DCEO Celebrates Women’s History Month with ‘HERstory’ Initiative

DCEO honors contributions of Illinois women who are business owners and trailblazers with events, spotlights and more

CHICAGO – In recognition of Women's History Month, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) is kicking off 'HERstory' – an initiative to celebrate and elevate Illinois and Illinois women-owned businesses. As part of this, DCEO is spotlighting women-owned businesses, resources, and hosting events with women trailblazers designed to provide tools and guidance for women in business to succeed.

"During the month of March, and every day of the year, DCEO is focused on delivering resources that women-owned businesses need to grow and thrive," said Acting Director of DCEO, Sylvia I. Garcia. "I'm proud to recognize the significant economic contributions that women entrepreneurs provide to Illinois' economy, generating over $74 billion in economic activity each year."

Illinois has a vibrant community of 47,000 women-owned businesses that employ close to 411,000 employees across the state, in addition to 408,000 Illinois women who operate businesses without employees. Women business owners – especially women business owners of color – have historically faced challenges to starting a business, accessing capital and other resources. During Women's History Month and throughout the year, DCEO is fully committed to creating an equitable business environment through targeted initiatives and resources designed for women business owners through its Office of Minority Economic Empowerment (OMEE). OMEE offers resources to support women-owned businesses and helps them access financial capital programs like grants and small business loans. OMEE also hosts events for women who own businesses, such as Women's Webinar Wednesdays and provides networking opportunities.

"It is important to give a platform for women to voice our challenges, celebrate our accomplishments, and encourage one another to keep fighting for an equitable future," said Beverly Kim, Restaurateur and James Beard Award-Winning Chef. "I'm honored to be a speaker on DCEO's HERstory to share the struggles women and mothers are facing in the culinary and hospitality community and also give voice to my Asian American community that suffered the effects of anti-Asian hate during this pandemic."

"Women's HERstory Month is an important time for reflection, celebration, and action. As a woman founder and executive, I value deliberate programs to connect with amazing female leaders," said Ashley S. H. Moy, President of Cast21. "It's great the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO) has dedicated programming to inspire women and educate the public on how to support the community. DCEO understands that our state, our community, is our strongest when we are all participating and thriving."

DCEO, through its Office of Minority Economic Empowerment (OMEE) and Office of Trade and Investment (OTI), DCEO will also spotlight women-owned businesses across the state on International Women's Day and throughout the month.

Women HERstory Month Events
Events will feature women trailblazers who are leaders of industry, ranging from academia, financial institutions, hospitality, government, manufacturing, non-profits, and telecommunications. All events are free to attend; additional information and registration can be found on the DCEO website:

Event Name: Illinois Financial Capital Resources for HER
Event Date/Time: Thursday, March 10, 2022, 10:00am - 11:00am
Event Location: Virtual
Description: Securing financial capital is a major obstacle for women-owned businesses, and especially for women of color who own businesses due to additional historical inequities. With women only receiving around 2 percent of venture funding in 2021, the panel will discuss avenues for financial capital resources to help women in Illinois start, sustain, and expand their businesses.
Moderator: Dr. Gloria Sweida, Assistant Professor, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville's (SIUE) School of Business
Participants: Representatives from the Women's Business Development Center, U.S. Small Business Administration-Illinois District Office, DCEO's Office of Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Technology (EIT), and Bank of America.
Event Name: Women in Construction: Public Forum
Event Date/Time: Thursday, March 10, 2022, 11:00am - 12:00pm
Event Location: Virtual
Description: This event is focused on gender equity in the Illinois construction industry and how DCEO programs are cultivation greater opportunities for women in construction and the building trades.
Participants: Executive Director of Tools Up Foundation, CEO of D. Jones Construction, Apprentice for Union Tuck Pointers, Bricklayers, and Allied Crafts, Representatives from NIU Center for Governmental Studies, DCEO Offices of IL Works and OMEE.

Event Name: Empowering HER with Resources: How Illinois Supports Women-Owned Businesses
Event Date/Time: Wednesday March 23, 2022, 11:00am - 12:00pm  
Event Location: Virtual
Description: This virtual panel event focuses on no-cost (free) resources to help support current or aspiring business owners, such as one-on-one business advising, business education programs, and online business directories. We'll also share more about the advocacy and policy work being done behind the scenes to ensure women entrepreneurs have the support they need to be successful.
Moderator: Valeri Werpetinski, Associate Director of Entrepreneurial Education, University of Illinois' Gies College of Business, Origin Ventures Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership
Participants: Representatives from Goldman Sachs 10KSB, Illinois Small Business Development Center (IL SBDC), U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), Women's Business Development Center, and Founder of refinecltv.

Event Name: Yes, She Did It: How Illinois Women Leaders Paved the Way Forward For HER
Event Date/Time: Thursday March 31, 2022, 11:30am - 12:30pm
Event Location: Virtual
Description:  Women have been disproportionately impacted before and throughout the pandemic at different levels. From unequal financial capital opportunities, to being overlooked for top leadership positions in organizations, to balancing families and work. Hear from Illinois women leaders who have broken the glass ceiling and learn more about how to start or grow a business, strategically grow into leadership positions within organizations and more.
Moderator: Sylvia I. Garcia, Acting Director, Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO)
Participants: Co-founder & CEO of Cast21, President of Northern Illinois University, Chef/Co-Owner of restaurants Parachute & Wherewithall, and Executive Vice President-Chief People Officer and Head of Communications, USCellular.