“Word is getting out” that women succeed in business, said Sharon Matusik, professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Her mother was born in 1928, the year women earned the right to vote in this country. For women born that year, less than 10 percent graduated from college.

Although the valedictorian of her class and a scholarship recipient to Northwestern University, Matusik’s mother was discouraged by her family from getting an education. Instead, she joined the convent and became a nun for 13 years before leaving that profession to marry and have a family and later, work as a secretary.

Matusik compared her mother’s life to that of her daughters, who dream of professional lives.

Matusik and others spoke last week before a crowd of 500 entrepreneurs and women who aspire to be, at The WILD Summit, or Women Inspiring Leadership Development in Westminster.

“Learn to deal with it.” 

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“We still have a lot of room for improvement,” Matusik said. “We get 77 cents for every $1 men earn and 4.8 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. About 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees are awarded to women and 20 percent of public board seats are women.”

Women own fewer than 30 percent of businesses in the country, most sole proprietorships, she said.

Fortune 500 companies with women in high leadership roles average 34 percent greater profits, Matusik said. Their return on equity, return on sales and return on invested capital are also greater.

MergeLane is a business incubator for start-up women entrepreneurs based in Boulder. Matusik encouraged budding entrepreneurs to join the MergeLane program.

Mowry: Figure it out

A former chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Mowry also had roles as senior executive at three Fortune 500 companies: Oracle Corp., TCI (Comcast) and United Airlines. When she earned her MBA degree, there were only eight women in the same class.

“I marvel at how the world has changed in my lifetime,” said Mowry, now in her 60s. “According to [computer firm] IBM, every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. Ninety percent of the entire data in the world has just been created in the last two years. The data explosion is just getting started.”

Mowry cited several examples of tech companies:

• Uber, the taxi service that owns no cars;

• Airbnb, “one of the largest U.S. hotel companies, which owns no real estate; and

• Facebook, “one of the largest media companies in the world,” and it creates no content.

Reflecting on her own career, which started as a flight attendant, Mowry said she learned the value of training, feedback, culture, being a union member and more.

“True stories are better than anything Hollywood could make up,” Mowry said. She cited an airline customer — a “very elegant woman in her 80s” — taping paper over the window in the airplane’s restroom so people couldn’t look in.

“No matter what your job is, you will learn something valuable. When you’re at 36,000 feet in the air flying 550 miles an hour, there’s not a management team sitting there waiting for something to happen to tell you what to do. You have to figure it out.”

Success versus failure

At one point in her business career, Mowry was expected to raise venture capital in Silicon Valley, a job she described as “very frustrating” and causing “brain damage.” It was after the high-tech bubble burst, and business people were skittish about venture capital. She and her team made 59 presentations without success. She became discouraged, but they achieved the goal on their 60th try.

“What kept us going, is we knew this was a big idea. I really believed in this. We all did,” Mowry said.

She also learned that people cannot control what happens to them, “but you absolutely can control how you react to it.”

Mowry cited a friend, Marilyn Hamilton, an active athlete until paralyzed after a hang-gliding accident in 1979. After a period of deep depression, focused on what she could not do, Hamilton turned her disability into a career and began to focus on what she could do.

“She completely reinvented the wheelchair industry that we now know today,” founding Quickie Wheel Chair Co. in 1980. The wheelchairs Hamilton and her company developed are used in sports and by children.

She also learned the world “is not fair,” she said. Her response: “Learn to deal with it. You have to pick your fight. Not all injustice is equal.”

Mowry advised the budding entrepreneurs to “ask for what you want,” she said.

Treat people with respect, she said, citing people she met during her time as a flight attendant, including Ronald Reagan, actor Lee Marvin, Angela Davis and others.

Successful people move toward their goal, not away from something, she said. It might be a culture, an idea or people successful people want to work for, “in a positive energy, not a negative energy.”