Members Across the Country Power Our #NAWBOVoice

Jun 16, 2021 | Advocacy, Uncategorized

NAWBO was founded in 1975 to be the first advocacy organization for all women business owners. In the beginning, there were just 12 women business owners who met informally in the D.C. area to share information about federal contracts, access to capital and other issues related to their businesses. Today, members across the country are engaged in our advocacy efforts and working in their cities, states and nationwide to power our #NAWBOVoice and positively impact women-owned and small businesses. Here, several share why they do it, their impact (one member’s efforts led to a presidential visit!) and advice to those new to advocacy:

Why is it personally important to you to advocate on behalf of yourself and other women entrepreneurs?

Dr. Gena Yuvette Davis of True Synergy and NAWBO LA: As a micro-business, I feel that we are too often overlooked when it comes to bidding on contracts, having access to capital and other funding. The term “small business” is such a broad term. We need programs and opportunities that are geared specifically toward “micro-business.” Right now, when it comes to very small businesses, the system is neither equal nor equitable.

Sarah White of Your-White-Knight and NAWBO Richmond: I feel that women are quick to stand up for others, but we are sometimes hesitant to ask for the things we need. It is no different when you are talking about legislation. We tend to take on a lot and ask for very little. This strategy isn’t working when you see the number of women who gave up their jobs through the pandemic to take care of family members. It is important that we speak up for ourselves and each other to let Congress know what needs we have. Only about a quarter of our elected officials are women. If we don’t help educate Congress about our needs, they may not hear it somewhere else.

Shaune Skinner of ASC Group and NAWBO Columbus: ASC’s success is dependent upon other women-owned and managed businesses. Specifically, our HR support (Sharon DeLay), company bank (FC Bank), 401K manager (Helen Colon), other retirement accounts (Andrea Namache), health insurance supplements (Babiya Polk), promotional items (Artina) and one of our lawyers (Karen Poling) and accountants (Lori Kaiser) and are all WBE and NAWBO Columbus members or sponsors. Our recent merger with another company and media rollout was handled by a media/marketing consultant (Karen Sullivan) from NAWBO Columbus. The success of these women entrepreneurs ensures the success of myself and ASC Group. 

When I started in business 35 years ago, it was much easier to track and navigate through the changes that impacted our business. Not so today. We need to monitor proposed legislation and rules that could have an impact to WBE firms. Knowledge is power. We must continue to bring key WBE issues to the forefront, provide our assessment of the impacts and then formulate and support solutions. We must be a unified voice and continue to advocate for all women-owned businesses. I don’t have the time to follow each proposed rule change that might impact my business, so I am counting on my NAWBO friends and the organization as a whole to watch out for me and my business. I am committed to doing the same for each WBE in NAWBO.    

Jacqueline Hayes of Crayons & Marketers, NAWBO Nashville and NAWBO National Board: Advocating for myself and other women entrepreneurs is vital to the growth and sustainability of the entire small business ecosystem. While women business owners are the fastest-growing segment of the small business sector, we do not see that rate of growth in business revenue and hiring. At a micro level, this disparity disproportionately impacts black women-owned firms. Women business owners from all ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds must be included in efforts to truly level the playing field for all women business owners. We are not asking for special treatment, but equity in access to funding and business opportunity.

Sandra Clitter of Your Tech Tamer and NAWBO Greater Philadelphia: I had never been involved in advocacy before I got involved with NAWBO. My “involvement” was only to show up on Primary Day and Election Day and vote, but I’d never once spoken to an elected official. NAWBO got me to understand (during a NAWBO leadership event in New York) that while the legislators (at every level—local, state and national) might have good intentions when they enact legislation, they don’t (by and large) own businesses of their own or know what small business owners need. WE know that. If WE don’t say something, we can’t assume that others will know what we know or understand our issues/concerns. That was a lightbulb moment. 

Jeanne Gokcen of FutureCom Technologies and NAWBO Columbus: Early in my career as a speech-language pathologist, before I started my business, I and most of my colleagues paid no attention to nor cared about what was happening legislatively related to our field. Then, another party changed our state licensure law in a way that negatively impacted our clients and it was too late to do anything about it. That was a wake-up call and our profession has organized and been actively engaged in the legislative advocacy process ever since. We have made great legislative strides for our clients and our profession, and enjoy a strong, positive relationship with our state legislature. When I started my own business and joined NAWBO, I discovered that most of the members were similarly not aware of, nor interested in, state and federal legislative advocacy. I became involved in our Public Policy Committee and have worked to increase the awareness of the value of legislative advocacy. It was easy to point out state and federal legislation, rules and regulations that were enacted without women business owners’ input that negatively impacted us, including increases in taxes, restrictive rules and regulations. In addition, women-owned businesses are overlooked at the state and federal levels and it is important to present initiatives to government leaders that improve the opportunities and resources for growth, success and equity of women-owned businesses. We have made progress in that realm, but have a long way to go.

How has NAWBO helped to support you and power your voice in this arena? What opportunities or experiences have you had together with NAWBO that you might not have had on your own?

Dr. Gena: I think being a member of the advocacy committee has given me a platform and tools to speak my truth when it comes to advocating for micro-business. I am able to meet with members of Congress, and their staff, to express my concerns and desires. Without NAWBO, I might not have had these opportunities right away. 

Sarah: NAWBO has helped me to know more about the policies that affect me and my business and how to effectively advocate for myself. We are always kept informed from the policy team of not just what is going on in terms that we can understand, but what the best way will be to maximize our voice by joining with other ladies in the same situation. NAWBO has given me the opportunity to speak not only about issues during our calls, but has also given me the opportunity to speak directly to legislators. I now feel that one voice can make a difference and that what I have to say matters.

Shaune: Unlike many states, Ohio did not have a state WBE certification until recently. I had been trying for over 10 years to get that changed. I had multiple meetings with the various Governors, Senators and State House members—all to no avail. Once NAWBO Columbus took up the cause, our representatives started listening and voila, we now have a State WBE certification!

Jacqueline: NAWBO has afforded me the opportunity to connect with government and business leaders who directly impact programs and legislation that can either benefit or be to the detriment of women-owned firms.

Sandra: NAWBO is the sole reason that I found my voice. I don’t believe I would have found it otherwise. Again, it was my “lightbulb moment.” Why should a legislator know what is important to me if I don’t tell them? They’re not clairvoyant. It is my obligation to tell them, articulate my concerns to them and then let them (hopefully) draw a conclusion that supports small business needs. When I went to D.C. with NAWBO the first time, NAWBO prepared me for ‘what to say’, ‘what to do’ and ‘what to expect’—just as Elle [Patout] and her team have done leading up to Advocacy Days 2021. I walked into my Congressman’s office that first day and just repeated what I had been told to say, and the rest, as they say, is history! 

What opportunities or experiences have I had together with NAWBO that I might not have had on my own? Well, I have met with Senate staffers in Washington, D.C. I have spoken to them on the phone. They take my calls. They answer my emails. I have met with my Congresswoman. Ditto on the staff communications. I have formed a friendship with a State Representative (who doesn’t represent me due to redistricting, but really supports small business, so I can go to her with state-level needs fairly easily). 

All that pales, however, to what happened this year. This is my favorite part: A couple of years ago, through NAWBO, I received a one-on-one meeting with my Congresswoman (the member herself, not staff). She was a freshman Congresswoman at the time. During our conversation, she said that she wanted to meet with some small businesses (WBOs would be a bonus) in her district. She wanted to ‘get out there’. I have a micro-business—I work out of my house, so my business wasn’t a ‘fit’, but I recommended that she visit a WBO client of mine whose business is in a distressed area of the district. The Congresswoman came out and was very gracious with her time, listening and asking great questions about the challenges facing that area. The client and I continued to dialog with the Congresswoman’s office as things have happened over the last couple of years. Then, early in March, my client got a call from the White House. Yes, THAT White House. President Biden wanted to visit their facility, and on March 16th, he did just that. It never would have happened if I hadn’t said ‘yes’, so many years ago, and decided that I wanted to get more involved. Honestly, I’m pretty blown away by the sequence of events.

Jeanne: From its founding, NAWBO has enabled women to apply for loans without a male co-signer. NAWBO has participated in the fight to establish a woman-owned business set-aside goal (which was achieved, 5% for federal government agencies) and then to ensure that the goal is reached. Currently, NAWBO is looking out for its members by working on issues, including better access to capital, child and family care support, expanded access to network infrastructure and technology, and many others.

NAWBO Columbus has succeeded in establishing in our Ohio statute the definition of micro-business, which is a business with fewer than 20 employees. This is important because the federal and state definitions of a small business are inconsistent and have a wide range, from 250 to 1,500 employees (which is most certainly NOT a small business!). More than 85% of businesses in Ohio and in the United States are micro-businesses, yet most of the small business programs and resources are geared for the large “small businesses.” By establishing the definition of micro-business in statute, we are now working on developing programs and resources that are designed to benefit the majority of businesses: micro-businesses. In fact, we most recently have been able to obtain $10 million in support of women-owned businesses in the upcoming Ohio biennial budget. Woohoo!

We also succeeded in establishing a state Woman-owned Business Certificate program. This is important because some of our members informed us that they were unable to expand their business to other states and bid on woman-owned business set-aside projects because Ohio did not have such a program and the other states required reciprocity in order for Ohio businesses to participate. This was yet another barrier that prevented women-owned businesses from growing.

How have you seen your advocacy efforts, and NAWBO’s efforts, make a difference in your business success?

Dr. Gena: I am just getting started, but I know the power of NAWBO to get things done. Yes, as a member, I am seeing a difference in my business growth through new networking relationships and client opportunities.

Sarah: Being up to date and advocating for funding through PPP loans was a real lifesaver for my business this year. We were able to apply and get funding quickly with the educational information that was put out to us in a remarkably fast and easy to understand fashion. We were also given information that made applying for forgiveness a little easier to understand and helped us be a lot more confident that we were getting it right.

Shaune: September is Public Policy Month and, in the past, NAWBO Columbus has sponsored Legislative Meet and Greets at the Statehouse, where I was able to meet not only my representatives, but other state representatives in an informal and un-intimating venue. What fun! NAWBO Columbus also has had several candidate forums where candidates from each party were invited, asked questions and provided answers, which informed the audience about their positions on key issues that affect women-owned businesses. In several instances, I actually made my voting decisions based on the candidates’ presentations and support of women-owned business issues.    

NAWBO’s Public Policy liaison used to provide periodic updates on all proposed state laws. That is how I found out about changes to the “Call Before You Dig Law.” These changes would add significant fees and more importantly, delay getting permits to dig below the ground. Since my company “digs” on almost every project, the changes would have been crippling and costly. ASC Group contacted our representatives, explained our opposition to the proposed changes and were able to soften the proposed legislation. 

However, on other fronts, there is still much more work to be done with respect to increasing the opportunities for WBEs at the state level. Currently, NAWBO is supporting funding for a Disparity Study, the results of which will illustrate the availability of WBE and DBE companies qualified to work in various service and/or product lines. This study will provide the foundation for the setting of goals and set asides for the WBE program, which will help further with business success. 

Jacqueline: Being more aware of the legislation that impacts women business owners has been one of the biggest benefits. Participating in events like Advocacy Days has helped educate me on the importance of paying attention to bills that are introduced, and those that get sidelined and hold leaders accountable for their actions.

Sandra: Even if what you want/need doesn’t pass, you feel better knowing you tried. My clients know that I’m involved. They ask me for advice (it makes me a more valuable business advisor if I’m being totally candid). I took great pride in the fact that I was instrumental in getting micro-businesses over $1.5 million in PPP funding early on in the pandemic. Now, I’m celebrating with them as we submit PPP forgiveness applications, and take advantage of ERC credits (getting them even more funding). Without my NAWBO involvement, I wouldn’t have truly understood what was available, what made sense for micro-businesses, what were the risks, etc. I am beyond grateful to the NAWBO HQ advocacy team, but the last 15 months have enhanced/expanded that gratitude. Elle [Patout] was on speed-dial March-May 2020 and took my calls. We strategized what was working and what wasn’t. She distilled everyone’s stories and took them to Capitol Hill and CONGRESS LISTENED. Make no mistake about it: WBO businesses got the level of funding they did because NAWBO was at the table along with its other small business partners. We were heard. The importance of women in the workforce, owning businesses, distinctions between ‘small’ and ‘micro’ were enhanced. Our stories were told, we were heard and we were considered/supported…maybe not perfectly, but in my opinion, more than ever before. We can’t stop now!

Jeanne: My business has benefitted directly and indirectly from NAWBO’s legislative advocacy efforts. I have been able to obtain federal contracts that are part of the women-owned business set-aside program. I am in the process of applying for the Ohio Woman-owned Business Certification and expect to expand business opportunities with state and local government agencies and private businesses as a result. I will be able to access capital more easily with the state-sponsored $10 million loan program.

Also important is that, by being actively engaged in the legislative advocacy process, I regularly communicate with and meet my state and Congressional legislators and many others. They know me and I can contact their office and get their help with issues, both professional and personal.

What advice do you have for other women entrepreneurs who are new to advocacy and might feel intimated by the process?

Dr. Gena: Fear not, because it is the power of your voice that is going to make the difference in your business and all other female-owned businesses. All it takes is one step forward for advocacy.

Sarah: I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous at the first advocacy meeting. It helped a lot that I reached out to others in the club interested in advocacy and got to know their experience and ask questions about what to expect. Elle [Patout] even made time to speak with me and make me feel not only welcome, but valued. Speaking up with your friends is easy, so make some friends! It is really easy to do with such a wonderful group of ladies. 

Jacqueline: My advice for those starting out is to get involved but narrow your focus. There are so many opportunities to plugin, focusing on one or two issues gives you time to fully understand what you’re advocating for, the factors acting on the outcomes and how you can be of service.

Shaune: I have found that my state representatives welcome my opinion and support. Make an effort to contact your representative’s office and tell them what you do, what your revenues are and most importantly, how many people your company employs. If you cannot go to the Statehouse, set up a virtual meeting. If you have a particular issue that you are asking them to support, let them know the specifics and why this will help your business. Then before closing, let them know that NAWBO can be a resource for them, if they need advice on a certain issue or to provide a baseline of support.  

Sandra: That is totally normal, but you have to get over it and try it. Legislators (and legislative aides) are just people. They want to do well by their constituents. They want to be liked. They want to help. However, they can’t read minds, so it is your obligation to show up and open up. Start with something non-threatening and on which most anyone (R, D or I) would agree. For example, I picked the importance of micro-businesses. I am a micro-business. Most people support micro-businesses in their communities. I am passionate about explaining the level of importance that micro-businesses have on the health of local communities. So, I lead with “Microbusinesses need to be handled differently than small businesses (by the SBA definition)”, and offer my thoughts. I am the expert in owning a micro-business. They are not. I can stand tall into that knowledge (even if my knees are shaking when I’m speaking with them), and I can offer them perspective/thoughts/insights that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. That is valuable to them. They can make more informed decisions with MY knowledge scribbled onto their notepads! My second topic is usually “unintended consequences” of legislation, and I pick an example or two, then explain how that affected my business (or my clients’ small businesses). 

This last year, I spoke to the flaw in the initial offering of PPP1 only through the big banks. Small businesses tend to support small. Small businesses’ banking relationships are often with credit unions or small, community banks. Therefore, we didn’t have relationships with “big banks”, and banks with SBA “approval.” Therefore, we got boxed out of much of PPP1 initial funding. Our stories, our voice on that one, changed the course of the expansion of PPP1 (the expansion of funding) and the PPP2 offering. Once you have an “opening” item about which you feel comfortable speaking, adding other, more ‘hot topic’ items becomes easier.

Jeanne: Believe me, I understand that many people view anything to do with legislation as “politics” and don’t want to get involved. However, NAWBO focuses not on politics, but on addressing relevant issues. We work with all legislators and leaders to make a positive impact on issues that improve the business environment and lives of women business owners, so that their businesses, their staff and their communities can thrive.  

And it truly is easy to talk with your legislators! Legislators are people just like us and they have a limited amount of experience, yet they are responsible for making decisions in areas that are beyond their scope of knowledge or expertise. I have learned that they depend on, and are grateful to, their constituents who provide them with information about issues that affect them so that the legislators can vote in a way that reflects the knowledge and desires of their constituents. When we don’t communicate with our legislators and leaders to help them gather the knowledge they need to make good decisions when voting on issues, it is more likely that they will make bad decisions that can hurt us, which we all have definitely experienced.  

It is our civic duty as United States citizens to be involved in the legislative advocacy process for the good of ourselves and our country.


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