitive to the problems we face without immediately assuming we are whining.

What do you think can be done to bolster women’s leadership positions in the economic sector?

Women can become more involved in non-traditional roles, chambers and business organizations. Women should patronize businesses, banks and other entities that value women in the economic sector. Choose a female investment banker, bank officer, doctor, engineer, subconsultant, etc. Once we invest our resources in women we will grow as a whole. Others will see our skills and talents thus do the same. It is has been done for years by certain ethnic and religious groups, we just have not been acutely aware of it.


How do you balance family and career?

This is the most difficult question of all. I am single. I truly believe that one reason is that I work too much. As well, possible suitors have been intimidated by my political office and entrepreneur priorities. They have been attracted because I am successful, but immediately expected me to give it up for a different lifestyle. I feel that there is no need to completely eliminate my career as is. I just need to readjust schedules to bring the goodness of family into the sphere of the career that would provide stability for all things my family would desire. I think it is totally doable with a supportive mate.

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