BY KATHLEEN WARNICK, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR — 03/23/18
Women’s History Month is March — a time to celebrate the historical accomplishments of women across America. In the early 1900s, women stormed the streets for the right to vote and in the 1980s, women stood on the steps of the Capitol asking for parity in business.
This year marks a significant milestone: the 30-year anniversary of one of the most important pieces of legislation for women business owners. President Reagan’s signature on The Women’s Business Ownership Act, aptly numbered H.R.5050, marked the pivotal moment when women business ownership in America transformed.
Today, the United States is home to nearly 10 million small businesses owned by females, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners. Hundreds of thousands of women own their own firms and contribute to their communities. But 30 years ago, their journey to entrepreneurship was riddled with roadblocks and uphill battles.
I am always flabbergasted to recall that, prior to H.R.5050, many states required a woman to have a male cosigner for a business loan even if it meant their minor son was the other individual signing on the dotted line. Furthermore, prior to this law, the number of women business owners was not accurately captured in U.S. Census data. And, our nation understands reliable data is a critical driver of sound public policy.
In response to these obstacles, members of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) banded together to improve this business climate for women, and H.R.5050 is our legacy. A female entrepreneur no longer needs a male cosigner on her business loan and the data being captured have vastly improved — the impetus behind H.R.5050 is gone — but our work to ensure parity continues. There is much more work to be done.
Today’s business world presents women with a world of challenges to overcome and our nation still lacks the necessary research to correctly assesses and meet the needs of women business owners. Despite the gaps in research, we do know our efforts should focus on supporting fast-growing women business owner sectors, such as women of color.
To keep innovation alive in America, we must create policies and programs that provide a solid foundation for women business owners in tech transfer — connecting women-owned firms with inventors.
Prior to H.R.5050, there was no such thing as Women Business Centers or the National Women’s Business Council. However, to meet the needs of women today, these resources need the tools to not only help start businesses, but also, more importantly, put an emphasis on business expansion and women leadership.
H.R.5050 did force banks in all 50 states to handle lending uniformly, but it has not monumentally changed the lending environment for women. Studies show women only receive 4 percent of commercial loan dollars. Moreover, women may be able to get a loan to start their businesses, but they are starting with half as much capital as their male counterparts.
Our predecessors fought for parity in business and we will not retreat now. So many decisions made at all levels of government can be either obstacles or opportunities for business owners. It’s important to stay engaged so that those representing us understand the consequences of the laws and regulations they put forth.
As we reflect on the historical accomplishments of the women who came before us, we must renew our call to action. It’s a new chapter and NAWBO is ready to help lawmakers craft the next pivotal piece of legislation for women business owners — the next notch on the timeline for women’s history.
Kathleen Warnick is board chair of the National Association of Women Business Owners.
Link to original article: http://thehill.com/opinion/civil-rights/379494-women-wont-retreat-from-the-fight-for-parity-in-business