Women in Business Advocate Featured

9:42am EDT July 22, 2002

When the federal government’s Regulatory Fairness Hearing Board convened in Pittsburgh last year, business owners from all over Western Pennsylvania lined up to post their grievances against unfair government regulation of their own businesses.

Then Jo Ann Forrester stood up.

Unlike most of the hearing participants, Forrester, owner of Oakmont-based management consulting firm SI Business Associates, wasn’t there to decry any injustices to her own business. She was there to take a stand on behalf of all women business owners in the region and the problems they face because they’re women. That’s Forrester in a nutshell.

So why does she get involved, and with such passion?

“I can’t live with myself if I see something I believe in and don’t do something about it,” she says. “I don’t like unfair treatment. I feel compelled to speak out and work to help people.”

Not that she’s merely a social activist. She speaks from experience. She started the company, formerly called Self-Image Business Associates, in 1975, providing human relations training and development to large corporations. But then what she calls the “depression” hit in the 1980s, forcing her to rethink her business. She became a business consultant to small businesses, including a lot of woman-owned firms.

“I changed to helping small businesses, and they really saved our butts,” she says.

Today, she helps businesses analyze their strengths and weaknesses in everything from human resources and financing to pricing. In fact, her firm has developed its own software program, called Achieve, which is designed to effectively determine the right pricing relative to profitability.

But perhaps Forrester’s greatest work is with the Pittsburgh Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). While the organization has grown to more than 8,000 members nationally, the Pittsburgh chapter had dwindled in the mid-1990s to only 12. So she stepped in as president of the local chapter. With help from other active members, she’s built the membership to 47, “and we’re growing,” she says.

Will Forrester ever back off? Probably not.

“You’ve got to walk the walk,” she says. “You can’t be silent. If we do, we miss our God-chosen mission.”

Daniel Bates