Sharon Baker, founder and owner of the Wilmington-based production company Teleduction, says that when she considered her future as a young professional in the mid-70s, inequality never entered her mind.
“I never stopped to think about it,” recalls Baker. “Never for one second did it occur to me that I couldn’t do something, couldn’t be equal, because I was a woman.”
From very early on Baker sowed the entrepreneurial seeds that would lead her to where she is today—gender and age be damned. At age 8, she started a neighborhood garage door scrubbing service to help her earn “popsicle money.” Things got a little more complicated as she got older, however, and at 30, Baker applied for her first business loan. When she sat down with the lender, the first question he asked her was, “So, where’s your husband?”
“That was the very first time I thought, ‘Oh no. What’s going on here?’” recalls Baker. “That’s when I realized women back then needed to maintain a forced humility. You had to take a deep breath before you embarked on business in the ’70s and ’80s. The Good Ol’ Boys networks were alive and well in a man’s world, and you had to climb the mountain using an indirect path. You had to zig and zag to achieve what you wanted.”
Nonetheless, Baker says that her goals were never financial. They were emotional, almost spiritual, in nature. Success was measured by the freedom to do what she loved most: telling stories. And rather than focus on the remaining fiscal inequalities between men and women, Baker encourages young women to home in on their passions and ambitions. The rest, she says, will come out in the wash.
“I know there’s still inequality of pay, but financial rewards were not my goal,” says Baker. “It’s not about the accumulation of income. The trade-off is the lifestyle and the work I get to do, which I think should be the goal of most women today.”