Woman In Business - A Growing Force

October is National Women’s Small Business Month which is just another reason why I like the month of October so much. Alongside the crisp fall air, the gorgeous fall foliage and the mellow sunlight comes the National recognition of just how much women are contributing to society through business. 

When I reflect on the origins of my own business development in comparison to the National landscape of women in business I can clearly see how many of my struggles in the early years and subsequently, my successes in later years, were directly linked to National policy and support for women in business. 

The Beginning Of Change

The Women’s Business Ownership Act was passed by the senate on October 11th 1988. This milestone legislation set forth congressional findings and purposes with respect to small businesses owned and controlled by women. In other words, lawmakers on the Federal level were finally recognizing women as a formidable force in business ownership and were now going to track our progress and make sure we had access to small business loans.

graphic rendering of gender inequality

Title II of the act; Demonstration Projects - Amends the Small Business Act to direct the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide financial assistance to private organizations to conduct demonstration projects giving financial, management and marketing assistance to small businesses, including start-up businesses, owned and controlled by women. 

Prior to 1988 some states still required a male relative to cosign a business loan but even in states that didn’t have that requirement obtaining a business loan for a start-up was close to impossible. When I launched my first clothing brand in 1984, fresh out of college and full of enthusiasm, I quickly ran into road blocks due to lack of access to working capital and business support. I had some great products that were cutting edge at the time, made from a brand new fabric; Cotton-Lycra. My black cotton/lycra leggins were selling like hot cakes to punkers, dancers and everyone else who was caught up in the new Aerobics craze. I was onto something but instead of expanding my reach I watched from the sidelines as other brands with financial backing gained the market share. 

Another provision of the Act, Title IV - established The National Women's Business Council to review the status of women-owned businesses nationwide and to develop detailed multi-year plans in connection with both private and public sector actions to assist and promote such businesses. It required annual reporting to both the President and the Congress. 

Amazing and Measurable Growth

The US now has 12.3 million women-owned businesses and these businesses

Maureen's face in Rosie The Riveter cardboard cutout

generate 1.8 trillion dollars a year. 40% of US businesses are women owned. It just goes to show that when we humans put our energy and attention on a subject we can literally move mountains. That’s not to say that there still isn’t plenty of room for improvement. The ratio of 4 out of every 10 businesses being owned by women is still not proportional to the gender breakdown in the US population as a whole but we’ve come a long way over the last few decades. 

Even more encouraging is the amazing growth of businesses started by women of color and Latina women in the last decade. With this combined growth, women in every state are contributing to their communities and families in profound ways. Women owned businesses employ over 9 million workers and over half of business owners claim their business to be their primary income. 

It’s no secret that parental income is positively associated with virtually every aspect of a child’s well-being. Income gains have the potential to make a substantial cumulative difference in a child’s life. When women do better, families do better. Plus mompreneurs make incredible role models. 

When I reflect back over the years from the early days of the 1980’s when I felt so alone as a small business owner to today, the difference is palatable. Women in business are being celebrated and supported in ways I never could have dreamed of. Well over half of SBA micro-loans are now going to women-owned and women-lead businesses. There are endless programs, classes and support groups available both on and off-line. Happily times have changed and I’m thrilled I made it through those tough early years to be a part of this amazing time for women in business.