One of my childhood memories is of the red truck belonging to my grandfather, a farmer. Clearly stenciled on its side were the words: “Jack Agress & Sons.” Even though one son, my dad, taught school, and the other son, my uncle, sold cars, that was the way things were during the first half of the 20th century. Father and Sons.
Actually, my grandfather’s real partner was my grandmother, who milked the cows, fed the chickens and collected the eggs, then sold them, along with milk and cream and cheese, as well as vegetables, from their huge garden.
Back then hardly anyone thought of a woman as a bona fide business partner. Nor did fathers take daughters into their businesses. And, also at that time, there were few women in either big business or in the top professions.
Fortunately, times have changed.
For example, Chris Callis, who went to college after her two daughters were in school, became a CPA. After working for a large Baltimore firm for approximately 15 years, she started her own firm in the early 1990s out of her home in Fallston. Her elder daughter, Dawn Callis Snyder, after being certified herself, began working for her mother in 1999.
“It was the best decision I ever made,” says Dawn today. Since she started working with her mother, Dawn and her husband have had three children, including a set of twins.
“Trying to work full time as a CPA and also raise a family is challenging to anyone,” admits Dawn, “but working with my mother gave me the flexibility I needed.”
Also, adds Dawn, “my mother taught me the value of a strong work ethic in dealing with clients … but [she] also shared the values and importance of family.”
Shortly after Chris turned 70, she decided to retire. At the same time, an accounting firm located nearby, run by four women, was looking for a partner to replace one who was leaving. Thus, in 2013, Dawn joined Leavy, Hucik, Shifflett & Snyder, LLC, bringing her and her mother’s clients with her and continuing the tradition of working in a woman-run firm.
In the same way that Chris added daughter Dawn to her business, my friend Cyndy Allen, a vice president and financial adviser for RBC Wealth Management, recently hired her daughter Corinne Patteson, who had majored in math and finance in college, to join her as a financial adviser.
Explains Cyndy, “in an industry dominated by men, I wanted to mentor a woman who would join my practice. After a year’s search and no candidate, I decided to hire Corinne.” So far, the new partnership is working well. Not only do Cyndy and Corinne plan to expand their business, but they want to encourage young women to enter math and science professions.
Furthering the mother/daughter tradition, are my internist Susan Molinaro, whose daughter Maria is a second-year medical student at Johns Hopkins, and my friend Frances Meyer, a gastroenterologist, whose daughter, Alissa Rothman, is also a second-year medical student at Hopkins. Certainly, each young woman was inspired by her mother and, in Alissa’s case, by her father as well; interestingly, however, neither of Alissa’s two brothers has shown an interest in a career in medicine.
On a broader stage, there is Mamie Gummer, eldest daughter of the Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep. As a young child, Mamie starred with her mother in “Heartburn.” After graduating from a top university, majoring in theater, as her mother did, Mamie, in 2007, starred with her mother in “Evening,” playing her mother as a young woman. From there, Mamie Gummer has gone on to play many roles in film, on Broadway, and on TV.
And “the notorious RBG,” that is, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has a daughter, Jane Ginsburg, who is a professor at Columbia Law School. Justice Ginsburg’s granddaughter, Clara Spera, recently graduated from Harvard Law School, and is a law clerk for the Southern District of New York.
Despite these women’s successes, however, nearly one-half of the 75 largest IPOs that became public between 2014 and 2016, had no women on their boards.
Moreover, according to Fortune Magazine, 41 percent of their Fortune 500 companies have not a single woman on their boards.
California recently enacted a new law that should help turn that around, requiring publicly listed companies with headquarters in the state to have at least one female director by the end of 2019.
Clearly, full participation by women in our society is still evolving. To quote financial planner Cyndy Allen, “we still have great work to accomplish.”
Lynne Agress, who teaches in the Odyssey Program of Johns Hopkins, is president of BWB-Business Writing At Its Best Inc. and author of "The Feminine Irony" and "Working With Words in Business and Legal Writing." Her email is email@example.com.