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Ms. Boss

The quest for control and money draws more women into businesses that were once the exclusive domain of men

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Jose Ramirez Girard grabs a hard hat and orange work vest and climbs the dirt embankment to the top of the commuter rail tracks.

Up ahead a nine-man crew is replacing an old wooden bridge that supports a 100-foot stretch of track. The job isn't easy. They must work without shutting down the trains that roar by at 70 miles an hour.

It's a hard-nosed business and one still run by men. But Ms. Girard feels right at home - she's the boss.

Five years ago, she started Phoenix Construction Services and has built the company into a major contender in the commuter rail maintenance business. Last year, Phoenix grossed more than $3 million.

Girard is hardly alone. Increasingly, women are starting businesses in traditionally male industries.

The number of women-owned firms in construction, manufacturing, transportation, and wholesale trade has grown faster over the past decade than in any other industries.

Many of these women are frustrated with the glass ceiling in the corporate environment, but others go their own way for the same reasons as other entrepreneurs: They've got a good idea; they want to be their own boss; they want flexibility.

Yet wider access to financing, the rise in government contracts, plus the quest to follow the big money are drawing more women entrepreneurs into the world of hard hats and tool belts.

"There are no boundaries. Women can go into any business they want to go into," says Sharon Hadary, executive director of the National Foundation for Women Business Owners (310-495-4975:, a research group in Silver Spring, Md.

"These are also high-profit-margin areas," she adds. "Women aren't stupid."

Consider the 170 percent increase over the past decade in the number of women starting construction businesses. Just this year, women bolted together 281,000 new manufacturing firms, a 112 percent increase over 1982. (See chart, right.) These numbers still look tiny compared to the number of service firms launched by women.


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