A pioneer in enterprise software: Janet Emerson Bashen, regarded as the first black woman to hold a software patent, shares how she built her business.

Author:Lynn, Samara
Position:BLACK DIGERATI - Bashen Corporation

FOR JANET EMERSON BASHEN, WHO GREW UP IN Alabama and bore witness to the turbulence of the civil rights era, everything associated with her work has personal relevance. The CEO of Bashen Corp., a national labor and employment consulting firm, investigates Equal Employment Opportunity complaints and sells software to streamline the EEO filing process.

Emerson Bashen has another title, in addition to CEO. She is cited across the Internet as the first African American woman to hold a software patent, with three co-inventors. The invention is LinkLine, a Web-based EEO case tracking and reporting software that assists organizations with managing EEO investigations.

"I came up with the idea in 2001. Not everyone had a cellphone in 2001. I saw that papers in process got lost. There had to be a way to take in complaints--something Web-based and accessible away from the office," says Emerson Bashen. At the time, she was working for an insurance carrier investigating EEO matters.

Employees file EEO complaints when there may be discrimination against them because of race, national origin, sex, or religion--all protected classes under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In later years, amendments were made to prevent discrimination surrounding pregnancy, disabilities, and gender identity.

Achievement of a 'first' is somewhat of a legacy. Emerson Bashen's mother was the first black nurse in Huntsville, Alabama. "We talked about civil rights every day," she recalls. EEO work came naturally to her, as well as understanding racial and sexual challenges, "because I had experienced those things firsthand."

Although Bashen Corp., founded in 1994, is going 20-plus years' strong; with average annual revenues of $5.2 million and a full-time team of 15 and 2 5 contractors, the road has not always been smooth for the company or its founder.

Opportunity Arises

During her tenure at the insurance company, Emerson Bashen urged the CEO to handle EEO complaints as an independent party because there was no entity at the time doing so. The CEO dismissed her idea. It was at an Urban League convention that she serendipitously met someone from the company handling EEO complaints for the restaurant chain Denny's.

Back then, Denny's was embroiled in scandal. Six black Secret Service agents, part of President Clinton's security detail, were refused seating at a Maryland Denny's while their...

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