According to the latest American Express State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, the number of women-owned firms in the U.S. continues to climb, and is now estimated to have surpassed 9.4 million enterprises – 30% of all businesses in the country. This growth is reflected in the Downtown Long Beach business community, where there is an increasing number of women in leadership roles focused on mentoring those coming up in the ranks and helping to create a more diverse and innovative workforce.

“My industry typically has few female business owners represented,” said Kerstin Kansteiner, who owns and operates Berlin Bistro on 4th Street in Downtown, as well as the Portfolio Coffeehouse in Bluff Heights, and Art Du Vin, a wine bar located near Portfolio, next to the Art Theatre. “Long hours, fierce competition, and small profit margins can be discouraging. Women typically need to be overly assertive to succeed, and that does not feel attractive. I personally do not want to be given opportunities because I am a woman. I want to be heard, listened to, and respected because of my accomplishments and qualifications in my industry.”

Kerstin Kansteiner receiving fresh produce with former Berlin Bistro chef Tim Balen (right) and Nick Federoff, host of All Things Green on PBS.

Kansteiner has partnered often with Downtown women business owners such as Christine Cox and Dawna Bass of Rainbow Juices, and Laurie Gray, who owns and operates The Pie Bar. “We have complementary businesses, and we share the vision we have for Downtown as an inclusive urban center with forward-thinking ideas and business practices,” Kansteiner said. “The new Downtown should be a modern cityscape with lots of smaller and medium-sized businesses.”

Carolyn Caldwell, President and CEO of Dignity Health St. Mary Medical Center, is currently focused on working with the City of Long Beach to provide the COVID-19 vaccination to as many Long Beach residents as possible. As a long-term goal, she wants St. Mary to be a beacon of hope and to serve as the health care facility of choice for the surrounding community.

Carolyn Caldwell, President & CEO of Dignity Health St. Mary Medical Center

Caldwell has been an executive in her field since the 1990s, and has seen women continue to gain access to leadership-level positions. As incoming Chair of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, Caldwell is looking forward to the opportunity to work with other women on the Chamber board. “The women business owners we have Downtown are doing well,” Caldwell said. “As a community, we should encourage more [women in business]. Women could play a more significant role in our vibrant Downtown.”

Caldwell noted that organizations must be open to diversifying their leadership teams. “Women like me, who are in executive leadership positions, need to make sure that we are mentoring other women. When we’re looking at a slate of candidates for a job, and all things are equal, we need to start giving females an opportunity so they can prepare for executive roles,” she said. “It starts at the top, with leaders being willing to give opportunities and to have frank conversations with other females coming up in the ranks, mentoring and sponsoring them.”

Robin Thorne, CEO and owner of construction management and regulatory compliance company, CTI Environmental, created a nonprofit to mentor women in her field. DemoChicks introduces women to careers in demolition, construction, and engineering, and empowers women already working in those fields. “There aren’t a lot of universities offering courses of study in safety and environmental compliance,” Thorne said. “I can teach people to perform inspections, draw up plans, and other key duties in our industry.”

Robin Thorne, CEO of CTI Environmental.

Thorne ran her business from the heart of Downtown – Ocean and Pine – before relocating to Bixby Knolls. “There are so many networking opportunities Downtown, but when I was there, I parked in our building’s underground lot, went straight to the office, had a sack lunch and worked all day,” she said. “I’m eager to get back to Downtown – probably this summer – where there are lots of business opportunities for me. It will be great to network with women in Downtown businesses who face the same challenges, whether it’s finding employees or finding new business. Networking with your peers and bonding with like-minded people is invaluable.”

Loara Cadavona, Chair-Elect of DLBA’s Board of Directors and a Downtown resident, commented that women-owned businesses represent a significant portion of the local economy and contribute to business and job growth. “However, while we see growth in women-owned business, female entrepreneurs still face challenges like lack of capital and robust supportive networks,” she said. “As Chair-Elect of the Downtown Long Beach Alliance, I am proud to be part of an organization that celebrates and supports women entrepreneurs through its Woman-Owned Business Accelerator program, a partnership with Farmers & Merchants Bank and the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Cal State Long Beach.”

Cadavona continued, “The community of women in business in Downtown Long Beach is extremely diverse, creative, and reflects the entrepreneurial spirit of Downtown. Each time I walk around my neighborhood I see the diversity of our Downtown storefronts, with so many women-owned businesses to support, like The Pie Bar, Make Collective, Berlin Bistro, District Wine, The 4th Horseman, Modica’s Deli, and MADE by Millworks. I look forward to seeing the community of women-owned businesses continue to grow, thrive, and shape the culture of Downtown.”

With its diverse population and broad spectrum of businesses, Downtown Long Beach is a welcoming environment for women to begin or grow their businesses. As Downtown begins to re-open, it is hoped that the presence of women in business leadership positions will grow as well, assisted by those who are already established and are willing and able to provide guidance.