March 29–As Holland continues to grow, it has done so in part through its business landscape.
West Michigan has become a hub of sorts for large manufacturers and small businesses, from hair salons to antique stores.
With those businesses, come owners and leaders, and locally, women in leadership and ownership roles are becoming even more commonplace than ever before.
According to data released by the Center for American Progress, it showed that women make up about 47 percent of the U.S. labor force.
And while women make up almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs, in the overall S&P 500 labor force 36 percent of the first or mid-level officials and managers of those companies are women. The number gets even smaller the higher up it goes.
At the executive and senior official level, 25 percent are women and only 20 percent of board seats are filled with women. At the CEO level, only 6 percent are women.
In the Holland-Zeeland area, there are a number of companies bucking those trends and have women in a number of leadership rolls. Whether it is larger businesses such as Metal Flow and Teddy’s Transport, or small businesses like Act ll Boutique or EcoBuns Baby + Co., women are making an impact in West Michigan.
Metal Flow is a local manufacturing company that employs about 275 employees in West Michigan and another 20 employees in China. At Metal Flow, women in leadership starts from the very top with company owner Leslie Brown. Kelly Springer recently took over as CEO in January.
When Brown first set out, her goal was to become a special education teacher. Years later, she took a leadership role at a hospital running a medical records department, where she oversaw about 30 employees.
After that, Brown and her husband decided to move to Holland with the goal to start Metal Flow. While she was involved early on, she stepped away from the business until her husband passed away.
In 2003, she became the owner of Metal Flow.
“It has been 15 years and I really do love it and I love what we do here,” Brown said.
For Springer, following high school, she knew she had a strong interest in accounting and business. As she spent time at a large accounting firm, Springer found she was drawn to the manufacturing side of business.
“I grew up in a printing environment so I knew what it was like to make and manufacture something and so while other areas were more traditionally female-focused within the firm as far as areas you practice, I always enjoyed the manufacturing side,” Springer said.
For Springer, a lesson she learned throughout her career is that she needed to open herself up to challenges no matter where they are.
As for gender roles in business? Springer made it clear, gender should not matter.
“I think the viewpoint is changing because I think you should be qualified for a position and that gender should be irrelevant,” Springer said.
Springer and Brown said, at Metal Flow, there are male and female machine workers. The only requirement is whether they are qualified and what skills the employee brings to the table.
Teddy’s Transport is a local trucking company that is led by company President Helen Zeerip.
The business was originally started by her father in the 1980s and when it was time for him to retire in 1996, he sold the business to Helen and her husband, Craig.
Although men mostly comprise the trucking industry, the number of female truckers has been slowly growing over the years. Despite the overall lack of women, Helen said it never was a deterrent for her.
“My parents started Teddy’s Transport when I was 15, so I kind of grew up with it,” she said. “I always had a passion for people and business. I wanted to work in the business and eventually own it.”
When asked about finding her footing in the trucking industry, Zeerip said she was never concerned with that because she did what she loved and was surrounded by people who were willing to help.
Locally, Zeerip emphasized there are great women in business. The important thing is to encourage women that they, too, can fill those roles moving forward.
“We have so many amazing women in Holland, Zeeland and West Michigan making a positive difference in our communities,” Zeerip said. “They are in leadership roles everywhere you look. I think we just need to keep encouraging our daughters, friends, associates and colleagues to follow their dreams. They can achieve anything they put there mind to.”
As larger businesses in the area continue to grow and expand women’s roles within their businesses, there is also a growing number of small businesses owned and operated by women.
Denise Colley first opened Act ll Boutique in November on the south side of Holland. Although she had been in the business world before opening her brick-and-mortar store, the path to business ownership was unique.
After high school, Colley said she never knew exactly what she wanted to be because she had so many passions.
At that time, Colley said there were certain roles women were expected to follow, which for her meant getting married out of high school, not necessarily going to college or joining the workforce.
“When I did enter the workforce, it was in very traditional roles,” Colley said. “When I moved to Holland, I did Manpower and I worked in offices, which is a very traditional role.”
Now she is a business owner, and Colley said she is noticing women in roles that are not so traditional, especially other small business owners.
“I have opened this business and all of a sudden I look around and ‘Oh my gosh, look at all the women in business there are,'” Colley said. “It is not something that I have slowly witnessed over the years, but my eyes have definitely been opened to it.”
For Colley, part of her success is due to other women.
“I am very grateful to other women who have stepped forward and said they wanted to help promote my business,” she said. “Women have been unbelievably supportive, just ridiculously supportive … and I am very grateful.”
At EcoBuns Baby + Co, the store’s owners, mother-and-daughter duo Vicki Hughes and Marissa Berghorst, took over ownership five years ago.
Growing up, Berghorst said her mom had run businesses, which translated into a positive business role model from a very young age.
“No matter the gender, business owners face a unique set of challenges,” she said. “While I can’t speak on behalf of all female business owners, I can share my experiences. I never had any doubts of what I could accomplish. I grew up watching my mom run her businesses, from home daycare to nationwide organizations. She accomplished anything she put her mind to and worked hard on.”
Being a mother herself, Berghorst said one of the important factors in being able to run a successful business while also having a family is learning to find balance in life. To this day, she said she is impacted by the words of Anna Baeten, executive director at The Funky Buddha Yoga Hothouse.
Baeten said she was able to achieve balance in her life because of the people that surrounded her.
For Berghorst, it was about balance and finding resources that were meant to help her.
“I found my best advice I was given was to surround myself with like-minded people,” Berghorst said. “I joined the chamber, Local First, and as many networking groups as I could find. I learned from strong, powerful leaders, no matter their gender.”
Something each woman in leadership touched on was the idea of barriers, and more importantly, overcoming those barriers.
In the end, it comes down to how you react.
“I think it is how you choose to react to them,” Springer said. “You can choose your words and demonstrate your ability in a way that is professional and I think that goes a really long way and sets an example.”
— Follow this reporter on Twitter @SentinelAustin or @BizHolland.
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