When it comes to women and business in Los Altos, words like "progressive" and "opportunity" come to mind for heads of business associations.
Some communities have seen dramatic increases in women-owned business in recent years. But Los Altos, some say, has had strong women representation in business - and leadership - going back at least two decades.
"I think (discrimination against women) still exists, but this community is more progressive," said Kathleen Byrne, executive director of the 160-member Los Altos Village Association.
Byrne said approximately half the membership of the downtown association involves businesses owned or managed by women.
Many of the major banks in Los Altos, such as Sanwa, Bank of the West and Wells Fargo, all have women managers, Byrne pointed out. She also noted leadership among business women was prevalent in Los Altos even 20 years ago, through such business owners as the late Marion Jackston. It was through her efforts that the annual Festival of Lights Parade - one of the biggest attractions in Los Altos - came about.
Another prominent figure is Jane Reed, a former Los Altos mayor, whose vision of a community plaza resulted in the building of the plaza, at State and Main streets. Reed, a former executive director of the association, is regarded as playing a pivotal role in the group's growth.
Julie Rose, executive director of the 425-member Los Altos Chamber of Commerce, said she has not heard of any negative comments from the women business owners about feeling underrepresented in the community. In fact, of the 21 voting members on the Board of Directors of the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce, there is an almost equal division of women to men. Voting members must be local business owners.
Myrna Hayes, owner of A La Carte Staffing, is a prime example of acceptance of local woman-owned businesses. Her company has been owned by women for 20 years. Hayes took it over five years ago. Hayes said she's experienced no negative gender-awareness, and credits this to doors being opened by women before her.
Jean Newton Public Relations, another woman-owned company in Los Altos, was started by Jean Newton in her home in 1984. She moved into her first office in 1993, and then into her current office across from the post office in 1996. Like Hayes, she enjoys doing business in downtown Los Altos. She mentioned "the friendly, warm atmosphere of the town that supports creativity."
Newton feels that being involved in the local community is important to her and her business.
Jane Bigelow, manager of Seville Properties for more than 20 years, said the Los Altos real estate company was founded by women.
Although Bigelow is the only woman manager of a real estate company in Los Altos, she said that female representation in retail is much better.
Bigelow spoke of the positive representation of women involved in retail in the community. In fact, women retail entrepreneurs are not the exception in Los Altos, she said.
Los Altos doesn't have a specific group for women owning their businesses. Mountain View, however, has a group for professional women called, "Women in Business" that meets the second Tuesday of every month at Michael's at Shoreline Restaurant, 2960 N. Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View.