By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — When Mary Johanna Brown started her own company two decades ago, she wanted advice from experienced entrepreneurs.
“They ended up being all men,” she said.
That’s because there weren’t many women who owned or operated companies in New Hampshire 22 years ago when she founded Brown & Company Design in Portsmouth.
The need for more female business leaders and pay equity between men and women were two key reasons Congresswoman Ann Kuster, D-N.H., hosted a roundtable discussion yesterday on issues women face in the workplace.
Kuster met with Brown and six other female business executives for more than hour at Southern New Hampshire University.
“There are some issues that are just tough nuts to crack for women,” Kuster said. “When women succeed, America succeeds. When women succeed, New Hampshire succeeds.”
Kuster and Brown, who’s chairwoman of the New Hampshire Women’s Initiative, told the group that gender pay inequality is one of the biggest hurdles faced by women.
Statistics complied by the New Hampshire Women’s Initiative show that for every $1 earned by a man in the Granite State, a woman receives 77 cents, Brown said.
“Pay equity is something we have taken a deep dive in,” Brown said. “Many people are discouraged by that number.”
Kuster, co-sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act in Congress, agreed.
“It is not just a women’s issue — it’s a community issue, it’s a family issue,” she said. “You want to make sure everyone is getting a dollar’s worth of pay. No one wants to leave 23 cents on the table.”
While a New Hampshire man earns a median salary of $977 a week, a woman receives $748 — a 23 percent difference, according to the Women’s Initiative.
That compares to $832 for a man and $684 for a woman nationwide — an 18 percent difference, the Women’s Initiative said.
“Pay equity is important,” said MaryAnn Manoogian, executive director of the Center for Women’s Business Advancement at SNHU.
Brown said reasons behind pay equality include women accepting lower-paying jobs as caretakers and teachers. Another key factor is that women tend to be less aggressive negotiators than men.
The others agreed, including Mary Collins, state director of the New Hampshire Small Business Development Center.
“There are certain skills that need to be learned and taught,” Collins said. “I think negotiation is huge.”
The panelists also discussed the difficulty women face in getting loans to launch new businesses.
“The lack of start-up financing is one of the concerns we hear a lot about,” said Amy Bassett, deputy state director for the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Other forum participants were Donna Morris, executive director of the Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce; Neelima Gogumala, owner of Creative Chef Kitchens in Derry; and Rebecca Merrithew, leader of the Student Success Team at SNHU.