Dr. Cortney Baker

071: Four Challenges Holding Women Back in Business (and Life) – Dr. Cortney Baker

Dr. Cortney Baker is on a mission to change the world – one woman, one mother, one daughter and one legacy at a time. But her path to popularity, power, and prosperity has required her to navigate numerous potholes. In 1993, six months after graduating from high school, she put dreams of attending college at Texas A&M on hold and instead became a single teenage mom. Watching her friends leave for college, she was instead forced onto Medicaid, food stamps and double-shifts as a pregnant waitress. Despite those immense obstacles, she launched a successful and transcendent business career. Through a combination of passion and persistence, Dr. Cortney earned her Master’s degree from Southern Illinois University and founded KidsCare Home Health. In 2005, Dr. Cortney suffered a pulmonary embolism and in 2012 endured a stroke that required a 7-hour brain surgery. Despite seemingly insurmountable health odds, she quickly rebounded, earning her doctorate in Organizational Leadership from Pepperdine University. She is currently the CEO and Chairman of the Board for KidsCare, a multi-million dollar enterprise providing speech, physical, occupational, and nursing services to over 2,500 children with special needs from Texas to Colorado. She has also authored Unlimited: Conquering the Myth of the Glass Ceiling and the best-selling book, The 10 Dos and Don’ts for Business Leadership: Lessons to Lead Effectively. When not getting lost or making a stop at Whataburger for her beloved Diet Coke, Dr. Cortney resides near Dallas with her husband, two children, two dogs, and a rescue cat. Dr. Cortney was named 2016/2017 Texas Business Woman of the Year.

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • How Cortney started KidsCare Home Health, a multi-million dollar healthcare organization in Texas, Idaho, and Colorado.
  • The four greatest challenges women face in business.
  • How she helps her two daughters negotiate teenage years and social media. 
  • Where to begin when starting a new business.

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Interview Transcript

Courtney, thanks so much for taking some time to hang with me today, I appreciate it.

Well, thanks for having me.

You have done something that I’m just going to say very few people have done, which is start your own business that has been wildly successful. You know what I mean? It is very successful. Now the average person might not know it because it’s not like Amazon or whatever, but America is made up of small businesses. And by the way, I don’t know what the cut-off is, but the other day I was noticing that even a company that has revenue of multiple million dollars is considered a small business.

Yeah, well I think the cut-off – it depends on who you ask, but I think the cut-off is around fifty million.

Holy moly, if I had a fifty million dollar business, I would not be thinking I had a small business. Long intro is to say you’ve started a service based business called KidsCare Home Health and I want to hear the journey because there are people that are listening to our podcast that want to start their own thing, maybe they’re starting a side hustle, maybe they want to start a business. You started a service based business, which is a great thing to point out. How did you come up with the idea? Take us back. Tell us what year it was. How did you come up with the idea? Take us through the journey.

So, yes, KidsCare was started in 2003 and at that time I had just graduated with my master’s degree in communication disorders which is basically speech pathology. I graduated in August of 2001, so right before September 11th and my first year out of college I worked in a school district and I just wasn’t happy. In my second year I was working for a pediatric home healthcare agency and fell in love with serving little kids that were under privileged with special needs in their homes, and I just thought, “This is my true calling.”

And what did that look like? How did that work? I don’t know that field, so take me through it.

Yeah, so I would drive all over. I’m Dallas, so I would drive all over Dallas and Fort Worth going from house to house to little kids homes to do therapy in their homes. And the best part of home health, I think, is that you get the parents involved. David, when we go to therapy in an outpatient setting, we have all their supplies but when you go to the home setting you can see, “Oh, okay, well he doesn’t have this shiny new toy. He has these things that he plays with as toys. So, let me use these to let his vocabulary and his language development be age appropriate.”

Got you. So, you fell in love with it.

Oh, my gosh, yes. And I worked for a company for about four months and overheard the owners several times say how employees were replaceable, and as a twenty-eight year old little spitfire who was ready to take on the world, I thought, “Well, I could do this myself. Why work for someone else?” I was four months pregnant. My husband was working the night shift at the Office Max warehouse because that’s the only place he could find a job with benefits and we were pregnant. It was right after September 11th, so the economy was in the toilet. It was the worst time ever to start a business and I just thought, “Well, I’ll do it.” I was actually told three times by a consultant that I was crazy and not to do it, and I basically was like, “Well, I appreciate your opinion. Do you want the job or not?”

“Do you want to help me or not?” Yeah, that’s great. That’s great.

Yeah, so I don’t know if it was pity or he needed the work but he did help me and we started incorporating in the beginning of 2003 and then opened our doors October 27th of 2003, and it was just me with ten little patients who believed in the dream. I did have a partner at the time and we officed out of her house, she was a nurse and she ran the office operations and I was the only therapist. And today we have about 600 employees and we’ve had the privilege of serving over 50,000 children with special needs in sixteen years.

Fifty thousand? Fifty thousand lives that you have impacted. Well, that’s just the kids.


Then if you triple that. It’s literally a couple hundred thousand people that you’ve impacted from your work. And six hundred – I can’t even imagine six hundred employees. Oh, my goodness, that is crazy. That is a very large small business, or maybe you’re not a small business, I don’t know. It’s none of my business.

Yeah, we’re kind of on the borderline.

Yeah, that’s great.

Thank you.

So, now you have actually transitioned out of running the day to day operations of KidsCare Home Health, so that you can invest in the lives of female business women, entrepreneurs and so forth. Is that correct?

Yes, in 2012. I categorize entrepreneurs as either builders or sustainers, and I am a builder. I love the process. I love rolling my sleeves up and getting dirty. We were sustaining at that point and I decided I was going to do something that I had dreamt of doing my whole life. Because when I was nineteen I was a single teenage mom and I was on Medicaid and food stamps and I thought, “You know, I always had wanted to get my doctorate degree.” So, I got my doctorate degree in leadership and I started school in 2012 and finished in 2015, and my focus was on women in leadership and why there are so few. And if you look at it, women are about fifty percent of the workforce and make up fifty percent of mid-level management positions, but at the top level of leadership in the S&P 500, women are not even five percent.


And in healthcare, women are about eleven percent of CEOs. So, I thought healthcare’s actually doing a little bit better but it’s not where I think we should be, so what are the obstacles that women face when climbing the corporate ladder? And so, that was my research. There were four main challenges that my research identified, but I went into it and I said, “This is not specific to the healthcare industry. This is gender specific.” So, we can talk about that but really that research parlayed me into a whole other opportunity and that is to invest in the next generation of women entrepreneurs to help them start and scale their own service based businesses.

Okay, so you gave me the bait. I’m taking the bait, Courtney. So, you said these are four things that hold women back from C-level roles, is that correct?


And particularly your research was in the healthcare industry, but you’re saying this is experience wide. This is all experiences?

Well, my doctoral research was in the healthcare industry but then I took that research and I started interviewing women at all different levels and in all different industries and I asked them what challenges they faced and they were the same four.

Okay, so give them to me. Number one?

Number one is family obligations. When you look at time diary studies, women typically do almost double the amount of housework and childcare that men do. So, for every one hour a man does housework, a woman does 1.7 hours.

I don’t know a lot of guys doing one hour of housework, but okay.

Yeah, my husband does.

Good, good. Good.

He just did the laundry yesterday. But yeah, so we carry the load. I mean, I always say, “Women, you are CEOs of a dynamic, incredible, stressful, challenging organization called The Humble Abode.”

Yes, that is so true. Okay, so family obligations. And I also think of children who are ill and the role the mother plays there – often times the women – the mom is playing a central role in caring for that child.

That and the sandwich generation. So, when you’re caring for your parents and trying to advance your career and caring for your littles, it’s tough.

Yes, okay.

So, the only way to get past that challenge is to get a support system.

So, that support system could be, if the woman is married, their partner increasing, or even some sort of hiring of individuals?

Yeah, or even neighbors or friends that maybe can help with childcare pickup or soccer practice or things like that. Or you think going online and ordering groceries, just the little things – the nuances that we have to take care of that have been made simpler by technology recently.

Yeah, I often tell people that one of the most fun ways that I spend money is on saving time. I love spending money to save time. So, if I can spend ten, twenty, fifty bucks on something, having somebody else do it for me, it might feel like a luxury. I’m kind of from a middle class, grew up lower middle class to middle class home in Kentucky and hiring somebody to clean your house, “Whew, you are fancy. You are fancy if you hire somebody to clean your house. Yeah, that’s a good idea.” You know what I mean? If you can afford it, all of a sudden that frees up time and energy for everybody.

Well, and you’re helping someone else build their empire – their ecosystem in their home. And you’re right, we don’t even look at what we could be doing in that time that we are investing in housework or walking around a grocery store or picking up our own dry-cleaning. Little things like that.

My son goes to a special art school like twenty, twenty five minutes away from us depending on traffic, in Southern California it’s crazy. And so, there’s a van pool and it costs three-ish hundred dollars a month to take him in the morning and take him in the afternoon and I drop him off at a grocery store – it sounds kind of ghetto but it’s not. “I drop him off at a grocery store and this crazy van takes him to school.” No, it’s a van pool. And I thought, “Man, three hundred dollars, I could drive him there.” Then I had a friend who’s a fellow entrepreneur said, “Okay, David. That’s an hour a day of your time.”


“Could you earn more than three hundred dollars a month financially or even your mental capacity?” So, anyway, all of a sudden that three hundred dollars feels like nothing to invest. Obviously, you’ve got to have that money to begin with to do it, but I love what you’re saying. So, there are creative ways to re-allocate time that could be impacting a woman’s responsibilities at home. What’s number two? What’s another impediment?

Two is limited advancement opportunities. So, getting to a point where you are at the highest level in your career but you need to go back to school and being faced with the challenge of time or resources to do so. And then also, there were women who had gotten to a point in their careers that they were just unsure about what they wanted to do, “Do I want to go to a different company and move up because I’ve topped up where I am?” So, there were a lot of women that were challenged in their careers and didn’t really know what to do with it.

So, with limited advancement, what would you say you were seeking to do or you see others are seeking to do in order to change that reality?

So, for that it really depends on the reason for the obstacle but if they’re seeking other employment, it actually parlays into the fourth challenge, so I don’t want to skip over the third. But what I see is so many women get mentally stuck while they’re stuck at work and think that they can’t do something else, and my question is, “Why not?” Why not go somewhere where you may be happy? Why not go back to school? There’s tons of online programs, but it’s almost like that mental block of, “Well, I just can’t.”

Okay, so number four is, “I just can’t,” which impacts part of the lack of advancement opportunities. What role can men who are listening play in creating more advancement opportunities? And what role can women play who are listening?

So, men can, especially if they’re in a leadership role, talk to your peers or those that are maybe subordinate to you and say, “What are the things that you want to do? Where do you see yourself going in five years? How can we create that strategy as a team to get you there?” But a lot of times women don’t even verbalize that that’s what they want.

Okay, so what about other fellow women in the workforce? How can they help fellow women advance?

Well, you’re talking about what’s actually the third challenge.

Give it to me.

Gender based discrimination, and that ties into limited advancement because the third challenge is actually triple faceted. So, the first, just stereotypes. Women when they are seen as a leader or taking charge, they sometimes get the not so coveted title of being not easy to work with. Whereas men on the other hand get seen as strong and skilled and effective leaders. And then the second facet of gender based discrimination is men, so the good old boys club. Which I lovingly refer to them as ‘Bubbas’, and Bubba has not been so happy that women are in the leadership sandbox and doesn’t like to play with us all the time, so he has convoluted our path. And to him I say, “Shame on you for doing so.” And then the third facet of gender based discrimination is mean girls. And mean girls, very often hold other women back from advancing their careers. One of the women I talked to, I asked her to tell me about her female mentors and she laughed at me and said, “Mentors? I haven’t had mentors, I had tormentors.” And it’s very real, very real and it’s something that a house divided cannot stand.

And I’m assuming that the tormenting is out of a scarcity mindset. Is that true? “There’s not enough opportunities for all of us, so I’m going to make sure I keep my power.” Is that how you see it play out or are there other things as well?

It’s scarcity but it’s also we live in a society that women are bombarded with messages on a daily basis that we are not enough, and so we believe we are not enough and we feel like in order to be enough, we have to pull others down. It’s kind of like the crabs in a barrel mentality.

Okay, and so the way that – I know this might be an obvious question, but I just want to make sure we’re talking about it. The way that women are feeling like – are being shown things, experiencing things to say that they’re not enough, help me see that. Help me understand that. As a guy, I live in the same world but I see the world through different eyes, what are those things? Teach me.

Well, if you look at the advertising industry, we are constantly bombarded with, “You need this face cream, this hair gel,” and I love me some Spanx but, “You need these Spanx to be enough and to look pretty,” and we aren’t ever told just as we are, “We are enough.”

So, physical attractiveness, what someone looks like, that’s a huge, huge issue, especially in the context of social media.

Yeah, and you have to be thin, you have to be beautiful, you have to be smart, you have to be all of this to be enough and packaged with a bow. Instead of just hearing, “If you’re the best at you, then you’re enough.” And that’s the message I’m trying to impart to my daughters.

How many daughters do you have?

I have two.

Okay, how old are they if you don’t mind?

Sixteen and almost twelve.

Okay, my goodness. People will oftentimes hear, my daughter, she just turned twenty and that is a challenging thing, isn’t it? With social media and clothes and personal appearance, oh my goodness. How are you helping your daughters negotiate that?

So, I am really working with them on being themselves through Christ and knowing that who you see on advertisement and on social media, those aren’t real pictures. Because I have one who right now and it’s the youngest one, but she’s struggling with some body images things. And trying to get her to understand that if she wants to excel in softball, then someone who’s tall and thin and looks like a model is not the build that she needs to be excelling in that sport and to just embrace her differences.

You know, my daughter has been off social media for I don’t know, six or seven months or something. She doesn’t have Instagram or Facebook or Twitter on her phone.

Good for her.

She watches YouTube videos. I’m not saying she’s perfect. I walked in this morning and she’s watching the latest Bachelorette crap and I don’t know why they watch that, it just kills me. So, she’s still getting it from every angle but she has just found for herself that social media does not help her, it feels like every time you’re on it she feels worse about herself rather than better.

Yeah. Yeah, I don’t think this is gender specific but I think women are more prone to feeling less than then men do. But we live in a society where we are constantly comparing ourselves and trying to achieve this standard that doesn’t even really exist.


Which really brings us to the forth challenge, which is a lack of confidence.

That’s the mindset, the lack of confidence to say, “I can do this.”

Yeah, fifty percent of the women who had made C-level positions talked to me, a complete stranger, about how they lacked confidence. And then when I took that research and talked to women outside of the healthcare industry, that number rose to nearly eighty percent.

Wow, so you now are investing your time helping women either start something, whatever they want, and I know that you’ve got a course that’s coming out September 2019 that’s called From Side Hustle to CEO; really helping people take it to the C-level is your passion. If somebody is thinking about starting a business, they’re listening to this podcast, they’ve been thinking about starting something, where should they even begin? How do they even start that process? Is it with the service? Because obviously you’re focused on service based business. Is it with a name? Is it finances? Is it website? Where do they even begin?

First would be finding a name and then making sure – and a lot of people look up, “Is the domain available?” But the first thing you need to look at is the entity available through the Secretary of State?

In whatever state you’re in.


Is that name available if you’re going to do a corporation or whatever it might be?

Or an LLC. I mean, one of the girls that I mentor, we just had this conversation last week. She was operating as a DBA and someone came in and took her name. So, a DBA is not enough, you have got to file as a business entity.

Okay, so when somebody’s thinking about starting a business, sometimes somebody can see an opportunity, they may not be very passionate about it but they see the opportunity to make income. They see a need, they see a problem they can solve. Or there are other people that have a passion, they’re not really focused on the need or problem so much, but they’re just really passionate about something. How do you coach the women that you’re working with on which one they should go with? Passion, need, what should they focus on?

The one that monetizes, because your passion isn’t going to pay your bills unless it can monetize. A lot of people think about podcasting or blogging and the thing is, that’s great and it can really fulfill a need that you have but people don’t pay for those services. So, what can you do that will get income that people will pay for? And we walk through that process.

That’s great. What are some of the biggest challenges or hurdles that women who are starting businesses that you’re coaching – what are some of the biggest challenges or hurdles they face that maybe they didn’t even realize they were going to face?

Finances. The biggest one is getting your finances in order. You know, women are not typically growing up encouraged to really study math. Yes, we have basic courses but to really get honed in on their math skills and to know basics of accounting. What goes in? What goes out? Some of its intuitive like don’t spend more than you’ve got, but especially with the millennials, cash to them is a card and you put it in the machine and money comes out. But let’s get a really solid foundation on your business finances.

There are numbers that are being depleted when you put that card in each time.

Yes. Yes, it’s not a slot machine. It doesn’t pay out every time.

Yeah, I wish it did.


Gone are the days of balancing a check book.


My wife still does it. She still does even though we’ve got it online, she just wants to make sure she’s got it right in front of her, always aware.

Good for her. I just found KidsCare’s initial check book register from 2003 and yeah, we started this business with $14,947. That was in the register and I just saw it yesterday, so, that’s the only way I knew. I knew it was around fifteen thousand, but that’s the other thing, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got your cushion to operate. Operating expenses, and have a little bit in there for when you’re not getting paid and you’re not getting customers like you thought.

For the women that are listening, what words of encouragement as we wrap up here – what are some words of encouragement that you would give them if they’re thinking about starting a side hustle or a business?

Oh, gosh, I didn’t start with any business knowledge. I had zero and all I knew was I had the foresight to see that I was worth more than being treated undervalued for the rest of my life, and they are too. But invest in you. Instead of investing in external, let’s invest in your future and your sustainability, and they can do it.

That’s awesome. There are two resources that I want to draw to people’s attention. One is you have a podcast called Women in Business Podcast. Tell us a little bit about the podcast and where they can listen to it.

Yeah, it’s on all podcast apps and they can really expect to find women’s stories of other women entrepreneurs and how they’ve faced obstacles and how they overcame their own obstacles. So, the Monday episodes are typically inspiration and the Thursday episodes are generally just me giving business advice and strategies.

Great, they also have access to a free resource that you’ve provided to us and the name of that is Ten Secrets Millennial Female Entrepreneurs Must Know Before Launching a Service Based Business. So, these ten secrets, Courtney has a special URL and you can get this URL if you miss it in the show notes just by swiping up on your phone or on our website. It’s www.courtneybaker.com/10secrets and they can get access to that and download it. That’s a way for them to begin connecting with you. And if somebody’s looking to get coached, do you coach people across the US as well?

I do, and I have a course that’s coming out. So, if they’re interested in starting a service based business and have absolutely no idea where to start, that course comes out September 10th and it’s called From Side Hustle to CEO.

That’s great, so September 2019, Side Hustle to CEO and we’ll make sure that we promote that everywhere as well, even after this podcast comes out.

Thank you.

Courtney, thank you so much for taking time to hang with us and your story is incredible. You started with fifteen thousand, you and a partner, 600 employees now and 50,000 children who have been impacted. That is absolutely tremendous.

Thank you, it’s been quite the journey.

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thank you!