Bringing more access to business training for women

Neena Perez’s path to success took many turns. An abused child living in Stamford, she became pregnant with her first child at 14. Determined, she graduated from high school but couldn’t attend college. Living in a battered women shelter with her son, she started working as a medical assistant and continued with that for 15 years.

She never gave up on her dreams.

In 2007, she left to attend Norwalk Community College and was introduced to our team at the Women’s Business Development Council. She started with a class on how to build a business plan and the steps needed to be an entrepreneur. Today, Chef Neena Perez is the proud owner of The Kiddie Kitchen in Norwalk.

With women-owned businesses a key driver of the region’s economic development, organizations like Citizens Bank are proud to invest in local businesses, as well as support local community initiatives. The bank works with many local women to support and help grow their businesses. It has sought to build a reputation here in eastern Connecticut of helping individuals and business owners grow their financial skills and wealth.

We have seen many success stories like Neena’s and the number of inspiring and tenacious businesswomen like her is growing in Connecticut, rising 56 percent since 1998.

Unbelievably, only 30 years ago H.R. 5050, The Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988, passed. This landmark legislation recognized female entrepreneurs, giving them support and the right to secure a loan without a male co-signer.

Today, women-owned businesses are growing 2.5 times the national average of all firms, employing 9 million people, and generating over $1.7 trillion in revenue. More women are gaining economic empowerment by becoming business leaders and inspiring younger generations to do the same.

Yet, despite this progress and the undeniable clout of women-owned businesses, many continue to face financial inequity. 16.9 million women live in poverty while gender pay gaps still exist and discrimination remains an inexcusable reality, with workplace policies creating ongoing challenges.

Recently, the Women’s Business Development Council, with a grant from the Small Business Association and support from organizations like Citizens Bank, officially opened its office in New London, giving women in southeastern Connecticut the access to business training, financial education and coaching on how to launch and grow their own businesses.

This marks a significant milestone for New London County. Committed to strengthening the community, Citizens Bank has been a long-standing investor in the Women’s Business Development Council. During our partnership, women in Connecticut have made significant strides in growing their own businesses. While woman have a long way to go to secure an equitable workplace and greater economic empowerment, the Women’s Business Development Council opening its doors on State Street is yet another step in the right direction.

It will provide more women like Neena Perez the training and education they need to be successful.

Fran Pastore is the founder and CEO of the Women's Business Development Council, a leading organization for championing female entrepreneurship. Lisa Maass is the president of Citizens Bank in Connecticut.



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