Martha Van Inwegen | Female Founder Collective

Martha Van Inwegen | Female Founder Collective - Life Elements

Life Elements

Sep 9, 2019

Women in Business

I’m excited to be included in the ranks of the Female Founder Collective as it’s a reminder to folks that women are powerful in all aspects of life.

It wasn’t too long ago that women in business were not taken seriously and seen as objects that merely "made the office look pretty." (That is a direct quote from a former employer – and he wasn’t talking about my interior decorating skills.)

My goal to become a successful businesswoman has not been an easy path in the male-dominated fields in which I began. And maybe the field itself had nothing to do with it, but rather society at the time.

Martha at SIAC

Martha pictured in pink blazer, kickin ass 

My first stifled ambition ingrained in my memory was by the sales manager of a popular radio station in San Diego back in 1979. I started as a receptionist but knew the sales department was where I could make more money for my family.

The sales teams made a commission based on advertising sales goals set by management. Being competitive, I knew I could kick butt and meet whatever goals were set for me. So, when I asked how I could be considered for a sales position – the response from the sales manager left me deflated and angry. He said, “I’ll consider it after you sleep with me.”

Of course, I thought he was joking and told him I was very serious and wanted to apply. Again, his answer was, “So am I—sleep with me—and I’ll consider it.” Needless-to-say, I never got into sales at that station.

It was at that same radio station two years later that I was let go while 8 months pregnant as “I could no longer function in my duties as a receptionist."  That’s right, they must have thought my growing belly was preventing me from answering the phones and welcoming people.

Women in business

Martha pictured, 8 months pregnant

Luckily, I was able to get a job at a local TV station after my first child was born. But again, as much as I asked, getting a sales position was never an option. It was a male-dominated environment and women were only good enough as assistants.

Years later, after my second child in 1986, office automation (Word Processing, etc.) was like a beacon calling me. I participated in a training program through the local unemployment office and applied for a position at several companies, with my eye on SAIC, San Diego’s largest employee-owned company. Having interviewed with them, I could see there would be plenty of room for growth and advancement. I just had to get in.

As I waited to hear from SAIC, I was offered a position with a real estate company, but I declined it because my heart was already hellbent on the employee-owned company. I’ll never forget my husband at the time asking, “Why the hell do you have to be so ambitious? Why can’t you be like all other women and just take the job you were offered?!”

Women in biz

Martha's photo from a trade show in Germany

For years I wondered, why, as a woman, having ambition and wanting to do better was a bad thing. Well, I got the job  at SAIC and a year later, I was a single parent with two children I had to support on my own.
I became the number one sales director amongst an all-male sales team, and one of them felt so threatened that he had the audacity to ask me who I was sleeping with in order to get my contracts. He just couldn’t fathom that a woman could work hard and honestly and be successful.
There's a long story between my time in the tech world and founding Life Elements, but that's for another day.
As I begin my 5th decade in business, at the age of 62,  I am in awe of today’s women leaders, advocates and heroes – I’m beyond ecstatic to finally be recognized as the hard-working, ambitious, and driven woman that I am without being ashamed or apologetic about it. Damn it, I’ve earned it! 

Footnote:  According to Forbes, "In 2018 there were 207,900 women-owned firms that generated $1 million or more, representing 1.7% of all women-owned firms." Martha is on her 2nd company that has broken that barrier, putting her in the unfortunately small minority of women entrepreneurs who achieve that goal.