Virtual 35th Anniversary of H.R. 5050 and NWBC Event | October 25, 2023
On October 25, 2023, we held a virtual celebration of the 35th Anniversary of H.R. 5050, the Women’s Business Ownership Act, and the creation of NWBC.
The National Women’s Business Council (“NWBC” or “Council”) was created under Title IV of H.R. 5050, the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988, as amended (U.S.C. § 7105, et seq.). Authored by Congressman John LaFalce (D-NY) and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, H.R. 5050 established NWBC, which operates in accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).
This landmark piece of legislation also:
- Eliminated individual state laws requiring women to have a male relative or husband to co-sign a business loan;
- Established the Women’s Business Center (WBC) program to provide female entrepreneurs with business education and entrepreneurial support;
- Required the U.S. Census Bureau to include woman-owned corporations in their data collection.
A recap of this celebration can be found below. You can also connect with this event by checking out the recording on YouTube along with the many videos from policymakers and stakeholders related to the importance of this occasion.
This year marks the 35th Anniversary of the passage of H.R. 5050 and the creation of NWBC. To celebrate, we convened former and current Council Members to discuss the significance of this anniversary, lessons learned from the past and what the future may hold for women in business. NWBC Executive Director Tené Dolphin delivered opening and closing remarks. She was joined by Chair Sima Ladjevardian, who served as moderator. The insights gained from this discussion will help inform how the Council pursues our mission in FY2024 and beyond.
- Sima Ladjevardian, NWBC Chair
Opening and Closing Remarks
- Tené Dolphin, NWBC Executive Director
- Pamela Prince-Eason, President and CEO of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)
- Jenny Poon, CEO/Founder of CO+HOOTS and HUUB
- Roberta McCullough, Board Chair of the Association of Women’s Business Centers (AWBC)
- Nicole Cober, Principal Managing Partner of Cober Johnson and Romney (CJR) and Founder of the BOW Collective
- Fran Pastore, Founder & CEO at the Women’s Business Development Council (WBDC)
- Maria Rios, President and CEO of Nation Waste
- Deborah Rosado Shaw, Principal of Rosado Shaw Group, LLC.
Opening Remarks – Tené Dolphin, NWBC Executive Director
- Tené Dolphin, NWBC Executive Director, opened her remarks with a quotation from a report issued by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Small Business Committee in 1988, on the eve of the passage of H.R. 5050. “At a time when America is suffering from huge budget and trade deficits – and from a chronic failure to significantly increase productivity – it is vital for public policy makers to seek means to catalyze the tremendous pool of talent and energy these women represent. These women are part of the most educated generation of women that has ever existed. They are a gold mine of human capital. No other nation… is anywhere close to the United States in maximizing the economic and creative potential of over 50% of the population who are women. It is vitally important for our future competitiveness that public policy, in partnership with the private sector, affirm and assist this economic revolution. As part of this effort, it is essential that remaining barriers to women’s entrepreneurship be eliminated.”
- She then gave some background on H.R. 5050, the Women’s Business Ownership Act. H.R. 5050 removed the requirement for women to have a male cosigner when applying for a business loan, created the women’s business center program, and established the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC).
- Welcoming attendees to the event, she noted that while a lot has changed in the 35 years since H.R. 5050 was passed, much has stayed the same. As she put it, “Women continue to be overeducated, underinvested in, and are still an untapped source of innovation, entrepreneurship, resilience, and economic potential. COVID-19 presented yet another economic revolution for women, with women being pushed out of the workforce and pulled into entrepreneurship. “
- She took the opportunity to explain that panel participants are current and former Council Members and explained the role of the Council in advancing women’s business enterprise. She also uplifted other allies in this work, including National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO, which lobbied for the passage of H.R. 5050 in 1988), Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP), the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), and the Association of Women’s Business Centers (AWBC).
- Having mentioned other members of the small business sisterhood, she shared the following call to action: “We invite you to join this small business sisterhood by staying connected to our work and raising your voice about your experiences as a business owner. We are all in this together. It was true in 1988, it’s true in 2023, and it will be true in 2088. We encourage you to listen in on this conversation today and lead this conversation tomorrow.”
- Executive Director Dolphin concluded her remarks by introducing and yielding the floor to the moderator for the event, Sima Ladjevardian, Chair of NWBC.
Panel Questions and Answers
All: Can you please share your name, title, organization, the years you served on the Council as well as a woman in business who inspires you?
- Pamela Prince-Eason – Pamela shared that it has been a tremendous honor to serve on the Council since 2018. She is inspired by two women she works closely with at WBENC, Janice Bryant Howroyd and Ann Ramakumaran.
- Maria Rios – Maria noted that she feels blessed to participate. As the first Latina in the waste management industry, she feels privileged to have been appointed in 2019, and it has been her highest honor to serve and represent women in business across the U.S. There are so many people who she admires in business, but she is particularly inspired by her mother, who came to the U.S. as an immigrant and started her own business. “She showed me that the American dream can be possible,” shared Maria.
- Nicole Cober – Nicole ended her time on the Council in 2022. She is a serial entrepreneur, having a real estate development firm and a business consulting firm. Her great passion is helping women soar as they scale their businesses. Nicole recently formed the BOW Collective, which brings together the nation’s top 1% business owners who happen to Black women. To her, the value of the Council is fighting for the underdog. Even though women are 50% of the population, being able to scale businesses and get the resources and relationships to support business is always the challenge. Every woman who has served on the Council over the past 35 years is a woman she greatly admires because they have rolled up their sleeves to work to support women and help them thrive.
- Roberta McCullough – She serves as a Senior Vice President of Operations for a multi-million dollar loan fund, and has the privilege of helping women, “who look like us get the funding they need to grow their businesses.” Roberta also serves as the Board Chair for the Association of Women’s Business Centers (AWBC), a board she has been on for about four years. Through this role, she gets to work with women across the country, which is a constant reminder for her of how multifaceted and talented women naturally are. The list of women entrepreneurs who inspire her is endless, but two recent additions to her list are the General Partners of the Fearless Fund, Arian Simone and Ayana Parsons. Roberta does not know them personally, but is grateful for the work they do to increase access to capital for Black women.
- Fran Pastore – Fran serves as CEO of the Women’s Business Development Council (WBDC). She founded her organization almost 30 years ago when she was a single unemployed mother raising two daughters, both of whom serve as sources of inspiration to her today. Serving on NWBC from 2011-2014 was one of the highlights of her professional life. She got to connect with some fabulous women who are still making their mark, and working with Carla Harris was a thrill. Through her work as CEO of a women’s business center (WBC), she has gotten to take the work of WBDC around the world from Rwanda to Turkey, another source of pride for her.
- Jenny Poon – Jenny is the founder of CO+HOOTS and HUUB and has been on the Council for a little over a year. A woman entrepreneur who inspires Jenny is her mother. Her mom started a business just before Jenny was born, and tried to get a loan for her business but did not qualify. Jenny shared that to her, it’s amazing that in her lifetime, the restrictions on women being able to take out loans existed. She continued that it is amazing now that as the daughter of refugees that she was able to apply for a $2 million loan herself. She never thought that was going to be possible, so H.R. 5050 means a lot to her personally. Her mom inspires her because she was able to start her business through her hustle and find capital through bootstrapping, which gave Jenny a leg up in starting her own business. That power, gift and strength growing up is something Jenny was able to carry from her mom and hopes she can pass along to her own daughter.
- Deborah Rosado Shaw – Deborah served on the Council from 2014-2017. Having been an entrepreneur for most of her life, she grew and sold a business in the fashion industry. She also served as a senior executive for a Fortune 50 company, including leading a global women’s initiative impacting women and girls across the world. Deborah now runs a business consulting and advisory firm, and every day, especially those when she loses her steam, she is inspired by women business owners from florists and grocers to women leading multimillion dollar companies.
Roberta/Maria: If you were to describe the Council and the role of Council Members to someone who had never heard of NWBC, what is the first word that would come to mind?
- Roberta McCullough – Roberta mentioned that it was difficult for her to choose just one word but decided upon “intentional.” As she put it, “every woman on the Council, within the subcommittees and beyond, everything we do has a purpose and an end.”
- Maria Rios – Maria’s chosen word was “champion” as NWBC is a Council, “filled with champions for women.”
Nicole/Deborah/Roberta: It’s the 35th Anniversary of H.R. 5050 the Women’s Business Ownership Act. This game-changing piece of legislation removed the requirement for women to have a male cosigner when applying for a business loan and created the WBC program and NWBC. What do you think the next 35 years hold for women in business?
- Nicole Cober – Nicole shared that she was so proud of the Council for taking inventory of former Council Members and really blending their perspectives with the current Council because it gives context. As she commented, “How do you really know where the Council has been and might be going if whenever there’s a new Council, you get a completely clean slate?” The Council is trying to build on this past and build a pathway for the future. In her eyes, the first step is housing this treasure trove of passion and experience. “If we’re not conscious of our past, we’re doomed to repeat it,” and she connected with Roberta’s allusion to the recent attacks on women in business, particularly women of color. Having served on Council’s Access to Capital and Opportunity subcommittee, Nicole noted that one thing the subcommittee always tries to tackle is investing in small businesses. The 8(a) program is a builder of wealth for all small businesses and being able to get contracts with the world’s biggest customer is a foundation of growing businesses. In her words, “we need to all lock up and not only secure the foundation of these programs, but we need our policymakers to strengthen and secure them not just for women but for all small businesses. We have some potential, but we really need to shore up the programs, women owned set asides and certifications and make sure they will be there not just in the next 35 years but even in the next 5 years.”
- Roberta McCullough – Roberta shared that when she thinks about the next H.R. 5050, she really wants to, “put us out of business.” It is her desire for it to be instinctual for women entrepreneurs to be included and not need a Council or set asides to ensure they are heard and are participating. 1988 was an interesting year for her because it is the year she became a mother. She searched for a job that worked for her schedule and that is how she got involved in banking. It is Roberta’s hope that all women can have access to capital and whether through the Council’s policy work or something else, that one day, women may no longer need to keep pushing for equity-driven policies.
- Deborah Rosado Shaw – While Deborah agreed that it would be a glorious day to be out of business, “if you’re going to grow access to economic participation, you need to change the game.” She sees this as the Council’s charge. “It’s not about changing what women in business achieve but how those achievements are made.” Deborah also mentioned that women business owners tend to consider who they can bring along for the journey and how their business ownership might impact their families and communities. 1987 was the year she started her first company amidst a divorce as a mother of two young boys, so the passing of H.R. 5050 in 1988 was also personal for her. Deborah also noted the importance of leadership to her journey, “Nothing I’ve achieved since, in my participation as a Latina in a tough neighborhood going to a high school with a 25% graduation rate, nothing would have been possible for me without the determined leadership of others.” She has seen this leadership on the Council and knows that every voice needs to be a part of this conversation to create change.
All: H.R. 5050 changed the game. As we consider what the next H.R. 5050 might look like, what do you think it would take to level the playing field for women entrepreneurs once and for all?
- Jenny Poon – Jenny pointed out that since federal contracting is such a big piece of funding that women have little access to, making it more accessible to women could have a major impact. Though the recent fall of affirmative action could affect this goal, lowering the barriers to the burdensome application process could unlock a lot more opportunity. From there, Jenny suggested that the Council could then aim to shift the goal that 5% of dollars awarded through federal contracting go to women to a goal more representative of the number of women in business.
- Nicole Cober – Nicole concurred and suggested that the way this can be accomplished is through communication and changing the narrative. As she put it, “it’s in the language that we speak.” Noting that Jenny used the phrase, “the fall of affirmative action,” to Nicole, affirmative action has not fallen because it is rooted in the Civil Rights Act and the Constitution. She shared that, “I am a lawyer and in the media, and we have to be careful because they are almost the opposite. In the media, it’s very quick with soundbites.” To Nicole, when it comes to affirmative action, “[Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College] was one case and it’s up to our policymakers and legal system to fight and clarify what’s going on.” She sees the Council’s role as moving with precision and shaping the narrative. She recommended speaking in the positive rather than the pejorative by focusing on the benefits and impacts of supporting women in business. The examples she suggested included that all should, “talk about the job creation, the industries we’re accelerating in, states that are thriving because of the economic buoyancy and resiliency, [and how] we are not falling out of corporate America, we are walking into our businesses because we want to lead, help support our families, and sell products and services we believe are important.” Those who do not see the value of women’s entrepreneurship (especially Black women’s entrepreneurship) are fighting and Nicole believes that advocates for women entrepreneurs need to fight too.
- Pamela Prince-Eason – Pamela shared that while she is unsure of what it will take to create the parity and equity she believes is necessary, she does hope that organizations like NWBC continue to connect the voices of women entrepreneurs to decisionmakers, so they understand the inequality being experienced. She noted that “as soon as you learn the rules, they change the game,” so it is important that women are presented and heard, which NWBC does a tremendous job of ensuring.
- Fran Pastore – Fran noted, “we’re 50% of the population, but we give birth to 100% of the babies.” Although NWBC constantly amplifies topics like capital for women entrepreneurs, as Fran sees it, for any of these things to actual happen, the budget for NWBC needs to increase, especially since it has not changed for some time. She also uplifted childcare and paid family and medical leave (PMFL) as key issues. Given that the U.S. is one of only two countries in the world without national paid leave, Fran believes these socioeconomic issues must be addressed and the only way to address them is to strengthen organizations like NWBC that are working towards equity and parity.
- Maria Rios – Maria shared that while women owned businesses have grown substantially since H.R. 5050 passed, revenues and employees have grown slowly in the time since, and when it comes to funding, women still receive significantly less than men. She believes that everyone really needs to be pushing for lending parity and increases in educational funding going to women.
- Roberta McCullough – Roberta noted that she believes a great starting point for progress is having a woman as President of the United States. From there, Roberta considers it a priority to dismantle the ingrained attitudes policymakers have about women and ensure they stop treating women as afterthoughts when implementing policy. Roberta also believes that organizations need to be in alignment and work together to advance our policy agendas. In her words, “We can’t become weary and must never give up. We have already proven women run the economy on so many levels, so we need to be pushing for better policy and elevating the successes we have already achieved.”
- Deborah Rosado Shaw – Deborah resonated with the sentiments shared, and added, “our words are very powerful and they shape the world’s we participate in.” To her, it may be a matter of “elevating the playing field rather than leveling it, since it has historically been myopic, small-minded and exclusionary.” As she put it, “I don’t think we should stoop down, I think we should reach up, and reframe that conversation and the narrative.” Deborah reiterated the need to address the critical levers to create a healthier ecosystem.
Jenny/Deborah: How has serving on this Council changed your approach to your work?
- Jenny Poon – What has been really impactful and rewarding for Jenny has been being able to bring all of the lessons and challenges ecosystem builders like her are seeing at the grassroots level to the national level, and working on change that could impact the entire nation based on what she is seeing in her community. Hearing from this amazing group who are having similar challenges in their own communities and bringing it back to hers as well has been meaningful for Jenny.
- Deborah Rosado Shaw – As someone who serves as a coach to business leaders across the country (many of whom are women) Deborah shared her belief that everyone needs to be reminded of the opportunity they have to grow the pie and expand access. In her own words, “We can all be involved, we all face challenges, but only when we connect with each other do we see the power we have and understand what’s possible.” In her day-to-day work, Deborah tries to share those things with the people she knows have the capacity and resources to make an impact far and wide.
Pamela/Fran: During your time on the Council, what were the conversations around women’s business ownership like? What has changed since then and what has remained the same?
- Pamela Prince-Eason – The Council has been focused on the key inhibitors for women: access to capital, access to markets, and job creation and growth. Every year, this is looked at slightly differently. The Council will always be considering how the game is changing out there. Even between the COVID years and now, there have been substantially changes in how businesses run and deliver products and services. That is where the Council is at the moment, as Pamela sees it.
- Fran Pastore – As the leader of a WBC, she noted that things have changed drastically since the COVID-19 pandemic, with the number of women her center sees having quadrupled post-pandemic. Fran has also seen that the socioeconomic issues like PFML and childcare have become very big issues for women entrepreneurs. She shared that red tape and bureaucracy, when combined with a lack of access to care and leave, are all putting limitations on the contracts and capital women can access. To Fran, these barriers deserve greater attention and more recommendations for change, especially around overcoming the barriers and simplifying processes. She also mentioned that solving the childcare crisis could be a gamechanger. In Connecticut, her organization has become a key player in addressing childcare issues, having provided small infusions of capital to childcare providers and other microbusiness owners (mostly women of color). These efforts have had a significant impact, including by helping create exponential growth in sales, revenues, and hiring, and keeping businesses open and childcare slots available. In Fran’s opinion, the next steps for progress include breaking down silos in communities and states, bringing best practices together, and elevating them to the national level.
Deborah/Pamela: What is your favorite memory or proudest moment from your time on the Council?
- Deborah Rosado Shaw – Deborah noted that she fondly remembers the camaraderie, friendship, and the joy of working together with Council Members to achieve something bigger than they could have on their own. Alluding to the diversity of the Council, she shared that she strongly remembers how the Council approached dismantling barriers to entrepreneurship for women of color. One example included the Council’s previous research on Hispanic women entrepreneurs that distinguished the nuanced challenges that were specific to Latinas, and helped foster understanding of those challenges so that all could better support Latina founders.
- Pamela Prince-Eason – While Pamela did not have a specific moment to share, many of her favorite memories focus on the work that the Council does each and every day to create more awareness of the challenges women in business face. She mentioned how grateful she has been that the Council has uplifted lived experiences and research to tell the story and communicate the issues women face to a broader audience.
Jenny/Maria: What advice would you give a woman business owner, resource partner, or regular jane interested in supporting women’s entrepreneurship but unsure of how to do so?
- Jenny Poon – Jenny mentioned how scary being an entrepreneur can be when people are just starting out and do not know many other entrepreneurs. She advised those on the call to seek out resources offered by SBA as well as on a community/city level, such as WBCs, small business development centers or SCORE chapters. Though she believes more work can be done to coordinate all the resources available to entrepreneurs, she also noted how much more is available now compared to when she started, citing incubators and co-working spaces as examples. Jenny encouraged business owners to take that first step and ask what is available despite how intimidating it can be, since all of these resource partners are there to help. She also recommended reaching out to other women in business, since they have been very helpful in her own journey. Finally, Jenny stated that failure is a normal part of the process. While business ownership may look easy from the outside, every business face hurdles and hiccups and has been in the same place of starting up before.
- Maria Rios – Maria shared that the most important thing for business owners is finding their passion and understanding that pursuing it will take time. At the beginning, things may be rough and may involve long hours of work away from family, but in order to find success, Maria noted that networking is key. There are many organizations out there for women from WBENC to chambers of commerce, and many opportunities to find a network. She believes that it is vital to take advantage of opportunity to learn, get certified, get informed, and ask questions. Maria’s advice is to always be respectful of others’ time and to not be afraid to talk to successful people. She often encountered people who assumed she was there to get them coffee, but she used each of these moments to make a connection in her male-dominated field. As she put it, “Nothing is easy, but it is possible.”
Roberta/Fran: For the women business owners out there, although we are more of a policy office, we often connect with resource partners and elevate resources of value for women in business. With that in mind, what is an untapped resource women business owners might be missing? And for policymakers out there, what is an issue that deserves more attention?
- Roberta McCullough – WBCs are an invaluable resource, with 150+ centers across the country that are willing and able to assist. Having led a WBC herself, Roberta has found that women just want someone who can relate to their way of thinking, and who they can exchange ideas with, particularly with someone who looks like them and understands their plight. Most of her work was sitting and talking with people about their vision and where they wanted to be, along with sharing her perspective as a lender and other resources worth pursuing. From the policy perspective, Roberta noted that WBCs have not had a budget increase in the 35 years since they were established. Although WBCs get a maximum grant of $150,000 that is a 1-to-1 match, no other resource partners face the same requirement. Roberta is of the opinion that the maximum needs to be raised and the match requirement needs to be dropped, especially because centers having to serve as fundraisers limits their ability and time to support their clients.
- Fran Pastore – Fran wholeheartedly agreed and mentioned that WBC program was originally a pilot program which did not become permanent until later. She highlighted the fact that WBCs outside of urban areas struggle to survive on such a limited budget. Although she is in a state that is strongly supportive of her center’s work, she still has to raise millions of dollars per year to support her staff. Fran is opposed to a “one size fits all” approach to WBCs because each WBC supports a different community and may cover different geographic areas. She often encounters universities interested in starting a WBC on their campus and the first question she asks is, “what kind of budget are you working with?” They are usually unprepared or have not dedicated a budget to their pursuit, and as she sees it, “when you don’t have a budget, you’re not taking the issue seriously.” To Fran, if our nation is serious about advancing women’s entrepreneurship, while there may be a bevy of research, if funding is not there to meet the moment, efforts are hamstrung. She concluded by noting that the only way for these issues to be taken seriously and for funding to be made available is for women to be more represented in positions of leadership in D.C. and across the country.
Fran/Maria: If you could go back to just before you joined the Council and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?
- Maria Rios – Maria responded that she would tell other women to stick with it, because women like those on the Council are fighting the good fight to support entrepreneurship As she put it, “when it’s your time to become a champion for other women, do it.” Since her time on the Council, Maria has continued to fight to help women to get funding, educational opportunities and have their voices heard.
- Fran Pastore – Fran wished that she knew then what she knows now when it comes to the socioeconomic barriers women face related to entrepreneurship. If she could go back, she wishes that she had been able to elevate issues like childcare and PFML then so women would be further along today. Despite this, she believes that women must, “not give up, keep going, and celebrate every baby step along the way that help us move forward.”
All: Presidents, members of Congress, and SBA Administrators come and go, but this Council still remains. Why is it essential for women business owners to have a permanent voice in Congress, the White House, and the U.S. Small Business Administration?
- Pamela Prince-Eason – Pamela shared that she thinks there will always be challenges and barriers, and as every process changes, there needs to be a voice who calls the inequities out. This Council is well positioned to provide those insights to Congress, the White House and the SBA Administrator. There will always be a need for a voice and to Pamela, this Council is the best voice out there.
- Roberta McCullough – Roberta responded that unless/until parity is achieved, until the only thing that stands in the way of women is their own free will and determination to progress, the work of this Council as relates to Congress, the White House, and SBA must go on. She believes the Council must continue to echo the voices of those who are not being heard.
- Maria Rios – Maria added that it is essential for the voice of the Council to remain constant because as the number of women owned business rises, the revenue and funding they receive has not. Women must continue to fight for the opportunities they deserve and having consistency in the Council’s message and voices will help women move ahead.
- Deborah Rosado Shaw – Deborah often reminds leaders that, “the future isn’t sitting somewhere waiting to unfold, it’s in every word we speak and every interaction we have.” She remarked that “The Council’s job is to be the voice that challenges the status quo to bring about a future that will not happen on its own.” She added that as a country, the U.S. cannot afford to leave any unutilized potential on the table, and NWBC is a treasure trove of resources and insights that will determine what kind of future the next generation will inherit.
- Jenny Poon – Without this Council, decisionmakers will continue to live in a bubble, unable to hear all the experiences Council Members are bringing up on behalf of the thousands of businesses they collectively work with. The Council is a bridge to the activities on the ground and the legislative policies that are pushed forward. To Jenny, it is incredibly important that this voice continues to stay permanent for the people impacted by the Council’s work and future generations. Without this voice, men in power will continue making decisions based on what they wrongly assume women need. She believes that the Council must remain in place.
- Fran Pastore – NWBC is a lighthouse, a beacon of not just hope for the future, but a source of the valuable research and insights that will equitably shape that future. Fran too hopes for a day when the Council is not necessary, but it is right now, and she is glad that it is here to stay.
- Chair Ladjevardian wrapped up the panel by thanking participants for their time and shared this key takeaway for those in the audience: they are not alone. As she put it, “We have been in your footsteps and turned those footsteps into strides for progress. While we have stumbled occasionally along the way, we each have kept chasing the dream of equality for all. It is a marathon, not a sprint, and the only way we win this race is together.”
- She urged policymakers not to, “let the words of women business owners across the country fall on deaf ears.”
Closing Remarks – Tené Dolphin, NWBC Executive Director
- Executive Director Dolphin shared her thanks with panel participants both for their service on the Council and their continued dedication to supporting women in business.
- She closed by sharing her appreciation with audience members attending, inviting all to stay connected to the work of the Council.