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WASHINTON, D.C., March 9, 2020 – As part of its ‘#LetsTalkBusiness Roundtable Series,’ the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) held its first roundtable of the year in San Juan, Puerto Rico on February  27, 2020, at the Puerto Rico Convention Center, together with the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA). NWBC was joined by the Governor of Puerto Rico, Wanda Vázquez Garced, who delivered remarks on the state of women’s entrepreneurship on the Island.

NWBC Chair Liz Sara greeted the roundtable participants and attendees and thanked Governor Vázquez Garced for welcoming NWBC to the Island. Chair Sara then provided remarks on the importance of improving access to capital and opportunity for women entrepreneurs and business owners in Puerto Rico and across the country.

Governor Vázquez Garced underscored her administration’s commitment to strengthening economic conditions for women, emphasizing that “Puerto Rico is open for business” and that women business owners on the Island are key to helping revitalize and further strengthen the Puerto Rican economy.

Following the Governor’s remarks, Council Member Nicole Cober prompted the participants to share the impact that natural disasters—the 2017 hurricanes and recent earthquakes— have had on their businesses.

One female founder in the freight and transportation industry whose business provides global logistics solutions in Puerto Rico shared an emotional account of the widespread devastation experienced across the Island. “Everyone was at risk. Our whole island was at risk…. But the hurricane [Maria] created an incentive to push Puerto Rico forward.” Her company was in fact one of the first responders, creating a temperature-controlled warehouse to store medication and ensuring that medicine was getting to the most vulnerable—even in the most rural and remote areas of the island.

Another participant, a roofing manufacturer, noted that women business owners on the Island, and Puerto Rican women business owners on the mainland, were instrumental to helping provide immediate emergency services. She shared, “We were up and running just four days after the hurricane and brought together the business community. We visited communities across the Island and formed a ‘business emergency group.’”

Council Member Cober noted how important it is to support healthy ecosystems in the post-recovery phase as women-owned small businesses are instrumental to helping save and ensure the continuity of a stronger Puerto Rican economy. She then directed the discussion to the topic of financial education, asking, “How does Puerto Rico institutionalize financial literacy and education in K-12 grades and at the university, if at all?”

A bed-and-breakfast business owner with businesses in Maryland and Puerto Rico stated, “This is not just a problem in Puerto Rico. This is a nation-wide problem. Entrepreneurs often don’t understand that the extension of business credit is based upon an individual’s personal credit.” She continued, “Most kids today graduate from high school and don’t even know or understand what a credit score is; and although women make 75% of all buying decisions, many don’t often have an understanding of the fundamentals of financial literacy.”

Jennifer Storipan, Executive Director of PRFAA, noted that the Governor “is committed to institutionalizing financial education through an ‘Institute of Financial Education’”. She added that Puerto Rico is exploring best practices by taking an interdisciplinary approach—incorporating financial literacy curriculums across Math and Social Studies academic disciplines.

Yvette T. Collazo, the SBA’s Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands District Director, noted the fact that all financial institutions, including credit unions, are certified in Puerto Rico. However, a challenge is that credit unions “are set up to provide personal but not commercial loans.” She also recommended to new start-ups that “while you need to think big, you need to start small, and for that reason microlending is key in Puerto Rico.”

District Director Collazo also noted how important STEM businesses were to the economy in Puerto Rico. Last year, the SBIR Road Tour made a pit stop on the Island for the first time in its history. Similarly, the SBA’s Emerging Leaders program was recently brought to Puerto Rico, a telltale sign of the economic and entrepreneurial potential on the Island.

Council Member Barbara Kniff-McCulla noted how the business community in her Iowa hometown chose to invest in STEM education. “In Pella, working with local manufacturers through a public-private partnership, we put in a STEM program in Central College. So, I would recommend that you look to local businesses to put money into your [education] program[s] because these are the businesses that will be hiring these students in the future.” She then asked the business owners to share some of the initial steps they took in looking for capital to start their business.

Another female lender—certified as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) by the U.S. Treasury and certified by the SBA as a 504 Development Company Loan Program—noted that her organization created an ‘entrepreneurs academy’ and added a childcare component for academy participants free of charge.

A National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) Board Member and business owner in the emergency medical services field also noted, “Because of my relationship with NAWBO, I’ve been supported and provided with mentorship. And today, we work with young ladies to provide them guidance and financial literacy.”

A Chicago-based lawyer/entrepreneur also reiterated, “Mentorship is great, but it’s not just mentorship. Women need sponsorship. Don’t just talk to women about how to do it, take her with you and walk her through the door.”

NWBC Council Member Rebecca Hamilton then asked the roundtable participants to share some of the primary drivers and top financial factors informing their decision whether to fund a prospective investment.

The head of an NGO in Puerto Rico stated that when considering funding an enterprise, their organization looks to certain criteria, which include ensuring: 1) there are at least two individuals tied to the project; 2) they have conducted a market study for their product or service; and 3) they commit to completing a curriculum and its required hours. Only after completing the curriculum do they get the funding.

A health tech female CEO also shared a gripping story that spanned from pitching her health tech start-up while five months pregnant to winning ‘Rise of the Rest Competition’ to raising $3 million for her enterprise with local capital. “I went through a whole acceleration process. Today, we are a woman-owned company with twenty-seven employees.” She shared that the road is not easy and that “you just have to get out there” and find opportunities to “expose your companies to Angel Investors.”

Council Member Cober wrapped up the roundtable discussion and reiterated the NWBC’s commitment to employ the feedback received as a springboard for the Council’s policy recommendations to Congress, the President, and the Administrator of the Small Business Administration. The Council appreciates the participation from diverse business owners and stakeholders in Puerto Rico.

For more information about upcoming events, please visit the NWBC website.

As part of NWBC’s #LetsTalkBusiness Roundtable Series, the Rural Women’s Entrepreneurship Subcommittee hosted a virtual roundtable on May 27, 2020, to explore the far-reaching impact of childcare availability and affordability, particularly barriers posed for women business owners and entrepreneurs.

NWBC Chair Liz Sara opened the conversation with an overview of the Council’s mission and its key focus areas. She then passed the torch to Council Member and Subcommittee Chair Jess Flynn, who shared the successes of the 2019 Women in Small Business Series and the insights received during discussions in Nampa, ID and Pella, IA. She noted the detriments of childcare deserts in both areas, which drove high rates of necessity entrepreneurship and crippling workforce shortages for local employers.

Council Member Rebecca Hamilton then shared some perspectives from Badger, her organic skincare products company based in Gilsum, NH. Her largely female manufacturing team benefits from an on-site childcare center that Hamilton says is worthwhile to support her team but not financially sustainable in the long run without support from the government.

A representative from an Iowa-based manufacturing company also operating its own childcare and early education center explained how the business filled a local void for those hesitant to utilize home-based care facilities. The firm eventually received a state grant and interest free loan due to their community investment, but growth is still a challenge due to shortages in staff and teacher recruitment. Council Member Barb Kniff McCulla noted that Iowa loses $153 million annually in tax revenue due to a lack of childcare and that 69% of parents rely on family members for childcare. She stressed a need to identify local best practices and make them available to other states.

The founder and president of a Michigan-based childcare facility highlighted the exorbitant costs to operate and pointed to real estate and heavy regulatory burdens as the biggest drivers. Parents and families are then faced with skyrocketing prices. The head of a digital talent marketplace noted that the burden to secure childcare sits largely with moms and lamented that many will barely break even after footing the bill and must make the difficult decision to exit the workforce.

Dr. Laurie Todd-Smith, Director of the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau underscored the scope of the issue noting that there are 24 million workers with school age children and 17.5 million workers with children under the age of six. She shared several federal initiatives including a database with the cost of childcare by county and efforts to tweak regulations that hinder employer’s ability to offer childcare benefits.

Multiple participants expressed concerns about the childcare industry’s resiliency after the COVID-19 pandemic and reiterated a need for holistic solutions involving state and federal government, community businesses, and parents.

The feedback received during this discussion will serve as a springboard for the Council’s FY 2020 policy recommendations to Congress, the President, and the Administrator of the Small Business Administration. NWBC thanks all participants for their open and honest candor.

Women’s Inclusion in STEM Entrepreneurship & Patenting and Trademark

The National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) held a ‘Let’s Talk Business’ Women in STEM virtual roundtable on July 28, 2020. NWBC Chair Liz Sara provided an overview of NWBC’s 2020 policy priorities and introduced the roundtable moderator, ‘Women in STEM’ subcommittee member Sandra (Sandy) Robert, CEO of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS). Ms. Sara and Ms. Roberts were also joined by Council Members Maria Rios, Barb Kniff McCulla, and the members of the ‘Women in STEM’ subcommittee—Dr. Susan Duffy, Dr. Marsha Firestone, and Subcommittee Chair Monica Stynchula.

More than 30 participants joined the STEM roundtable discussion representing women entrepreneurs and business owners, patent holders, government representatives, as well as other ecosystem builders in STEM. The group discussion focused on approaches to boosting female STEM entrepreneurship and women’s inclusion and participation in the patenting and trademark process. Overall, a variety of issues surfaced during the discussion including:

Sandy Robert opened the roundtable discussion by first noting the importance of recognizing the unique challenges faced by women innovators and entrepreneurs as they now look to reimagining their enterprise and pivoting in the current COVID-19 environment. Ms. Robert also emphasized the impact and significance of the current national conversation around achieving greater racial equity and inclusion—key focus areas for her own organization—AWIS. She called for more underrepresented populations to have a seat at the table.

In her opening remarks, Ms. Robert also underscored the realities that most professional and entrepreneurial women face—bearing most of the burden of balancing household, childrearing, elderly care, work and/or business management responsibilities. She noted that about 79% percent of AWIS members hold advanced degrees, 66% of AWIS members are at the mid-senior career level, and that while it is general common knowledge that female talent is out there, many organizations continue to struggle in recruiting and retaining more women.

Ms. Robert went on to underscore that certain cultural issues, gender-based bias, and even racism comprise just some of the unique barriers women and communities of color continue to face in work, business, and particularly in the STEM fields and innovation ecosystems. “Women have their expertise questioned much more frequently than men,” said Robert.

She also asked the group to really think about ‘levers of change’ that can be utilized to engage investors and ‘white professional males’ in STEM as well as reconsider the definition of STEM to effectuate positive change. Additionally, she asked the group to bring forth their thoughts and ideas of how to effectively engage more women so that they understand that career and business paths “don’t have to be so linear—that it is okay to have stops and starts.”

“Think about the problems you want to solve and the issues that need to be addressed… so let me start by asking the business owners in the group to describe your own journey to starting and growing a business? What barriers did you face and how did you overcome them?”

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Rebecca Contreras*, former NWBC Council Member, a patent holder, and CEO of an 8a and women-owned small business firm offering a “one stop shop” for complex organizational, human capital, and technology needs underscored the importance of women focusing on diversifying, expanding, and redefining their capabilities.

“I have been in the human resources field for years and came up with a software idea to solve complex workforce problems. My partner is a developer, but I never considered myself STEM-focused and had to really stand up for myself just to own my idea and co-patent it,” she said. “But you know, it takes a strong, bold personality to fight and wrestle with an equally strong, male-dominated IT culture to legally own your ideas. And there is a heavy monetary expense, which really just involves hiring the best lawyer. I didn’t have the tech background, but it was my workforce solution idea in the end, and so I hired the best to defend it,” she continued.

She also noted that whatever a woman’s expertise is, that expertise matters. And while there is a lot educational resources and intel “out there” to guide women on how to patent an idea, the cost is prohibitive to most, so making more grants available to women who cannot afford the high costs of patenting could be helpful. “The cost wound up being double of what I had planned—about $12,000—and our patent runway was about two and a half years.”

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“I never thought of my company as STEM, but it is Ed-Tech,” noted a virtual reality game developer and founder of a media company “offering an ‘edutaining-inspiring’ (education/entertainment) mobile application platform for young girls of color ages five to nine” which provides them with “access to content and characters that they can see themselves in.” The company products include virtual reality story books, games, and animation.

She shared that she holds two degrees in criminal justice and marketing. “My background is project management and digital strategy and I have to align myself with all these different acronyms just to fit in,” she shared and also opined that STEM-related products and services fit squarely within the realm of marketing. “They work hand in hand. My first business was a marketing place for African Americans to celebrate their weddings. I raised my funds through pitch competitions. I also attempted crowdfunding and got a little traction, but not as much as I hoped,” she continued.

She also retold what she described as a “horrific” personal experience “going through the SBIR circuit”—getting contradictory feedback from different program managers, and being asked to resubmit a proposal that had been initially deemed innovative but was ultimately rejected.

“There is a lack of diversity for animation and games based on my market research, so I submitted a pitch for ‘GeoQuest’ through the National Science Foundation (NSF),” she said and punctuated only 0.3% of NSF funding goes to African American women.

“My project pitch was accepted in 3 days. I tapped into the listed resources in New York City that did not actually exist,” she said. “Look, I’m an innovator and developer, and what I needed help with was writing the proposal. I finally found organizations to assist me, but I was up against the deadline after all this time and having surgery. Someone finally helped with my SAMS form, but because the program managers switched I was asked to resubmit and I was rejected because the last manager said my proposal was not innovative, even though all the others had said it was,” she continued. This participant concluded her remarks by noting that ‘Phase Zero’ assistance is not readily available to adjunct professors.

Overall, she noted a lack of standardization surrounding the expectations for SBIR applications. Stage zero was not available in New York and assistance is not currently available outside our colleges and university.

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The President and CEO of a group of three niche workforce development firms for scientific and technical professionals in the Pharmaceutical, Medical Device, Biologics, Diagnostics and Biotech industries shared that it took her 11 years to be “accepted” by her society of professionals. “My background is in linguistic archeology—my masters is in corporate communications. The last 5 years I have devoted to STEM apprentices, the majority of whom [over 50%] are women. I pivoted in my careers to build apprenticeships for biotech and food safety. I saw the opportunity to help newer graduates, returning mothers, and young veterans,” she said.

This roundtable participant shared how she led the creation of a food safety training academy mandated by a new set of laws with the aid of a federal grant program. “We received a grant to get the program going and we are looking at more,” she said and highlighted the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) ‘Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations’ (WANTO) grants, which help “recruit, train, and retain more women in quality pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs, and encourages them to pursue apprenticeships and non-traditional occupations (NTOs).”

“My company is qualified for this grant because of the work that we do, but the DOL gives you less than a month to apply for it. Most do not have the money to hire a grant writer. You need to have the money and know it will take at least 60 days.” She added, “I never thought I would take federal money until I started this program.” She concluded by noting the challenges that women must overcome in terms of finding and applying for funding. “Here we are with a mission to solve it, but you cannot get to the resources. We are reality. We are not Washington.”

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A founder and CEO of a software development and technology company with a background in software and weapons systems engineering shared her experiences in her field, which includes digital transformation, system of systems engineering, large-scale IT implementations, and inter-agency collaboration technology initiatives.

“My background is in systems engineering. I worked with large scale combat systems in the DOD. About a year ago, we launched a software and technology company. We do federal services software work,” she shared.

She shared that her role models were men growing up in a STEM environment. And she also suggested that women carry much of the domestic responsibilities at home and noted how the current pandemic has interestingly disrupted the culture in these industries for the better.

“I believe that what we are going through has been one of the greatest things that could happen, in a sense. One of the biggest barriers to entry was the idea that you want to be there for your family, and you recognize that this requires flexibility. There is a misconception that these careers are incompatible with what we want to do at home and now we see that it is possible to build in some flexibility.”

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Council Member and Executive Director of the Babson College Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (CWEL) Dr. Susan Duffy emphasized the need to identify models of information-sharing, avenues for accessing funding, and programs that help more women from diverse backgrounds patent and commercialize their ideas. She then asked the group to share their thoughts on some of the specific challenges the participants’ have faced in patenting and commercializing their ideas.

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The founder and CEO at a renewable energy innovator and integrator with projects that range from solar integration for fast charging microgrids to smart city LED lighting with gunshot detection and camera surveillance, shared that she fell into her line of work somewhat accidentally. “This is the first time I have thought of my company as being STEM. I am an industrial psychologist and have a master’s in liberal arts but worked in the basement with my dad building automated equipment.” She continued, “in school, they wanted me to be a librarian. Back in the day, they funneled us towards secretarial positions.”

She too shared similar experiences of working hard and investing considerable amounts of money to ensure she had the right to own her idea. “I co-patented a gunshot detector. It all started like a traditional bar conversation, putting ideas on a napkin. There were engineers on the gunshot side, and I was on the LED side. We went through the process and the attorney fees.” She then emphasized, “they didn’t want me on even though I had the idea and paid for the fees and equipment.” She suggested women not overlook the potential for a cross-pollination of ideas: “it helps you come up with tremendous potential for the expansion of your business.”

She concluded by sharing that she is now looking to start a STEM course because “more and more, the younger girls are getting more excited about STEM careers.”

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The owner of a company specializing in organic design, build-to-print and build-to-spec poser solutions from power supplies to testing equipment and ancillary equipment also shared her experiences and perspectives. “I started out as a STEM graduate. I have my bachelor’s and doctorate in chemistry. Along the way, I started a manufacturing company. I have run this company for 23 years.”

She noted that STEM is a relatively new term and that girls sometimes turn off from that sort of terminology, suggesting an alternative approach to addressing educational, work, and entrepreneurial pipeline issues is to appeal to women’s and girls’ interests – because part of the problem is the word ‘STEM.’ “STEM was a word that came around long after I was in the sciences. People, especially girls, turn off from those words. So, I never thought about it that way. I just thought: What were my interests?”

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An aerial pilot and co-inventor on 16 patents on aerial and smartphone technology who also serves as vice president of a credit union shared: “We consider ourselves a tech company with the heart of a credit union… [and] we are very supportive of women in enterprise innovation.”

With respect to her experiences in patenting her ideas, she added: “I had a supportive journey. We had patent attorneys that worked with us who helped format our ideas.”

She further shared that she was greatly influenced by her father and brothers who were in STEM, also noting that there were not many female role models influencing her as a STEM innovator and entrepreneur. “I hold pretty much all ratings as a pilot. I pivoted that career after 9/11 and turned it into an innovation career.” She further suggested that there should be improved or concerted efforts to promote more women in STEM and in innovation generally.

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A regional economic specialist representing a center for regional economic advancement at a major university responsible for producing data-driven research on economic development in Upstate New York also participated in the conversation. She explained how her program’s work is centered on advancing entrepreneurial programs that connect entrepreneurs with grant capital and development opportunities.

She noted that her program “helps STEM women commercialize their innovations and overcome challenges of leading a growing technology-based business” by combining a curriculum with guided entrepreneurship. There is also an entrepreneurship fund with a grant component.

“We had about 40 women participate this year. Many are at the very early stage [of innovation]. For example, one inventor we talked to is a mother of three.” She noted the main issues they are seeing as barriers for women include the cost involved and “just not understanding the process at all.” Through the fund, grantees are provided with $5000 to support them in the commercialization process. The mother of three she cited in her example used her grant to cover attorney fees.

This participant echoed the importance of helping women overcome barriers that are currently preventing them from fully contributing their talent and ideas to the economy. She emphasized:

“The isocratic and bureaucratic nature of the process is intimidating.”

She too raised the significant cost of childcare inhibiting women’s ability to cover the high costs of patenting and commercialization of their ideas. Ultimately, the burden of childcare is born by women, only. This presents a strict barrier to innovation.

She also shared that her university has a $5,000 grant for inventors, the grant can be used to pay for initial attorney’s fees for applying for a patent.

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The first roundtable participant to speak and a former NWBC Council Member was recently awarded a patent. She spoke again, emphasizing: “make sure you have the right attorney.”

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Council Member Dr. Marsha Firestone who is the president and founder of the Women’s Presidents’ Organization (WPO)—a peer advisory group for women who own and lead multimillion dollar businesses noted—shared “we are a business education group with 142 chapters worldwide and take a tech approach to providing information of various aspects of a business.”

She noted the importance of networking and platforms that catalyze information-sharing. “Many of our members of our community are tech savvy, one of which is a participant of today’s roundtable… Many of the discussions [at WPO] are not only about providing expertise for development. Members share and learn from each other,” she added.

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A participant who is in the process of getting a patent noted that her greatest barrier was finding investors to help fund her idea, after having mostly bootstrapped to develop her idea. “I have a patent pending. It started with a vision as a young girl after having to administer medication to my father since the age of 10 (she is now 40). This is a challenge because it is a medical device and the cost of patenting is so high. Everything I have done or funded is all me.”

She added: “To keep moving forward is a challenge with the patent pending. I am struggling to find the perfect partner or investor that know manufacturing and research. I used up all my savings on this.”

She also noted looking into SBIR but deciding on keeping her focus and own investment of capital on looking for a partner or other investor and caring for her three children.

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Council Member Barbara Kniff-McCulla who is the owner and CEO of KLK Construction in Pella, Iowa—a contractor in the telecommunications industry—noted that access to broadband and childcare are some of the most significant issues women are dealing with in the U.S. “In Iowa, we are involved in addressing structural childcare deficits. Our governor started a ‘2020 Childcare Challenge Fund’—a matching grant program working with private entities and the public sector.”

“Iowa is missing out on 670 million annual GDP… [so] this childcare piece of the puzzle needs to be resolved,” she continued.

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Kim Alton, Deputy Director of the Office of Governmental Affairs and Oversight at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) also joined the discussion. “Our country is missing out if we are not including everyone from different segments of society who have ideas,” she said.

She emphasized USPTO’s commitment to ensuring that women and minority communities have the information and resources that lead to commercialization success. “Within the past year, we have posted an ‘Are you new to IP?’ button —an interactive map to see what is available in your state.”

Deputy Director Alton also shared that from August 20th through the 22nd the agency would be hosting ‘InventionCON’—an event targeting independent inventors and entrepreneurs. She also announced a new upcoming report with updated data on issued patents starting in 2016 and going through 2017 and 2019. Additionally, in September 2020 the USPTO Director will be launching the ‘National Council for Expanding American Innovation’, which will focus on developing a strategy that includes voices from across industry and academia, as well as the public and private sectors.

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“There is capital out there,” said a fragrance company founder and east coast chapter president of the National Association of Women’s Business Owners (NAWBO). “[But] the percentage of women that get venture capital is incredibly small. The percentage for women of color is even less,” she continued noting that there is a ‘systemic problem’ out there that does not support women in business.

“I was told by three attorneys that my product was not patentable. The average cost is between $10,000 and $20,000 just to get a patent. If it goes to court, then you just put a lot more zeros on the end of that to defend your patent!” The fact that women run the house, and raise the children, is unrecognized.

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Council Member and CEO and Founder of the REUNIONCare, Inc. emphasized the importance of recognizing certain skills as ‘hard’ rather than ‘soft’ skills. “Many women entrepreneurs are doing this as a second career and assume they cannot manage. There are a lot of skills that are organic to the way we live that need to be recognized as hard skills that will take us a long way.”

She also noted that there is more participation by women in certain industries, like healthcare. “Healthcare is a different animal because the majority are women. It is not the same for other fields.”

And, recognizing the experience of one roundtable participant, she opined on the SBIR program that “a lack of standardization on expectations can leave you subject to a whim.”

She helped close out the discussion by emphasizing the importance of tapping into women and girls’ passion to make the world a better place. “Women and girls want to solve real problems. They ask themselves, ‘How do I make something better?’”

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*To facilitate candid and engaging conversations, the names and companies of roundtable participants are not disclosed. Exceptions are made for former Council Members who approve release of their identity. Current Council Members’ and government officials’ names are also disclosed.

Virtual Roundtable | May 5, 2021

Focus of Discussion

WOSB Certification Requirements & Participation in Federal Government Contracting

On May 5th 2021, NWBC convened women business owners and entrepreneurs, government officials, resource partners, and other key stakeholders to address certification requirements and to hear their perspectives on the WOSB federal contracting program. Ensuring WOSBs have greater, more equitable access to federal contracting opportunities, including set-asides and sole source awards, remains a top priority for the Council.

NWBC’s #LetsTalkBusiness roundtable discussions help serve as a springboard for the Council’s annual policy recommendations. This event was closed to press. Business owners’ and external stakeholders’ names were kept anonymous to ensure an open and robust discussion.

Access to Capital and Opportunity Subcommittee Co-chair Pam Prince-Eason, the current CEO of the Women’s Business Enterprise Council (WBENC), served as the principal moderator of this virtual roundtable. Pam was joined by fellow subcommittee members Maria Rios, Nicole Cober, and NWBC Chair Liz Sara. Council Member Barb Kniff McCulla, who currently serves on the Council’s Rural Women’s Entrepreneurship Subcommittee, also attended the virtual roundtable.

Additionally, SBA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Women’s Business Ownership (OWBO) Natalie Madeira Cofield delivered pre-recorded opening remarks. Other key SBA officials joined the roundtable discussion as well, including: Deputy Assistant Administrator for OWBO Donald Malcolm Smith, Deputy Director for the Office of Government Contracting and Business Development Thomas (Tom) McGrath, and Supervisory Business Opportunity Specialist for OGCBD Alisa Sheard.

Summary of Key Takeaways

  • In addition to more education of key agency staff on WOSB set-asides and sole source awards, there needs to be some sort of incentive or consequence for noncompliance.
  • Some WOSBs find the certification process and website cumbersome, while others found the new website quite easy to navigate.
  • More clarity and guidance on WOSB award protests should be made available on SBA’s website.
  • Expand the certification time period.
  • Rather than raising the WOSB contracting goal above the current 5%, there should be more attention placed on increasing confidence in how the government arrives at that number.
  • The WOSB federal contracting program is not as robust as other comparable contracting programs. Also, the federal government needs to start asking whether bigger businesses are really meeting all their socioeconomic goals.
  • There must be greater education of contracting officer representatives (CORs) about the program and how to utilize it.
  • One of the most challenging steps is writing the winning proposal.
  • Overall, the option to sole source awards to WOSBs is not leveraged enough. There are not enough RFPs (Requests for Proposals) being put out that way.
  • Demonstrating past performance could be a potential barrier, making it difficult for more WOSBs to compete for awards.
  • The federal government needs more acquisition professionals with sufficient expertise on sole source contracting. Resources are limited with respect to expanding outreach efforts. Legislative action would probably be required to change the program.
  • Many women business owners operate within unique social constructs and time constraints. Federal forecasting schedules could prove useful in helping to cast a wider net of WOSBs.
  • Matchmaking does not work well or produce results for every WOSB.
  • Agency staff face resource and funding limitations, but there is a strong focus on getting more WOSBs into the process. A new NAICS Code Study is also close to completion.
  • An agency official underscored the importance of better educating buyers at federal agencies and contacting the OSDBU (Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization) as a contract requirement is being written.
  • A third-party certifier suggested that a central depository of information targeted to diverse audiences in multiple languages would be helpful.

Overview of NWBC

NWBC Chair Liz Sara

Chair Liz Sara opened the meeting by commenting on the Council’s ongoing priorities. She emphasized the importance the Council has placed on raising awareness and advocating for greater inclusion and participation of women entrepreneurs and business owners in high-growth, high-revenue industries such as those in the STEM fields where women have been traditionally underrepresented. Liz also commented that many women-owned businesses are often local, neighborhood service providers and that investors are typically more interested in funding high-growth industries. She also noted that in addition to encouraging more women into high-revenue industries, the Council’s Access to Capital and Opportunity Subcommittee remains focused on increasing federal government contracting awards to women-owned small businesses (WOSBs) and economically disadvantaged women-owned small businesses (EDWOSBs). “Education of contracting officers is only going to take us so far. There needs to be some sort of motivation, award, or consequence for noncompliance.

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Opening Remarks

Natalie Cofield, Assistant Administrator for OWBO, SBA

Administrator Cofield shared the Biden Administration and U.S. Small Business Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman’s priorities to help fuel an economic recovery and support small businesses, particularly traditionally underserved business owners, including women and minorities. She also provided roundtable participants with a broad overview of OWBO’s Women’s Business Center (WBC) program.

Ms. Cofield shared OWBO currently funds 135 WBCs across the country. “We are proud to have the largest expansion of the network in the history of the SBA … We are also funding nearly $70 million to support core grants, as well as COVID relief for WBCs to provide critical assistance.

She also highlighted available pandemic relief available through the SBA. “I encourage all to learn more about the EIDL loan program where limits have been increased from $150.000 to 500,000. Visit us at SBA.gov … [and] thank you NWBC for all you do to serve as a voice for women entrepreneurs in Congress and across the Administration.”

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Open Discussion

Q&A Led by Council Member Pam Prince-Eason

Principal Moderator Pam Prince-Eason opened the discussion by asking roundtable participants to opine on when a business is well-positioned and ready to certify. She specifically asked participants to share any challenges related to navigating the certification process. Pam also asked business owners who previously self-certified about their personal experiences with the recertification process.

***

CEO of a WOSB LLC specializing in technology-enabled services geared toward the federal and commercial sectors

Referencing the 5% WOSB contracting goal, this CEO noted, “The first 10 years of my journey, we never really saw anything for women-owned businesses.” She remarked on her own experiences sharing that from her perspective, the certification process “can get complicated” and advised that rather than losing valuable time, it may be worthwhile hiring a consultant who can shepherd a WOSB through the process. 

She also noted that self-certification was easier and that there is a lack of clarity with respect to what can trigger a legitimate protest. “I had an $18 million contract. Some protested and said my business was not really woman-owned… There was a lack of clarity on the SBA website as to whether the board could be all male, even if a woman is a majority owner. Even today there are lots of grey areas… I must have spent thousands of dollars and over a month of time with my senior staff.”

She also shared that the “shortest path to entry is to team with a larger company” because the business is positioned to “inherit its past performance.” Finally, she noted the significance of relationships and limitations on many women’s time who often shoulder the brunt of caretaking and childrearing responsibilities. “We all know that deals get closed over wine, drink, and dinner. We know that women are also the caretakers.” In short, she suggested that more set asides for women might encourage more established or larger businesses to reach out to WOSBs for teaming opportunities. She also emphasized the importance of educating everyone—all agency staff—from the top down to help more WOSBs access federal contracting opportunities.

***

A CEO of a local Grand Rapids supply chain management and warehouse supply company

This WOSB CEO offered a different perspective. “I had no trouble. We were already WBENC certified. I found the process intuitive and clear. I had my certification in about five weeks total.” She also praised individual members of SBA’s Office of Government Contracting (OGC) staff.

This roundtable participant also shared that she did not in fact encourage hiring consultants, particularly if a WOSB is already WBENC certified. She emphasized that the WOSB program is “not an act of charity” and that rather than raising the goal above the current 5%, the way that percentage is calculated should be examined more closely so that there is greater confidence as to how the agency arrives at that number. “We need to say we have confidence in that number. That is more important than raising the goal.”

***

President and CEO of an information technology company, Air Force veteran, and women veteran advocate

This executive described the certification process as “easy”. However, she noted: “I am also service-disabled veteran owned certified. Despite already being an 8a and self-certified woman-owned business, it still took 90 days. That was the part I did not understand.”

(This participant commented again on the set-aside and sole source awards. See below.)

***

A CEO of a Native American, third-party verified WOSB, management and technical services company

This business is a Native American women-owned business and recommended for the government to consider extending the certification period for WOSBs. She also raised whether it might be possible to consider one unified “process and cost structure” for third party certifiers to help level the playing field. “Your certification lasts for a certain period of time—you have to do it every year. One of the things that may be helpful is to expand that time period.”

She also suggested that there must be greater education of contracting officer representatives (CORs) about the program and how to utilize it. “We mentor a lot of other women-owned businesses. One of the things we find challenging is the education that needs to occur with CORs. One of the things we get is, once 8a, always 8a. There needs to be a more enhanced understanding amongst the CORs about the fact that we continue to serve. Part of success is growth. You find that it works against you when trying to go with the WOSB certification.”

***

Council Member Maria Rios

Co-moderator and Council Member Maria Rios asked a series of follow-up questions on the topic of bidding successfully and landing a contract. “How can women truly compete with larger or public companies that can afford to bid on a contract for far less? What were some of the challenges you faced in winning that first government contract? Specifically, what resources and tactics have you leveraged to overcome these challenges? Have you ever entered into a teaming agreement or joint venture?”

***

President of a company that focuses on providing role playing services to the federal government

This roundtable participant shared the challenges associated with writing a winning proposal. “The most difficult part is not doing the work, it’s not preparing to do the work, its being able to write the winning proposal.”

She was also interested to know whether the new certification requirements would “weed out” businesses that are not truly woman-owned and further impact the 5% WOSB federal contracting goal. “I wonder how many there truly are. I wonder if the percentage will truly be 5%. I am always for raising the goal.”

Finally, she emphasized that while it is possible to sole source an award to a WOSB, it is not really being leveraged enough. “We were fortunate to win a WOSB award as a prime. It is pitiful to see the number of RFPs they put out that way.” She emphasized the lack of parity with other like programs. “You can sole source an award to a WOSB, [but] I am not seeing that used anywhere. If it is not being used, there is no parity.”

Ms. Rios generally agreed that improvements should be explored and make the website “much easier to use,” otherwise it “would not be cost effective” to try to win the contract for some business owners.

***

President and CEO of an information technology company, Air Force veteran, and women veteran advocate

This roundtable participant opined that startup businesses just simply cannot compete. “I was a director at EXIM I have a lot of experience in this space. The only way you can truly compete is by understanding how and having the ability to write those proposals and how to price your proposal. You also have to have client intimacy.”

She also underscored that demonstrating past performance could be a potential barrier, making it difficult for more WOSBs to compete. “How do we create vehicles and opportunities for us to compete in our own environment? We represent 50% of the country. We should have 50% of the business. We are only 40% of the current businesses. Equal opportunity is the bedrock of American democracy. Our diversity is our greatest strength. That fact alone should say we need more WOSBs.”

She continued by noting that research shows that supporting more female entrepreneurs helps bolster national economies. “There are studies that say the world needs to support the development of women entrepreneurs. When women gain access to their own financial freedom, they are lifted out of poverty. This is not us just asking for more business. This is us saying, this would benefit the whole country.”

Most notably, she underscored the WOSB federal contracting program is not as robust as other contracting programs.  “There is a lack of teeth in the program–a lack in ensuring that those larger businesses meet their small business goals.” In short, the federal government needs to ask whether those bigger businesses really have met all their socioeconomic goals. “There should be more teeth with respect to measuring that participation from the beginning to the end of the contract… It’s what you measure and reward that actually gets it done.”

***

Alisa Sheard, Supervisory Business Specialist Opportunity Specialist, Office of Contract Assistance

Ms. Sheard provided feedback. “We do not have a WOSB contracting vehicle out there. I hear the feedback. Is there an opportunity to create an entryway for WOSBs and any other startup?”

She also noted that firms are not required to do a full documentation recertification annually. That recertification is only every three years. The annual is a much smaller, abbreviated process, simply addressing whether anything critical changed. “If not, you should be good to go.”

Ms. Sheard commented that procurement center representatives are sitting at the table during acquisitions. She acknowledged it would be beneficial to have more acquisition professionals with more knowledge or expertise on sole source contracting. “The problem is not necessarily just the sole source methodology—it may more so be outreach and awareness. [However], there is a resource limit as far as availability to expand outreach and awareness. Legislative action would be required to change the program. It was not written with the same criteria and execution as the 8a program.”

Ms. Sheard noted that the agency does not just look at the dollars awarded but also the actual number of contracts awarded. This can be evaluated against the available pool of women business owners. This could be a critical piece that has not been explored before. “Maybe there is a separate goal we can attach to using the set-aside categories. This could give teeth to the OSBDUs to encourage the use of these businesses.”

***

CEO of a writing services consulting firm

This business owner shared that there are many ways to get past performance that many small businesses may not be aware of. She noted relationship-building to get those letters of support and MOUs (memorandum of understanding). “You can show you have people that support your services… Past performance can start at the local or state level or on a subcontract.”

She went on to share information about her business’ core capabilities. “Not everybody that is a great executive, or a great leader, is a great writer. There is an art to it. We provide those services.”

She also provided an example of how bigger companies sometimes leverage WOSBs for a bid but sometimes never follow-up with the WOSB. “We got a multimillion-dollar contract and now we are going on year four, and we have not heard from them on that front. We have other business, but it is interesting to see how the accountability for the prime contractor is not there. Verifying credibility [is important] and making sure they are actually using those small businesses.”

***

CEO of a food and beverage supply company

This roundtable participant also called attention to the unique social constructs and time constraints in which many female business owners operate. She went on to share: “We act as a vehicle for small producers entering these larger federal procurement systems. A lot of what is being discussed is calling attention to building social capital.”

She also raised the possibility of third party certifiers, pre-vetting certain opportunities and funneling those by putting out forecasting schedules. “Time is something that lots of us do not have on our side.” By being more aware of potential opportunities, more women business owners “can come to the table with our beautiful proposals and past performance.”

***

Council Member Nicole Cober

Co-moderator Nicole Cober addressed the issue of goal setting for the WOSB federal contracting program. “For the second time in the last seven years, women-owned small businesses exceeded the federal government’s 5% goal by achieving 5.19% of all prime and subcontracting dollars. In your opinion, is there an arguable benefit to raising the federal government’s 5% contracting goal for award dollars to WOSBs?”

She also asked for specific recommendations to strengthen and improve WOSB/EDWOSB federal government contracting opportunities and spur better engagement from agency contracting officers.

***

Chair Liz Sara

Liz Sara also addressed this issue with the women business owners. “Is there any need for fixes or any improvements that should be made to the WOSB program and contractor experience?”

***

President and CEO and an expert in CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration), PMO (Project Management Office) and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) services. [Wendy Romeu]

This participant shared that matchmaking is not a tool that has worked for this business. “I am a younger WOSB. We are going through the process of subcontracting to ‘Bigs’ to get that past performance… The match making has not worked for us. This goes back to having funds to participate in everything that is available.”

She also shared, “I am also an 8a. Thank you to SBA for extending the program for one year. We are starting to see success with OTAs” (Other Transaction Authority, 10 U.S.C. 2371b).

***

CEO of an interactive software company and a leader in the educational software and serious games industry

“We have been a WOSB for 25 years. I loved the suggestion earlier that perhaps we do not have to recertify every year. There should be a more streamlined process.”

This participant also noted that while you can sole-source to a WOSB, she had not personally seen it. “There should be something for WOSBs that are not certified in other categories.”

***

Thomas (Tom) McGrath, Deputy Director, Government Contracting Business Development (GCBD), SBA

Tom McGrath is responsible for certification of women owned and economically disadvantaged women owned small businesses to compete for contracting opportunities under the set-aside acquisition programs. He underscored the importance of ensuring the program supports legitimate women-owned businesses while pushing out any individuals trying to take advantage of the program. “We want to get more WOSBs into the process. We think the process is fair and reasonable and that we are asking for the right documents to know who you are… We want to make sure the real businesswomen are successful.”

The agency expects about 16,000 coming through the process this year. “Right now, we are looking at about 9,000. We’ve had over 2,100 applications approved. WOSB and EDWOSB are about 50/50.”

He noted there are resource and funding limitations. “We are working to get more resources and personnel… We have a plan for AI [artificial intelligence] and robotics to conduct risk analysis.”

He also shared there are various initiatives underway and channels to help address questions or concerns. “If you do have issues, I have a biweekly seminar. We are trying to get a call center in.”

Tom McGrath also mentioned a new agency NAICS Code Study that is close to completion. “This is done every five years to look at disadvantaged codes. We do not want to decrease that list at all.” Ideally the list of NAICS code would increase if the findings support that.

***

Council Member Nicol Cober

Co-moderator Nicole Cober followed up with questions for government officials on addressing best practices to achieve parity with the 8a program, specifically related to sole-sourcing opportunities. “What specific resources are needed to improve sole-sourcing for WOSBs?”

***

Donald Malcolm Smith, Deputy Assistant Administrator, OWBO, SBA

There are currently 135 active Women’s Business Center (WBC) partners. “WBCs have an understanding of the WOSB program to point women in the right direction. Because of the largess of contracts in the DC area, the centers in Washington and MD are especially well-versed.”

He underscored the importance of better educating buyers at federal agencies. “I spent the first six years of my career as an Admin Manager at the Department of Labor. We need to educate those in the federal government who actually buy things. [It is important] to know how to write the request for information.”

“The contracting officer is actually educating you once you get to the buying process. This takes time away from you procuring something… That takes away from you selecting a WOSB or 8A. If you know this from the onset, you can go directly to the OSDBU to get the list of qualifying firms.”

He also noted that most federal agencies have a principal deputy secretary that functions somewhat as a COO. Therefore, it is important to engage the OSDBU as the requirement is being written. “There needs to be an encouragement for them to force the internal communication between the OSDBU and those buyers.”

***

Chamber President and Third Party Certifier

“Some of the challenges we see is there is no central depository for information when you want to get into the procurement space. Also, targeted information by demographic and providing that information in multiple languages would be very helpful.”

She also shared some of the advice she provides her clients. “Your elevator speech needs to be honed, big time. Don’t be so proud not to accept a helping hand. Not everybody makes a good government contractor. It is a question of capacity.”

***

Council Member Pam Prince Eason thanked the roundtable participants for their insights and adjourned the meeting.

OVERVIEW

Focus of Discussion

On February 4th, 2022, the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) together with the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center (NEC) convened women business owners and entrepreneurs, government officials, resource partners, and other key stakeholders to address the ongoing challenges many BIPOC women entrepreneurs and founders continue to face when attempting to access equitable financing opportunities to fund a new or growing business.

The roundtable discussion centered on identifying barriers to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) women’s entrepreneurship, and more specifically, focused on identifying innovative approaches and best practices that may be leveraged to increase equitable access to traditional as well as non-dilutive financing opportunities, including by taking into consideration new criteria, which accounts for women BIPOC founders’ legitimate and important “lived experiences.”

NWBC’s Executive Director Tené Dolphin delivered opening remarks and welcomed all participants and attendees to this virtual event. NWBC Council Member and Access to Capital and Opportunity Subcommittee co-chair Nicole Cober, helped moderate the roundtable alongside founding NEC’s Executive Director, Nicola Corzine. Roundtable participant speakers included:

  • Anika Hobbs, CEO/Lead Curator at Nubian Hueman
  • Tameka Montgomery, CEO at Core Strategy Partners, Inc.
  • Diedre Windsor, President and CEO of Windsor Group LLC
  • Jill Johnson, Co-founder/CEO of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership (IFEL)
  • Sara Razavi, CEO at Working Solutions CDFI
  • Jenny Flores, Head of Small Business Growth Philanthropy at Wells Fargo  
  • Therese Meers, Deputy Associate Administrator for the Office of Capital Access, U.S. Small Business Administration

Summary of Key Takeaways

NWBC roundtables help identify possible gaps and/or needs for research as well as serve as a springboard for Council Member deliberations and ultimately development of NWBC’s annual policy recommendations. Below are some high-level key takeaways from this discussion:

  • Black females get such a limited amount of funding from VC, that some don’t try or don’t pursue it at all to avoid disappointment and the discouragement.
  • Many investors are willing to provide feedback and encouragement but are not necessarily willing to cut a check.
  • Innovation and prototyping can be very expensive and can potentially become a ruinous proposition for some BIPOC women entrepreneurs.
  • Many investors fail to see or acknowledge that the marketplace is shifting, and that demand is coming from new consumers, including from “black and brown” populations with discretionary income who are increasingly demanding culturally curated experiences and products different from what is currently available in more mainstream markets. 
  • Capital funding/financing should be designed to enable people to “get traction” and “create a bridge to other forms of capital.”
  • Retirement funds and other forms of personal assets as well as individuals’ personal credit are at risk when opting to “bootstrap” a business.
  • “Women of color founders account for only 0.6 percent of all VC funding.”
  • SBA’s loan programs and entrepreneurial education resources are a great place to start when looking to get mentorship opportunities, put a business plan together, and/or acquire some startup capital. Unfortunately, entrepreneurs who have lost their businesses due to a national economic downturn may still be denied a loan or critical service, despite having assets and a robust business pipeline in place.
  • Black women entrepreneurs who have promising ideas, passed performance, and are nonetheless experiencing financing inequities to help scale their business need a special network of support and advocacy.
  • The lack of equitable financing for BIPOC women entrepreneurs is a “systemic” problem and does not stem, for the most part, from the entrepreneurs themselves. It is the system that needs to change.
  • Entrepreneurs do not need more education, mentoring, or talk. Rather, they need money, and when investors invest, they naturally have an interest in mentoring the business owner and to provide guidance.
  • On-ramps need to be designed in such a way as to allow BIPOC entrepreneurs to create a bridge to other forms of capital that already exists—to various capital stacks. CDFIs and even traditional lenders may not be positioned to absorb this kind of risk at the very early stages of startup so there is a role and an opportunity for SBA and the government to step in.
  • Policy has the power to unlock massive systems and opportunities and it may be time to consider what is “the next HR 5050,” looking at policy changes that can truly accelerate women’s business enterprise as well as incent more women to become investors, while also making decision-makers feel rewarded and protected in moving their capital into areas that have traditionally been considered “riskier.”
  • An entrepreneur raised the question as to why businesses who are generating revenue in the millions and have all their paperwork in place are still being denied financing.
  • Discrimination is real and experienced by many BIPOC women entrepreneurs. As such, more transparency is needed in the financial industry with respect to data and why certain individuals are being denied credit. This may be coming soon via implementation of Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act.
  • More transparency and better data should also be matched with more diverse, and “better representation” in the lending, underwriting, and investor communities.
  • In addition to ensuring more diversity and better representation, organizations like CDFIs need to be adequately capitalized to be successful.

ROUNDTABLE HIGHLIGHTS

Opening Remarks & Featured Video

NWBC Executive Director Tené Dolphin delivered opening remarks, introduced roundtable moderators and participants, and provided background on the NWBC and NEC.

She also introduced a featured a video from the Venture Equity Project titled “Accelerate Investment in Entrepreneurs of Color.” Below are just a few notable quotes from some of the entrepreneurs who shared their unique lived experiences and how persistent challenges to accessing equitable financing continues to be one of the most significant barriers to women’s business ownership:

  • D Marie, CEO & Founder, MyRA Technologies“So as far as my challenges when it comes to raising capital … I have just opted to go the route of either pitch competitions or grants or really just bootstrapping this on my own.” She later went on to say: “I just feel like the goalposts for myself and other individuals like me are just constantly moving.” And further added: “You know, the stats are out there that black females get such a limited amount of funding from VC anyways, I think that just to save myself the disappointment and the discouragement, I … have just opted to go the pitch competition or the grant route.”
  • Kimberly Evans, Founder & CEO, Just Her Rideshare“Between meetings with investors, accelerators, [and] filling out grants … pitch competitions—I’ve had a total of about 60 plus—and I’ve got to tell you it’s really frustrating.” She also emphasized: “I’ve met some amazing investors, I’ve gotten some really great feedback, they tell me there is room for us in the market, but no one is cutting the check.”
  • Jacquelyn Clemmons, Founder & CEO, Okionu Birth Foundation: “So far our biggest capital raising challenges have been just around being a new startup. So, its super … important to have organization who are willing to go out on a limb and help us as we are building from the ground up.” Ms. Clemmons also shared: “We have gotten amazing feedback from potential funders about how they really would like to support us, but they really want to see data outcomes and they really want to see us with a little more experience before investing in us.”
  • Topaz Smith, Founder, ENNOBLE“Many times investors are looking for 10x businesses, unicorns, in order to, you know, back. ‘This is not a 10x business, we don’t know how to help you, you need to start small, maybe this isn’t something that can do well…’” (sharing what investors have expressed to her in the past). She added: “There also has been challenges around them seeing that the marketplace is shifting and that there is demand coming from new consumers in the marketplace, so black and brown people who have discretionary income and are wanting to experience cultural experiences that are different, from what’s currently in the marketplace. So, there’s been a lack of understanding.”
  • Marie Roker-Jones, Co-Founder & Co-CEO, Essteem“As a black female founder some of the challenges I face include receiving conflicting information or feedback around our product and what we’re building.”
  • Dr. Charmain Jackman, Founder & CEO, InnoPsych Therapist of Color Directory“I had no idea about funding sources other than getting a loan, so that already speaks to the lack of access to knowledge that I had about funding businesses.” She later went on to note that: “Women of color founders account for only 0.6 percent of all VC funding.” She ended by stating that: “As a black woman solo-founder, I feel that I have three strikes against me, but I know that I have a solid product that is in high demand. So, I will keep on looking—I’m going to find it!”
  • Annette Bentley Smith, Founder & Writer, AnneCorp Literary Works/Plush-Tales:” I have lost thousands and thousands of dollars trying to create my first … prototype.”
  • Dia Pfleger, President & CEO, DPA Global Consulting“Everything that I’ve done so far has been 100 percent funded by my 401K, so I [dug] in my pockets to get my dream going, and it’s been quite difficult to get loans … just because of the interest rates … so, they want near perfect credit.”

Q&A and Open Discussion

Following the video, Executive Director Dolphin turned over the discussion to our roundtable moderators—Nicole Cober and Nicola Corzine—as well as our featured participants.

Nicole Cober

NWBC Council Member Nicole Cober opened the discussion by sharing her background as a woman entrepreneur of color, noting that this day of the roundtable marked the 20th anniversary of her starting on the path of the entrepreneurial journey and obtaining her first SBA loan. “I am the poster child for every access to capital program, but 20 years ago, I left corporate America … and I went on the [SBA] website and I scoured [it] for how to start a small business.” Council Member Cober went on to highlight some of the agency’s and resource partners’ signature programs including SCORE, entrepreneurial education and business development resources to help entrepreneurs develop a business (available at SBA.gov), as well as the agency’s “504 loan program to purchase a building and a 7(a) loan program for startup capital”.

Ms. Cober also shared her past experiences dealing with a fractured economy, which led to the loss of her business after being in operations for 10 years, sharing the need to reinvent herself and start over. She also reflected on how this experience allows her to better understand what entrepreneurs go through, and what they have been going through since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. She further noted that while the PPP program (Paycheck Protection Program) might have had some imperfections at the start, the program ultimately did help salvage many businesses and provided a critical lifeline.

Finally, during her introduction, she underscored that as a member of NWBC and co-chair of the Access to Capital Subcommittee for the past three years, she has heard stories like her own, with successes and some challenges with access to capital. “I really want to help and be an advocate for black women entrepreneurs who have great ideas, who have passed performance, and are still experiencing inequities in their search for scaling their business.”

Nicola Corzine

Nicola Corzine congratulated Nicole Cober for her twenty years as an entrepreneur and thanked her for sharing her story honestly and describing what entrepreneurship “looks like and feels like… the messiness of the highs and the lows.” Ms. Corzine also went on to say: “We are here to discover and start moving toward some of those hopeful, forward-looking actions that can change that perspective for all those incredible women entrepreneurs that are here today, and those that are to come.” She also congratulated Ms. Cober for her efforts leading the BOW Collective, a new professional organization and nonprofit of black women business owners led by Ms. Cober and “dedicated to bringing financial opportunities to scale businesses that exceed 1 million [dollars] in annual revenue.”

Ms. Corzine introduced herself and shared her story as a daughter of an entrepreneur as well as her own lived experiences as an entrepreneur herself— “some great and some not so great.”  She spoke about her own experiences and how these changed the way she viewed and understood the importance of access to resources, also noting she felt lucky to have access to some of these resources but also became aware of “how much more [she] needed to know.”

After some time in investment banking, she spent a decade in venture trying to propel women entrepreneurs forward, but also realized “how much more there was left to do in that entrepreneurial journey,” which led her to the next phase of her career as founding Executive Director of NEC—”a home for global entrepreneurs.” She invited all panelist to join the discussion. “We are here to make progress in a direction that matters.”

The conversation was kicked off with questions directed to the funders. The first question centered around what is truly fueling investments in women entrepreneurs.  Ms. Corzine asked the participants to “discuss ideal networks and educational and funding entrepreneurial models.”

Jill Johnson

Jill Johnson shared that her start on the entrepreneurial journey was “as a kid with her parents owning a newspaper publishing business”—one publication noted was The Minority Business Journal of New York and New Jersey. “So, my father was hosting sessions like this … talking about access to capital. While it is great to have that insight, the thing that is discouraging however, is that this conversation could have been the same conversation back then. The conversation hasn’t changed unfortunately … That part is discouraging but it gives me the motivation to keep on fighting the fight and pushing forward.”

She shared that IFEL has focused its efforts “at the systemic level” because “the problem is not with the entrepreneurs; it is with the system.” Ms. Johnson underscored that it is the system that needs to change, and that the entrepreneurs are not the ones that are broken, but rather the system is broken. Additionally, with respect to models that work, it is primarily investing in these entrepreneurs that is needed—what they need is the funding and not necessarily more education. “They do not need more education, mentoring and talk, they need money… and when investors invest, they have an interest in the business owner and … they provide the mentorship and educational guidance … So, groups like Golden Seeds and Impact Seed and Pipeline Seed and Portfolia, and all these groups that invest in women, that is what we need more of.”

Jenny Flores

Ms. Flores who heads small business growth philanthropy at Wells Fargo shared that over the last twenty years she has focused her professional efforts on “moving billions of dollars into communities of color and for women.” She also underscored with respect to best practices, that it all comes down to intention, stating: “Are you really trying to solve this problem or are you trying to market around it?… And intention shows up, and it shows up in the data because it doesn’t lie.”

She went on to share that in 2020 as a response to COVID, the organization donated all the PPP fees it collected from that year to create an “Open for Business Fund” with the intention to keep women of color and BIPOC businesses open. “We were shocked at how many businesses were closing,” Ms. Flores further commented. The intention behind this initiative was to give those entrepreneurs who needed a grant an actual grant (rather than a loan), or give CDFIs a reserve, or renegotiate the terms of a loan giving business owners ample time to pay. “It is the flexibility that we built in that mattered.”

“All of us that have the privilege of being investors, need to be very thoughtful and partner with communities to design solutions,” she continued.

Nicola Corzine agreed that the solutions can’t be “one-size fits all,” keeping in mind BIPOC women’s “lived experiences.”

Sara Razavi

Ms. Razavi spoke to her organization’s focus on community development as a CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution), which she opined have had increasing visibility, especially during economic downturns, unfortunately. Further, CDFIs have become even more well known since the onset of the pandemic.

She also shared that much like some of the previous presenters, she is a child of immigrants who “made their way to the American dream by way of entrepreneurship.” After coming to the U.S. from Iran at ten years of age, her mother gained her footing by opening two small businesses—a translating business and small bookstore—after finding a community of micro and small business entrepreneurs. However, it was not until Ms. Razavi attended business school that business and finance “became demystified”—citing several examples, including, understanding that a balance sheet merely provides information on what a business owner has and what losses may have been might incurred.

“I started really recognizing that some of this language is intentional to keep folks unaware of wealth. What is a balance sheet; what is an income statement; why are they different?… Why is cash flow the most common use of a financial statement for many of our businesses, and yet we grade them on balance sheets that many haven’t put together yet?” She further opined that there is intentionality in keeping certain individuals out of the financial mainstream.

Ms. Razavi also noted that through her work at a CDFI she is better positioned to focus on impact by, in part, demystifying the language of finance and capital. “I think the intent of CDFIs is to sit down with specific populations, meet them where they are, and recognize with intention there is a reason why you have had limited access to capital. There is a reason we have been having the same dialogue for many, many decades.” She then went on to note that Working Solutions is a Wells Fargo, “Open for Business” grantee—poised to support small business owners with grants or with debt relief, or to help entrepreneurs take a pause and soften the blow from balloon payments, helping mitigate the stress of borrowers, so they can ultimately pay their lender back.

Nicola Corzine then presented statistics on funding for BIPOC women, who are getting lower amounts of funding. For example, women of color founders account for only 0.6 percent of all VC funding.

Nicola Corzine

Ms. Corzine highlighted some relevant, but daunting statistics that show: “BIPOC women are getting lower amounts of funding, they are getting harder hit with the rates, and their valuations are not … where they need to be when compared to male business owners.”

Ms. Corzine again turned to the funders to ask what can be done so that these issues no longer persist.

Jill Johnson

Ms. Johnson proposed that it might be because of how we are looking at venture capital (VC) these days. “Venture capital is for a very, very, very… small sliver of the population. The media makes it seem like everyone is just going out there and getting VC money—well, they’re not. Now, that is not at all to let the VC community off the hook… They have a long way to go, but when we’re talking about… the general access to capital issue, that’s not really the place to look. It’s how do people get an on-ramp to venture capital, to even bank debt, right? That starts with personal wealth, so that is where we have to address the issues of the wealth gap more broadly.” She further underscored that it starts with having the personal wealth or being in the position to access the personal wealth of friends and family.

The stories from entrepreneurs saying that “they bootstrapped their business” usually come from well-funded individuals and not typically from BIPOC women entrepreneurs. “When we hear that we say that’s not bootstrapping in our world. In our world we’re trying to rub together two nickels, and trying to make that stretch, and make it any way we can, which then results in a low credit score because we we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, just trying to keep our businesses afloat… and the system is designed to ding you for that… you don’t get credit for being innovative and creative and keeping your business afloat. That is deemed to be a negative.”

She further suggested that the focus needs to be on providing that “early capital” and giving due consideration to which institutions can absorb that kind of risk. “CDFIs while doing an amazing job, are not designed to absorb that kind of risk at the very earliest stages, before there’s the traction. Banks themselves are not designed to absorb that risk. The kind of capital that is needed really has to be something… that is designed to enable people to get traction and to create a bridge to other forms of capital that already exist, and that is why I think there is a role for the SBA and government to step in.”

Ms. Corzine then turned to Ms. Flores to comment further on the idea of leveraging on-ramps to ensure equitable opportunities to “capital stacks” so that financing is available “later on, down the road.” She specifically asked: “Has there been anything that you’ve seen emerge from all the incredible BIPOC women you support that has inspired you, around where and how change is showing up?”

Jenny Flores

Ms. Flores emphasized the issue is systemic. “I often think about the fact that before the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) women couldn’t apply for a [loan] on their own… you needed a male co-signer… and then in the eighties we got the [Women’s] Business Ownership… bill … women could apply for small business loans without a male co-signer, we got Women’s Business Centers, National [Women’s] Business Council, we got the Census tracking… [women-owned] business more accurately. So, I really feel like policy oftentimes unlocks massive systems and opportunities, and I think it’s time we consider what is that next HR 5050. What do we need to get behind that accelerates venture, that accelerates more women to understand [that they] can also be good investors… and how do we get protections as we move our money into these areas that are considered ‘risky’”? 

Co-moderator Nicole Cober than directed the next set of questions to small business owners and asked them to “share their own personal stories” and lived experiences, calling first on a BOW collective member Diedre Windsor to share her experiences accessing capital.

Diedre Windsor

Ms. Windsor is a retired army officer and former federal government career executive who quit her job in 2016 to start her own business. “In 2017 we started in earnest…our first year of business we probably made about 100 grand…in 2020 we got to about 2.5 [million], and last year we close to tripled and we’ve never been able to get a loan.” She went on to share that initially she bootstrapped leveraging credit first then going to friends and family. However, she noted “individuals are not positioned to absorb a loss if you cannot pay them back.”

She also emphasized it is important to identify where the real problem lies in, with the respect to the issue of “intention.” She asked: “Well, who takes that [intention] to the underwriter? Because that is where the block is… and you are talking to the same processor a hundred times, asking you the same questions… And now my number one source of capital nowadays [are] my clients… so it’s our company’s revenue… but why do I need a network… if on paper it says what it needs to say? So yeah, it is a struggle, it’s tough.”

She concluded by saying that financing should be based on the merits, “what’s on paper”. She also shared that although she is not able to absorb the risk, she has found herself lending money to other women business owners for payroll because she recognized they are dealing with the same struggle she has dealt with. “We are contributing to society, we are contributing to people’s livelihoods, so how do we get to a place where that is enough?”

Co-moderator Nicole Cober agreed: “These are not stories, [this] is our lives…We’re trying to create a network. Black women don’t have a network… You have to wonder is race a factor when all objective criteria are made right?… When is it appropriate or relevant to say maybe there is some discrimination that may be attributable for these women that are highly successful but are still being denied?”

Ms. Corzine directed the discussion back to the funders: “It is important to have allies and so I turn it back to Jenny—what do you say to people that say I’ve checked all the boxes and I was still denied? Do you see discrimination?”

Jenny Flores

“Well let’s just put it this way, I’m Latina. My Mom is a business owner [and] she experiences it. And so, I see clearly from where I sit, I perceive that there is bias. I perceive it.” She went on to share a personal story of how her mother had been poorly treated while doing business at a national bank, and how she had to help advocate for her mother’s customer rights. “I mean I get it, I’m in banking. I know how the system works. We know, we feel it, we know that something’s wrong.”

Referencing The State of Latino Entrepreneurship report she underscored … “When you look at Latino business and you control for business performance… the same performance… Latinos who applied for loans and were 100 thousand, 20% get approved… 50% of the white counterparts… So, we need transparency in the industry. Why are people getting declined, what is their background?”

Sara Razavi

“You’re right Jenny, the data is coming. The Dodd-Frank Act of 10 years ago is now going to be realized in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s [implementation of section] 1071… I say all this because this is a smart group to understand the policy will follow.”

Ms. Razavi also opined that the data may likely show some financial institutions never really reached out to [underserved] communities to “even get them through the door, to inform them.” She continued, “there is not going to be deep change until there is representation. The person sitting across from you, the lender sitting across from you has to be a person of color… and a woman of color so they understand what you mean when you say there is a little bit of discrepancy in your flow or hours for your staff or clientele—it is a little bit different, because frankly most of them are parents.”

She added: “And the lived experience comes into play when we recognize not everyone who applies for those jobs may seem qualified for those jobs… and we have to [recognize] those barriers as well.”

Tameka Montgomery

Ms. Montgomery, a business owner, formerly served at SBA under the Obama Administration heading the Office of Entrepreneurial Development, overseeing all resource partners. She noted that at the conclusion of the Obama Administration, leadership was looking at lending in underserved markets.

She added: “But something else we want to think about is not only the representation of those individuals who are lending the money, but then also, one of the things we need to work on is more individuals of color who are leading organizations in the way Sara is leading them, that they are capitalized to be successful… those organizations are experiencing those very same problems that the entrepreneurs are dealing with, which impacts their ability to really help those businesses, grow, and scale.”

“We also have to look at how we are funding organizations that are led by people of color.”

Anika Hobbs

Ms. Hobbs shared her experience as a retailer: “I’m a retail queen, I love brick-and-mortar. And of course, it’s been very tough… before the pandemic and during the pandemic, being in a space that serves black and brown people, and a brick-and-mortar space that serves black and brown people. I know for me that the staggering statistics already creates mentally a barrier for entry for us.”

She also went on to comment that the tailored products to her community are advertised differently and that there is different information delivered and different levels of encouragement that is shared. “I kind of have been in the same space of what everyone has shared… I have all the paperwork but at times I’ve been asked: ‘What is the impact or the purpose of [the] business’?”

“We are a retailer that exclusively focuses on black and brown brands. We are still in a space where we… have to measure our impact, or prove our impact, when the numbers may not speak to that. And it goes a lot deeper as far as ecosystems that are built, and families we are able to help support. Some of that does not necessarily translate on paper, and so that has been a barrier.”

She went on to share a recent personal experience attempting to obtain a line of credit, where a financial institution’s representative noted she might have a great chance at acquiring credit because there was a “special initiative” but not because of her business model, traction, or what her paperwork reflected. “Because we’re trending, there’s a great opportunity that this might work, but it’s not because of what my figures say, what my paperwork says, the traction that we’ve made—none of that.”

Ms. Hobbs also shared that she has faced challenges with respect to investment opportunities, in addition to issues she’s faced with credit and lending opportunities. “We opened in 2013, and an investor came in early 2014 saw the space and said: “Um would you mind changing the name of your business? And you know the name of my business, Nubian Hueman, connotes what we’re about. So, you know, just not understanding who we are, what we do, and what we represent can become a challenge in receiving funds.”

Ms. Cober then called on SBA Assistant Administrator Therese Meers to share the agency’s perspective on overcoming barriers to financing for BIPOC women entrepreneurs.

Therese Meers

Assistant Administrator Meers shared she is a former entrepreneur and manufacturer of a high-protein low-sugar yogurt. Additionally, she most recently served as Senior Counsel to Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland focusing on entrepreneurial development programs at SBA as well as federal contracting. During the pandemic, Ms. Meers was laser-focused on ensuring women and all underserved entrepreneurs were granted access to PPP and other COVID relief funding during her time serving on the Hill.

Her current stated focus is to support the priorities of the Biden Administration and help support SBA Administrator Guzman as well as the Associate Administrator for the Office of Capital Access “to get much needed funding and opportunity to overlooked populations—women and minorities.” She further added: “We’ve been working on… improving tech as well trying to make SBA more user-friendly, trying to make SBA more visible as well. After all the COVID relief that has gone out… I sort of sit in this intersection of… [getting] more dollars and opportunity and education.”

She also shared her personal story as an entrepreneur and her journey to learning about the different avenues to accessing capital as an emerging entrepreneur. “When it comes to access to capital there certainly isn’t one single path, you can piece things together and figure it out. But I do encourage to those listening, if you are thinking about access to capital, don’t overlook your SBA District Offices. They are there to help and to serve and can give you a wealth of information on different types of loan products and traditional lending at SBA as well as equity investment through… SBICs… Women’s Business Centers, Small Business Development Centers, and Veteran Business Centers, [and] SCORE chapters for mentoring.”

Nicole Cober interjected with a follow-up comment and question: “We’re looking for policy issues and SBA products are the fallback product because it is a new venture or the owner’s credit is marginal, and those loan terms… the rates… are more egregious than traditional loans, right? My point is that the interest rates are higher… Why is that?… The government has a lot of ways to not monetize that… [With] the PPP loan process, they eliminated credit barriers and they got that money out… [particularly] that second tranche by going to CDFIs, credit unions… those micro and small business were successful—they were successful because it was an emergency… Equity is [still] an emergency—so, is there a way that the Administration or Congress can look at the successes behind that liquidity… that was going directly to the end users with those small businesses. Why do we have to change that? Why do we have to go back to having these very arduous criteria around SBA lending?”

Therese Meers

“Thank you, Nicole. I definitely am hearing you. I had the opportunity to work on the CARES Act and to build up the Paycheck Protection Program [PPP] as well as help to get funding to the SBA resource partners or technical assistance. And, also with the American Rescue Plan for President Biden… worked on creating the Community Navigator Program to help get word out to communities about the relief programs in place, and we’re still certainly looking through and understanding and digesting the lessons learned from PPP… A lot of cleanup as well that we’re working though in the Office of Capital Access—figuring out what worked, what didn’t work, and what can continue as a result of PPP.”

She further responded: “I do hear you though that interest rates can be, and are, often higher mainly because the loans are often high dollar value, higher risk and in exchange there’s opportunity to get longer repayment terms than from traditional banks. But we certainly are working internally at SBA to improve regulation and streamline where we can, to make the process easier, [simpler]… looking at affiliation rules…criminal background rules and potential barriers as to what’s causing hang ups to access to capital.”

Nicola Corzine posed the same question to the funders: “Equity is an emergency, could not have said it better. Our women, our new majority, our BIPOC [women] are the fastest growing segment. What, thinking of the women that are in your networks…the ones you advocate for…what do you want for them to make sure they have access to great equity options for them?”

Jill Johnson

“As we continue to say minority and BIPOC, etc., it does not actually draw attention to where attention needs to be placed. These populations are historically excluded, so I would challenge everyone to adopt new language to place the emphasis where it needs to be.”

“To answer your actual question, what I would love to see…PPP went out the door really quickly, a lot of corporations established very large grant programs… imagine if that capital was put toward women of color fund managers so that they would have this capital to deploy? I’m sure we would see capital… very creatively being deployed to women like those on this call. So that is what I would like to see, more capital being put in the hands of women of color.”

Jenny Flores

“For a lot of the funds that are women-led or of diverse background—it’s just that the cost structure doesn’t work… You’re barely stay[ing] afloat. So, how do we aggregate that power so we can all leverage that power so you’re not working with an attorney that charges you… to give you advice?”

She continued, “I’m thinking that we aggregate and share best practices. Also getting this money to these diverse founders is critical. Also, accredited investors, they are putting money into funds… do they even understand the power that they have to invest in these diverse funds?”

“We are working on something to help move 10 thousand women who have the ability to invest into funds that are earmarked for women. It’s a billion dollars—real tangible things are coming… that’s what I’m working on.”

Sara Razavi

“All of my career… the frustration has been the level of scrutiny that social enterprises have to manage… The level of scrutiny that nonprofits have around policy and governance is comparable to a public company.” She went on to comment that instead of setting up another nonprofit, it is best to leverage the strength of existing organizations. She also emphasized greater trust should be provided to government lines so that entrepreneurs are afforded the flexibility to maintain their business. “Again, these systems are set up to be limiting.”

Nicola thanked everyone for their time and transparency—and asked each participant to provide one key takeaway:

  • Jill Johnson: Continue having these kinds of conversations. Act with intention and purpose, but also, we must take action. The investor community has the greatest ability to act and make change, to create a more inclusive entrepreneurial system.
  • Anika Hobbs: Need to come up with creative opportunities for women entrepreneurs’ capital stack. We need to begin and build legacy, and it start with us—gaining as much knowledge and entering into as many networking circles as possible. Sharing knowledge and building trust is also important. Access and information are the only way we will be able to build those pathways forward.
  • Tameka Montgomery: Go to the stakeholders to those who are really going to be impacted and give them a seat at the table and let them be part of the design process.
  • Therese Meers: Encourage use of SBA resources starting with SBA District Offices and other SBA resource partners such as Women Business Centers, Community Navigators, and understand SBA’s equity products.
  • Sara Razavi: No one is smarter than you. Assume nothing and when you have a question, simply ask. Ask the question because it doesn’t undermine your lived experience. Make sure when you invite stakeholders to the table make sure they don’t feel undermined in the room—let people ask questions without underestimating them.
  • Diedre Windsor: Let your story be heard. If no one knows what you’re going through, then no one can help you. Also, your best source of capital is your client so try to cultivate those relationships because your revenue is capital also. And keep going.
  • Jenny Flores: Remember that as a collective we have power. When you use it and reimagine what the financial ecosystem can be, there’s no one who can say that is not what they want to support. Sometimes we just have to create the vision.
  • Nicole Cober: Empower yourself, don’t shame yourself. Share your stories. We are usually marginalized when we’re isolated, and usually that marginalization is in our minds. Share, tell, and link up. “You have some much power in your story, but when you bring it together with others—it’s datapoints.” The BOW collective is an attempt to bring together the stories of black women entrepreneurs—the successes and the challenges. “We are going to the banks together… and we are going to report out together… You change the world by changing your narrative.”

Nicole Cober and Nicola Corzine thanked all the roundtable participants and recommitted to continuing these important conversations going. Ms. Cober also thanked the Council Members of the NWBC and Executive Director Dolphin for the opportunity to serve on the Council, ending her service on a high note and focusing on further promoting the BOW Collective.

***Closing***                                                                           

Tené Dolphin

Executive Director Dolphin also thanked the roundtable participants for their insights and adjourned the meeting. “Your voice is part of this group… and your voice matters. Thank you to all the amazing panelists here today, I wish we had more time.” She wrapped up with some of her personal takeaways:

  • The next HR 5050—it’s time for the next.
  • Looking at the data [collection] with the implementation of [Section 1071] of Dodd Frank is critical.
  • Representation matters!

“This is the beginning—remember we have policy recommendations to make. This is the springboard, so this is not the last conversation so we can get more information and visualize what those solutions are.”

OVERVIEW

Focus of Discussion

On May 9th, 2022, the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) convened women business owners, subject matter experts, government officials and other key stakeholders to delve into paid family and medical leave (PFML). This discussion specifically focused on how the lack of equitable access to PFML may create barriers to women’s entrepreneurship.  Addressing inequities and these types of barriers to starting, growing, and/or closing a business remains a top priority for this Council.

NWBC’s roundtable discussions help serve as a springboard for the Council’s annual policy recommendations to Congress, the President, and the U.S. Small Business Administration. This event was closed to press.

Tene Dolphin, Executive Director for NWBC delivered opening remarks. Diedra Henry-Spires, Senior Advisor to the U.S. Small Business Administrator, Isabella Casillas Guzman, delivered remarks at the top of the event. Council Member Rebecca Hamilton who serves on NWBC’s Rural Women’s Entrepreneurship Subcommittee served as principal moderator for this discussion. Below is a full list roundtable participants joined the discussion:

Opening Speakers

  • Tené Dolphin, Executive Director and Designated Federal Officer (DFO), National Women’s Business Council
  • Diedra Henry-Spires, Senior Advisor to the U.S. Small Business Administrator

Moderator

NWBC Council Members

  • Roberta McCullough, NWBC Council Member (recently appointed, 2022) and Chair of the Association of Women’s Business Centers (AWBC), and Senior Vice President of Operations for Institute Capital, CDFI program at the National Institute of Minority Economic Development
  • Jaime Gloshay, NWBC Council Member (recently appointed, 2022) and Co-Founder of Native Women Lead and Project Manager at Roanhorse Consulting (RCLLC)

Roundtable Participants

  • Elaine Weiss, Director of Policy, National Academy of Social Insurance
  • Vicki Shabo, Senior Fellow, Paid Leave Policy and Strategy, Better Life Lab
  • Vasu Reddy, Senior Policy Counsel for Economic Justice, National Partnership for Women & Families
  • Molly Weston Williamson, Director of Paid Leave and Future of Work Program, A Better Balance
  • Sarah Jane Glynn, Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor
  • Jessica (Jess) Flynn, Founder and CEO of Red Sky

Summary of Key Takeaways

Note: The perspectives and key takeaways below do not represent the views of NWBC staff, but rather, represent the professional opinions and findings of the roundtable participants.

  • Women entrepreneurs are the foundations of their communities and often their families. The way they are treated and the decisions they are forced to make impact us all. These burdens and benefits are especially significant for women of color, older women, and low-income women.
  • American entrepreneurship increased during the pandemic, yet women’s economic participation decreased due to caregiving responsibilities.
  • The U.S. is far behind many other nations when it comes to healthcare, unemployment, retirement, parental leave, paid vacation and sick days, issues that are quite important to both employers and their employees. With respect to PFML, only one in five workers in America have access to paid family leave through their jobs, and only two in five have temporarily disability insurance through their jobs for serious personal health issues, according to BLS National Compensation Survey data, and about 50% of women don’t have access to job protection or any leave generally, paid or unpaid, according to various sources from BLS, DOL and the Census Bureau.
  • Most subject matter experts joining the roundtable expressed that a national PFML, administered by the government rather than through an employer mandate, is in the best interest of businesses, particularly to women entrepreneurs.
  • For small businesses with many employees, offering competitive benefits can be reassuring so that employees are not forced to choose between caring for their families and staying on or keeping their jobs.
  • Subject matter experts overwhelmingly agree that offering paid family and medical leave also positions companies to be more competitive employers, especially in rural areas.
  • Some women entrepreneurs have expressed concerns about the lack of a safety net. Starting a business is risky enough, but it is even more daunting when you consider whether or not you have benefits or are in a position to support your family.
  • A growing share of women sit at both ends of the caregiving spectrum, taking care of their young children as well as their aging parents.
  • Several roundtable participants opined that providing coverage on a case-by-case basis is not sustainable, and the pandemic proved and made this painfully obvious—COVID made it practically prohibitive for many women to participate in the economy.
  • The security of paid leave allows people to take more necessary entrepreneurial risk, likely incentivizing them to take that leap and start their own businesses. Also, paid leave could level the playing field between large and small businesses by making benefits competitive from a hiring perspective.
  • Paid leave programs operate differently than other benefit programs, and so to reap the full rewards of offering/providing leave, we must understand that the devil really is in the details in terms of program administration.
  • Solopreneurs or the self-employed are twice as likely as employees to be caregivers, given that caregiving responsibilities are often incompatible with traditional employment.
  • State-to-state, there is a patchwork of benefit policies, and paid leave is no different. Creating a national paid leave policy would reduce job lock-in, which could be especially beneficial to rural communities.
  • Older, immigrant, and women of color are more likely to be taking care of children and older family members. These women are more likely to be caregivers and could hugely benefit from leave.
  • Notably, there is still some apprehension in the business world over paid leave. The notion of the states or the federal government contributing might make the idea potentially more palatable.
  • Improved, tailored messaging targeted to diverse audiences is needed to ensure clarity and better education on this issue and the ways in which paid leave programs are structured, financed and produce positive results for businesses and workers. 
  • Subject matter experts generally agree that evidence points to minimal abuse of these benefits, that they have a positive or minimal effect on productivity, loyalty and retention, and that they reduce businesses and individuals’ burdens.
  • It was opined that business owners want to do right by their employees, right by their businesses, and they want to do it as painlessly as possible, with minimal government intervention.
  • We need to shift the conversation away from this being a women’s or parents’ issue. These life- changing events can happen to anyone at any time. However, these types of destabilizing events can especially burden women of color.
  • Allowing people to take the time they need to heal and take care of their loved ones increases productivity, while forcing people to return to work before they are ready decreases productivity
  • According to several roundtable participants, there is broad bipartisan support for PFML. Pushing these conversations across networks and local chambers, can better inform small business owners and clarify any longstanding misconceptions.
  • Women entrepreneurs/business owners are already forced to make so many tough choices that providing paid family and medical leave to their employees should not be another reason to make choices. Certainly, they should never feel forced to take out a loan to pay for their employees’ family or medical leave.

ROUNDTABLE HIGHLIGHTS & NOTABLE QUOTES

Opening Remarks

Following opening remarks, Executive Director Dolphin introduced the roundtable participants, the featured SBA speaker, and provided background on WBC.

Tené Dolphin, NWBC Executive Director and Designated Federal Officer (DFO)

Executive Director Dolphin opened the event by thanking the roundtable participants and providing and overview of the Council. She then shared that this panel was selected because the participants’ “expertise and … perspective on this issue is invaluable as we seek to go deeper.”

She concluded her opening remarks by underscoring how important it is to give women an answer—a viable approach to addressing this issue once and for all. “There are a lot of questions about paid family medical leave, many of which we will be discussing today. Who pays for it? Who is eligible? How can it be used just to list a few?… But coming out of Mother’s Day, one of the best gifts we can give women, employers and employees are some answers.”

Diedra Henry-Spires

The U.S. Small Business Administration is currently leaning in and exploring what steps the agency can take within its purview to help support and grow the care economy. Notably, PFML is tangential to SBA’s work in this regard.

Diedra Henry-Spires, serves as Senior Advisor to the SBA Administrator. Ms. Henry-Spires provided an overview of the agency’s priorities, initiatives, and recent efforts to tangentially and directly related to this issue.

“I will say this, I got my start in women’s health and issues that impact our families and our communities through the lens of women [which] remain at the heart of my passion for the work that I get to do every day. So, I want to thank you today and … thank the National Women’s Business Council for having roundtables like these so that we can discuss issues that are so important to women. And as a result, important to our communities.”

First, she started by highlighting that during the previous week, National Small Business Week, Administrator Guzman participated in bus tour to reach out to small business owners, starting in California and making its way through the South. She shared, “it was a time to honor and celebrate America’s entrepreneurs and innovative startups… This year’s theme was building a better America through entrepreneurship. We were celebrating the resilience and tenacity of America’s entrepreneurs who are doing their part to power our nation’s historic economic comeback. [And] one of the things the administrator always says is we need to be as entrepreneurial as the small businesses we represent.”

She continued: “And while there’s more work to do under the Biden Harris Administration, we are on a path toward building a better, more competitive American economy centered around families, workers, and small businesses. America’s experiencing an unprecedented wave of our small business creation and entrepreneurship.” Additionally, Ms. Henry-Spires underscored that “building equity and opportunity for all Americans” is an area of focus for President Biden and Vice President Harris.

Finally, she highlighted some notable numbers on U.S. small business, including:

  • In 2021 Americans applied to start 5.4 million new businesses—despite the ongoing COVID recovery.
  • This is a 20 percent higher than any prior year on record.
  • During President Biden’s first year, the SBA secured more than 450 billion in financial relief for small businesses under the American Rescue Plan.
  • There are over 32.5 million small businesses operating across the United States today.

These number show that throughout COVID, America’s entrepreneurs “found the inspiration to create businesses and apply to start [more] businesses.”

While our nation is ahead of the curve in some ways, she noted that in others we are lagging behind. “The U.S. places last relative to national policies around healthcare, unemployment, retirement … parental leave, paid vacation, and sick days. That is stunning! And yet we know that … small businesses create[e] so many—two out of three jobs in our economy, that [is why] this issue is of the utmost importance to small businesses.”

Her other remarks indicated that the way we treat our workers today helps us shape our workforce of tomorrow from childcare to upskilling. “But we’ve got to think about how we’re going to work smarter, not harder. There are lessons that came out of COVID. I came to the SBA as the senior advisor for COVID programs. We’ve learned so much … in [the] government about flexibilities that make our workers want to come back.”  

(Miss Henry Spires is a top advocacy and policy strategist and a former professional staff member for the Human Services and income security for the Senate Committee on Finance. As a former member of the committee’s health team, she is accredited as one of the architects for the Affordable Care Act as well, Miss Henry Spires is credited for shepherding the expansion of unemployment benefits and work supports during the Great Recession of 2008 and providing job creation policy and income security guidance and expertise for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Jobs Creation Act of 2010, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, and the middle Class tax relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.)

Roundtable Discussion

Tené Dolphin

Executive Director Dolphin then transitioned by introducing new Council Members Jamie Gloshay from Native Women Lead (NWL) and Roberta McCullough representing the Association of Women’s Business Centers (AWBC). She also acknowledged former NWBC Council Member Jessica (Jess) Flynn serving on the panel, and current NWBC Council Member and Roundtable moderator, Rebecca Hamilton.

Rebecca Hamilton

Council Member Rebecca Hamilton kicked off the conversation by thanking the panel participants. And before delving into her first question, she opined that women shoulder a greater part of the responsibility in the care of family and loved ones—part of it coming from giving birth or just historically from women being in the position to have to care for family and loved ones. “When you think about things like one in five people in America actually have access to paid family medical leave …close to 50% don’t even have this … [and] women who are of childbearing age don’t even have access to job protection, to family medical leave, without even getting into whether it’s paid or not. And so, with the pandemic, we saw kind of this stark reality of what happened when a lot of workers were pulled out of the workforce to care for their children, to become educators to care for loved ones.”  

She then compared the struggles of providing leave as a larger firm with 100 employees to the difficulties providing leave as a restaurant owner with 20 employees. She then went on to ask the panelists to introduce themselves and later followed with the first roundtable question followed.

Opening Question | Rebecca Hamilton

“With respect to solopreneurs, a critical piece that we are missing is that safety net for women, particularly for those who go on to be entrepreneurs and who take that risk of starting a business without healthcare benefits, or a way of support for those choosing to have a child.” Each panelist was asked to share background on her organization and perspective on this critical issue. The roundtable participants were also asked to share the name of their organization and why PFML this is such an important topic for you?

Molly Williamson

“I’ll say my mom is a solo entrepreneur in rural central Kentucky, so this is especially near and dear to my heart and I’m excited to be here today…”

Sarah J. Glynn

“I’m Sarah Jane Glynn. I am a senior advisor at the Women’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor. Paid leave is also one of my favorite things to talk about … So, I’m really excited to have this conversation today. Thanks for including me.”

Elaine Weiss

“Hi, I’m Elaine Weiss. I’m the policy director at the National Academy of Social Insurance, and we are working on a number of initiatives all related to social insurance, around issues of economic security and caregiving cuts across all of them. We are talking about the impacts of COVID-19 on social insurance and how we could bolster it going forward. Obviously, caregiving and investing in caregiving is a huge part of that.”

“[A] large and growing share of those are women and caregiving on both ends, both as people in need of care and people providing care … So I am also thrilled to be part of this conversation.”

Vasu Reddy

“My name is Vasu Reddy … and I’m senior policy counsel for economic justice at the National Partnership for Women and Families. I’m really particularly excited about talking about this from the women’s business angle.”

Vicki Shabo

Ms. Shabo who is a senior fellow at New America, a think tank in DC, previously testified before the Ways and Means Committee prior to the pandemic alongside Rebecca Hamilton.

“I think we can’t think we can’t have a successful effort sort of nationwide around small business creation and retention without talking about the supports that we need … and paid family and medical leave is certainly one of them… The reason we are so behind is that we do this on a business-by-business case, and that’s not sustainable. We have seen the deleterious impacts of that during the pandemic,” she continued.

Jessica (Jess) Flynn

Ms. Flynn shared that she has been on her own personal journey learning about and understanding the issue of paid family and medical leave.  And I have been on my own journey with understanding and paid family leave. “As Rebecca knows and will be part of this conversation, and in how I think about it, for a small business like mine of 10 people, and the things that I’ve come to see are really necessary for the solopreneurs and micro businesses like mine.”

Roberta McCullough

Ms. McCullough who recently joined NWBC introduced herself as board chair of AWBC. She mentioned that as a representative of an organization encompassing 140 WBCs, “these kinds of topics are very important so that we can share these throughout the network and ensure that as we assist these women who are owning and running businesses … that they have the proper tools to be successful long term.”

Jaime Gloshay

Council Member Jaime Gloshay, Co-Founder of Native Women Lead (NWL) who was also recently appointed to the Council was recognize by Executive Director Dolphin.

Moderator Question | Rebecca Hamilton

How do you think the current state of affairs and the lack of paid family medical leave is impacting businesses, but particularly the ability for women to be entrepreneurs or be in business?

Vasu Reddy

Women make up an important part of America’s economic fabric, and COVID showed us that catastrophic events disproportionately impact women’s economic participation, especially women of color. These events can also be prohibitive for new entrepreneurial development because during times of trouble. “If there is any sort of catastrophic situation that is going to affect a lot of women… women are going to bear the brunt of it and that it is going to be prohibitive to their participation in the economy.”

“And I like to think of the sort of … analogy of … a cliff top… if you are constantly teetering on the edge of precarity … that is not going to be the time when you’re going to be able to take the risk that is necessary to start your own business,” she added.

Vicki Shabo

Ms. Shabo noted just how difficult it is for employers to recruit and retain workers as they compete against bigger companies, particularly noting the competition in the “big tech” industry that are well-positioned to offer competitive benefits to their employees, particularly women. She noted that turning to public policy could offer some solutions.

Ms. Shabo also expressed how smaller employers can “really struggle to offer … similar level benefits.” She continued that it “also creates an uneven playing field between smaller and larger companies.” Smaller companies are contending with a “brain drain” of sorts for these reasons and a change in policies could support women entrepreneurs as they grapple with this.

Moderator Question | Rebecca Hamilton

So, this is something that often comes up, with respect to what small business owners say, that it would be a burden on small businesses. So, is it a disadvantage to small business?

Vicki Shabo

“Exactly. You know, and there’s a lot, a lot of research, polling from the Small Business Majority and Main Street Alliance and others that show 60 to 70% of smaller operators or smaller businesses want paid family and medical leave to be established at the national level for exactly that reason… the competitiveness actually goes the other way [so] that [there is] a disadvantage not to have a public policy in place.”

Sarah J. Glynn

Job lock as a drag on small business and economic growth was noted by Ms. Glynn as well. She encapsulated it by explaining: “So if you’re in a job that provides it and you know that you’re going [to or] want to have a child in the next few years, lots of folks won’t leave that job, even if it’s not a job that they like, even if they might make more money somewhere else, even if they’re interested in investing in themselves and starting their own business … that job lock is a really serious impediment for folks.”

Ms. Glynn also mentioned that this particularly burdens women, as they face greater caregiving responsibilities and are also more likely to own businesses in sectors where women are heavily employed. This creates a compounding affect in her eyes.

Ms. Glynn concluded by addressing the logistics of offering leave. “When you are talking about how the program actually functions and the ways that small businesses can really tap into these resources … the devil really is in the details when it comes to these kinds of policies, not just from …an administrative perspective.”

Rebecca Hamilton

“Yeah …you could also say that it is a job lock against entrepreneurship. If women who are of childbearing age are thinking about starting a business and there is no safety net, there is no ability for them to … have children and continue their business without interruption. That can lock them into being an employee instead of an entrepreneur!”

Molly Williamson

Ms. Williamson noted that 90% of women owned businesses are one-woman operations with no employees—they are solopreneurs. “And that, is actually ironic… the reasons that people want to choose entrepreneurship and self-employment are often exactly the reasons you need leave.” People who choose self-employment often do so for the flexibility it can provide to support things like caregiving, based on statistics from (see above sources).

She then touched on the fact that states are now allowing the self-employed to opt-in. She also touched on the racial justice implications of this issue when it comes to “who is and is not able to choose entrepreneurship.”

Elaine Weiss

Building on other roundtable participant perspectives, Ms. Weiss added that in addition to job lock, a lack of paid family and medical leave programs also creates a state lock, which can have huge implications for rural areas as well. This has a compounding effect considering that these states often do not have other policies and benefits and that women of color of low-income women disproportionately live in areas lacking these sorts of policies.

“We will continue to see the same disparate pattern that we are seeing with so many other policies, right? So, you get a state lock, right? It is not just a job lock, it is like you’re picking your state, you’re picking your city and they’re picking you. Right?”

She also underscored a related issue of older women in physically demanding jobs “who are getting hit all over the place from lack of paid leave.” “These are women who are at that point where they still may be at the tail end of caring for kid, but they’re at the early end of caring for an aging parent, an ailing spouse, and… all of that.”

Jess Flynn

Flynn shared her struggles in providing leave support when four employees in one year announced they were expecting and would need to take leave. “In order to make sure there is a business to come back to, I could not with my risk averse nature, figure out how to do that and I will say there’s a lot of things I don’t know in the world, but I was ashamed really to admit … that anytime anybody has talked about paid family medical leave, I have always thought that would be some sort of mandate onto the employer to provide it. I never as a small business owner of 14 years really thought that you’re talking about the Feds or [the state stepping up,” she added.

Ms. Flynn went on to discuss how Idaho is a child care desert that does not have a caregiving system, and how policy priorities and responses have been inconsistent. “While on one side of our mouths we talk about how important the family is and how we need workers, on the other side of our mouths … we say small businesses are the backbone of our economy across the country, yet we don’t put the systems and the infrastructure in place.”

She also noted the importance of clear communications and education when explaining these types of policy proposals to small business owners. “So, I think besides the policymakers, you [also] think [about] how we talk to small business owners to make sure that they are part of the advocates.”

She went on to ask: “Are there misconceptions that we need to address in terms of what legislation would do or what the actual burden to a business would be?”

Vicki Shabo

Ms. Shabo also noted the importance of addressing possible misconceptions that adopting PFML might create additional burdens on companies or that this would result in other hardships or that people will abuse the time. “We have data to refute all of this, and you know, study after study shows … neutral or positive effect on productivity and loyalty and retention… And you know, there are studies showing a return on investment and higher profits.” She also raised whether there is a better messaging and communications approach that highlights the benefits.

Jess Flynn

Jess Flynn provided additional comments on the messaging issue suggesting that when it comes to business owners, policies need to support employees, but also maximize ease and minimize government intervention.

She added that with respect to messaging, it would be important to break down messages by audience, identifying each group’s key motivators. She also raised whether there is any data around messaging and misconceptions.

Rebecca Hamilton

“So, I love that, just to actually gather a lot more information from businesses about the language that would be specific that we can use. Again, I think … the misconception is the barrier to … moving this forward and we’ve been trying to move it forward for quite some time. So clearly there are some things standing in our way.”

Jess Flynn

Jamie, your newest Council Member, had a comment in the meeting chat that I thought was really good … from the previous part of the conversation … chiming in about women as the centering forces — economic and … family stabilizers. But then, also like our aging population, we see that aging population data … our workforce is going to keep decreasing?”

Molly Williamson

Regarding addressing the “myths and misconceptions” Ms. Williamson shared that we need to think of this as sort of two-step benefit. Because when everybody pays into an insurance system and when you need the benefit, the system pays you out. That means that your workers are getting paid, but they are getting paid through the insurance system.

She added: “And so, I think when we think about that from a messaging perspective to business owners, I think that really strikes folks in terms of like this could happen anybody… There is a whole set of workers who are going to have to take this leave, whether it’s paid or not, whether the jobs [are] going to be there when they need it or not.”

Ms. Williamson wrapped up these set of comments by pointing to the ineffective ways [that] people [are] leaving the workforce.  “We all end up picking up the tab when we don’t provide the supports we need for what we know people really need… But if you’re a woman of color, who is this sole breadwinner for your family, and you get breast cancer and can’t work, the economic impact on your family is the same.”

“We’re paying for all of these needs on a societal level in a really inefficient way and we can choose to pay for it in a smarter way that gives both workers and businesses more tools and supports to do it better and smarter and gets everybody to better outcomes,” she added.

Rebecca Hamilton

“Yeah, that that’s really good communications … too, Molly. That we’re already paying. And especially after the pandemic when you have ‘the worldwide resignation’ that you, businesses, see how much it costs to hire and train new employees. I think that can resonate really well.”

Vasu Reddy

When discussing the universal nature of the kinds of events that require leave, Reddy made the connection to COVID. “COVID has been basically the biggest mass-disabling event in lived memory for most people right now. And it’s estimated that there were 1.2 million new newly disabled folks during the pandemic and about half a million newly disabled people in the workplace… A lot more people are going to be dealing with serious health conditions than I think have even contemplated it before.”

Reddy also touched on the misconception held by people in positions of influence that everyone already has leave, “And when you actually look at the numbers, well, no, not everybody has it. A lot of people have some form of vacation time although it is usually very minimal, but vacation is a very different need from paid family and medical leave,” she continued.

“When you look at … the lowest paid jobs, it is in the single digits of who actually has access to paid family leave.”

Elaine Weiss

“Here’s where I think the social insurance angle can be very helpful … when we prefer to pay for it proactively, productively, and successfully or reactively, counterproductively … you know [it is] much more expensiv[e] … nobody would take away Social Security for that exact reason.”

Ms. Weiss further elaborated on the concept of treating PFML as social insurance. “We’re talking about a system in which we all have skin in this game because, as we’ve all pointed out, that is what social insurance is about. It is about protecting all of us from the common life risks that we are all very likely to experience … that any one of us will not at any point get very sick, will not at any point have a husband or wife or spouse who suddenly broke their leg, will never have an aging parent who suddenly needs our support, or any of those things seems really, really low… We have massive market failure because on our own, nobody can afford to pay for this.”

Sarah J. Glynn

“Yeah, I think that’s a great segue. You know, because I want to tie together two things that I think folks have already brought up … Anybody can become disabled at any point in time. Anybody can have an emergency in their family that they are not anticipating. And I think there’s a couple things that are important to keep in mind in that when we are talking about the medical leave and the caregiving leave portions of this… These are serious medical concerns that we’re talking about.”

Ms. Glynn differentiated short- from longer-term leave for more serious health issues. “So, this is what we should be thinking about … in terms of leave that would take weeks as opposed to days. And those are things that can happen with little to no notice. And that can happen to any of us. They are also at the same time over the course of your entire life, relatively rare events. So, everybody can see their interest here. But most people are not going to need to take this leave. So, we’re insuring against these really common life events, but that happen to individuals fairly infrequently.”

Ms. Glynn also opined that covering workers for significant life events would unlikely shift most people’s behaviors. “This is not going to change people’s behavior and where it does, it’s around the margins, right? So, it means people can take a little bit more time that they already needed. And for those of you who’ve had workers who come back to work, maybe a little sooner than they probably should have after having surgery, or when they have a two-week-old infant at home, but they have to come back to work, right? We know what that does to productivity. So, encouraging folks to come back to work as quickly as possible after having a really big life event like this is not in a business’ best interest in terms of productivity and [the] bottom line.”

She concluded these set of comments by underscoring how a national approach to PFML could be very beneficial in terms of raising productivity in the long-term.

Moderator Question | Rebecca Hamilton

A number of states have passed PFML.  One big question is what is the barrier, and do we need to actually do differently to get PFML?

Molly Williamson

“Sure. I mean… when people return to work too soon when dealing with a serious health need, they’re significantly more likely to get injured on the job.”

She continued: “[We] have … a lot of good anecdotal evidence that when people don’t have the paid leave they need, they put off needed care… And when we’re looking at… a system in which employers are the leading provider of health insurance, it’s economically inefficient to create a system that incentivizes getting later, less effective, more expensive care.”

Ms. Williamson concluded by opining that status quo is leading to inefficient outcomes not only with respect to public policy at the national level, but also directly for individual small business owners.

“Somebody will say, why should I pay for other people’s kids? And there [are] lots of responses to that. But I think really thinking in terms of universalizing this, you really [are] talking about the ways in which all of us are currently paying… I think there’s a whole lot of people who are still just not understanding the magnitude of the impact of the lack of these benefits… I think there’s still a sense among a whole lot of people, particularly a whole lot of policymakers who… still see paid leave as a nice to have.”

“Do you think still see it as a bonus as a benefit as a perk?”

Vasu Reddy

“Yeah, I think that’s I think it’s a great question… Investment [in] or right[s] for working people is in direct opposition to the needs of businesspeople, and that it really is this. It really is this oppositional thing, and it’s a zero-sum game. But I think what women entrepreneurs know and what small business owners know is that women entrepreneurs… that the right for the worker is the right for the business owner… And therefore… it is helpful for them as a business owner as well.”

She emphasized that small business owners are really a necessary part of this conversation.

“One of the reasons I was so excited about getting on this call is that [the] narrative is so fixed in the American political landscape. And I think voices like the Council and all of you all are really doing such important work in countering that and creating an alternative of, this is what the economy could look like if we understood that investing in people was just as important.”

Moderator Question | Rebecca Hamilton

“What is the business case for paid family medical leave?… The barrier being communication and a misconception about [PFML] being negative for businesses is something that we have to overcome and… well all know that it is an incredibly important… So, we want to understand the business case for adopting paid family medical leave, and how does that make businesses more competitive on a global and national level?”

Elaine Weiss

“There is no lack of political will for this in terms of surveys. It’s unbelievable how much support there is for this. The problem is that our elected representatives do not represent us and the so-called business voice does not represent business. That is the reality, and we all need to be really clear about that.”

“The voices that are not being heard are small business owners, especially women of color, who are frankly not heard on anything, she continued… And given that these women are so disproportionately entrepreneurs or would like to be entrepreneurs, and that we know there is enormous evidence that… diversifying the business world, that diversifying both the employer and employee world, lifts up our economy.”

Vasu Reddy

“Yes, it’s hugely popular on a bipartisan basis across demographic groups. But what … I think is lacking is that kind of institutional organizing that can institute these consequences and that… can provide this counter voice.  I hate to beat the dead horse, but you know, conversations like these are… essential to… that kind of power-building and making sure that the voices of all of the actual business community and people who are running businesses are being heard, rather than these kind of big-funded lobbies… really have to be building power and directing resources towards alternatives.”

Vicki Shabo

“So, I agree with all of that… But the other thing I would say… more resources than ever before were invested in trying to organize small businesses in these last several months. In this last year, more resources than ever before have gone to organizing larger businesses, and it hasn’t been at scale. It hasn’t been enough to overcome the power of the organized business lobby groups, in part because of the way the political system works. So, I think we have to grapple with that.”

Ms. Shabo also highlighted the importance of continuing to bring attention to this issue and actual change at the state level. “Winning more state policies which will help ladder up to more pressure to have a national solution, if for no other reason [than] the large multi-state businesses [not wanting] the state policies that to continue to proliferate.”

Molly Williamson

“The ultimate solution to why we aren’t where we need to be is about power and that’s where the consequences come in… [The] folks on this call are the kinds of voices who can really drive home all of the ways in which we are engaging in terrible economic policy by not… investing in paid leave.”

Moderator Question | Rebecca Hamilton

Thank you, Molly. And to your point, what do you think the cost of not having paid family medical leave is?… I think a number of you have brought up [is] that you know somebody has a major illness or family [member] that they have to care for, they’re [going to need] leave no matter what. And it’s just going to be messier. And you’re going to pay for it a different way. Do you have a way of thinking about that, or quantifying what that would look like for businesses?

Vicki Shabo

Heather Boushey… who is now on the Council of Economic Advisers and Sarah Jane Glynn did a study probably like 10 years ago now, that did a lit review that quantified the cost of turnover but in different types of businesses. So actually, [it] … showed a range of anywhere between 16% and 213%, and an average of around one-fifth of a worker’s annual salary” Ms. Shabo shared with the group.

Ms. Shabo also noted that there is about $650 billion in lost productivity from women working at levels less than in our competitor countries, a portion of which was likely related to paid leave issues. “There are a lot of different ways to quantify, that are out there, that have been produced over years.”

Moderator Question | Rebecca Hamilton

Is there anything else that you as kind of experts living and breathing this would like for the Council to take away from this conversation; or know that is important for us as we think about how to how to address this issue for women in business?

Molly Williamson

Ms. Williamson referenced looking at current state and international models of success. “I mean, I think first just want to say thank you again… for all of the clear … thought and reflection … We now have programs that are paying benefits in states across the country… And the expectation is [that] tomorrow the Governor of Delaware is going to sign.”

“You know… I think figuring out how do we learn from and build from what already exists in this country, as well as obviously the resources from around the world, and how do we turn that into really making that payoff for businesses, for business owners, for workers, for our economy is how do we build from this really strong foundation,” she added.

Elaine Weiss

Ms. Weiss also underscored the need to study differences in paid leave opportunities in rural versus urban communities. “We really need to need to lean into this whole issue of rural/urban divides… a lot of rural areas are deserts in so many ways… we need to bridge this divide; we need to make our rural areas first survive… and then we need to bring them back to a place where they can thrive more. It cannot happen without paid leave,” she added.

Moderator Rebecca Hamilton asked the participants to share some closing thoughts on the topic.

Vicki Shabo

“Just wanted to echo thanks to everyone for pulling this together. This is an incredibly well thought out conversation… from the competitive advantage question to the entrepreneurship question, to the cost of inaction, to the messaging, and sort of framing this for small businesses, to the role that you all play.”

“And I’ll just throw in… I think women business owners and sole proprietors are uniquely equipped to point out the benefits of putting people before profits.”

Vasu Reddy

“You know, you all have such a such a huge role to play in redefining kind of how we think about the economy. And so, I’m just so happy to be helpful. However, … I really hope that we can continue to be supportive to you all and elevate those voices.”

Tené Dolphin

Following the closing remarks, Council Member Rebecca Hamilton turned over the conversation to Executive Director for closing remarks.

“Wow, thank you so much, Rebecca! Before I start to close… I know that you guys were in listening mode… Roberta [and] Jamie. And I know that you put some stuff in the chat… so you don’t have to ask anything, but if you have a burning question that you wanted to ask of this panel, let us know.”

Jaime Gloshay

“Thank you so much for your wealth of knowledge and wisdom. This is really helpful for me, especially because I work with indigenous women entrepreneurs… You know that our caregivers and our economic stabilizers and drivers don’t have access to [PFML], it is really disheartening.”

Ms. Gloshay added comment on PFML with the intersection of other economic equity issues. “It’s a really interesting conversation and need, but it also how it intersects with pay equity, right? Because we see entrepreneurship as a pathway towards closing racial wealth gaps and pay inequities as well as supporting those… we care for [and] the caregivers—and… I think that definition for me is expanding… those that are the economic stabilizers for families and communities. So, thank you so much. I appreciate all that you all are doing.”

Roberta McCullough

“Hi, and this is Roberta… This has just been a wealth of information. I was just consuming listening to all of you all have been that have been working on this for some time and you mentioned today one of the subcommittees is access to capital, which is a huge factor in being able to provide these sorts of services in terms of women owned businesses stabilizing their employees as well as offering these kinds of benefits.”

“I find that very intriguing from my particular standpoint, working for a lender and helping many, many women-owned businesses. So, I’m just looking forward to further conversations and… I appreciate your time.”

Tené Dolphin

Executive Director Dolphin concluded the roundtable noting that after speaking to a women business owner she learned some our taking out loans to provide PFML. “Women owners having to take out loans for it is just unfair.”

Following this final observation, she concluded the event by thanking the participants for joining the roundtable and for their dedication to helping solve this issue. “Thank you again… Rebecca, for being so passionate about this conversation and leaning into it and for building a better workplace. I’d also like to thank senior advisor Deirdre Henry-Spires for joining us at the top of this conversation. And then I want to thank all our panelists. Elaine, Vasu, Vicki, Molly, Sarah for your voices, your work, your passion. And Jessica, thank you so much for joining this conversation. We needed your voice. We needed your experience.”

The National Women’s Business Council held a roundtable on August 17th from 2:00 – 3:30 PM EST at Howard University’s Blackburn University Center in Washington, D.C.

This roundtable was in support of the Council’s Women in STEM subcommittee and allowed our Council Members to learn how women entrepreneurs can connect to the opportunities of today and the industries of tomorrow.

Background:

According to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in the White House, their working definition of “industries of the future” is as follows: advanced industrial sectors that support innovative, inclusive, equitable, and sustainable growth; have profound connection with technology R&D and STEM workforce; require R&D investments to support growth that will lead to transformative impact; and will significantly benefit future economic prosperity and national security. The phrase “inclusive, equitable, and sustainable growth” especially stands out to NWBC because our Council is interested in what responsible advancement and a just economic transition might look like for women entrepreneurs.

When it comes to getting women entrepreneurs connected to the industries of the future, Council Members continue to emphasize the importance of bolstering efforts to support women who are actively engaged in the industries of today, and who are looking to pursue opportunities or new lines of business in the industries of tomorrow. This might include, but is not limited to, improved entrepreneurial education, investment, and outreach from K-12, to academia, to women already in the workforce.

While keeping one eye on the future, Council Members are not losing sight of the present. The Council Members that comprise NWBC’s “Women in STEM” policy subcommittee continue to consider the importance of ensuring there be a “for communities, by communities” strategy in place which leverages the historic levels of federal investment and new opportunities in environmental remediation, manufacturing, data, infrastructure, automation, AI, computing, and other high growth industries. It will be critical to better connect traditionally underserved women entrepreneurs to these emerging opportunities. This local-first approach should begin within impacted communities so that change can be implemented on the ground floor, establishing onramps to STEM entrepreneurship so that women no longer get left behind.

As we work to further refine our approach to this topic and solidify policy recommendations in support of women entrepreneurs in STEM, we convened experts from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors to learn more. Tomorrow, we hope that women entrepreneurs will be able to tell their children the story of “how mommy saved the world.” Now, we want to understand how to make that happen.

Moderators:

  • NWBC Council Member and Women in STEM Subcommittee Chair Selena Rodgers Dickerson, Founder of SARCOR, LLC and Selene, LLC
  • NWBC Council Member Jenny Poon, CEO/Founder of CO+HOOTS and HUUB

Roundtable Participants:

  • Dr. Kimberly L. Jones, Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs and Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Howard University
  • Carrie Sheffield, Senior Policy Analyst, Independent Women’s Forum (IWF)
  • Harrison Jumper, Senior Legislative Assistant for Representative Chrissy Houlahan, U.S. Congress
  • Rikki O’Reilly Jones, Investment Analyst for the Office of Investment and Innovation (OII), U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)
  • Dede Zecher, Chief Advisor to the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
  • Dr. Raven Baxter, President and Founder of The Science Haven
  • Dipanwita Das, CEO and Co-founder of Sorcero
  • LaKisha Greenwade, Founder of Wearable Tech Ventures

Questions and Summarized Responses

For All: Can you please share your name, title, and organization as well as a woman in STEM who inspires you?

  • Dipanwita Das: Serves as the CEO and Co-Founder of Sorcero. She grew up around two inspiring women in STEM and is still trying to measure up to them.
  • LaKisha Greenwade: Serves as CEO and Founder of Wearable Tech Ventures. In terms of STEM role models, her grandmother was one of the first medical assistants in the state of Ohio. She is also inspired by Dr. Ruby Lile (?), one of the top black women patent holders.
  • Rikki O’Reilly Jones: Serves as an Investment Analyst in OII in SBA. She explained the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program and the role of OII in investing in women business owners. Rikki is inspired by the small shareholder farmers in Ghana and Tanzania working on issues related to agriculture and water purification, as well as the women in STEM working on solving the sonic boom issue.
  • Dede Zecher: Serves as the Chief Advisor to the Undersecretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and the Director of USPTO. She is inspired by Hedy Lamarr, who not only was a famous actress but also created ways of protecting our codes during World War Two that laid the foundation for things like Wi-Fi and GPS today.
  • Carrie Sheffield: Serves as Senior Policy Analyst at IWF. She was a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs and because of this background in finance, she is inspired by Catherine Woods, founder of ARK Invest.
  • Harrison Jumper: Serves as Senior Legislative Assistant for Representative Chrissy Houlahan. She is the woman in STEM who he admires. With her engineering background and work in Congress, she striving to make real change in the field of STEM.
  • Dr. Raven Baxter: Serves as the Founder of the Science Haven, is a molecular biologist and is known as Dr. Raven the Science Maven online. A woman in STEM who inspires her is Mae Jemison, who was not only the first Black woman in space but is working to ensure others like her have the same opportunity.
  • Dr. Kimberly L. Jones: Serves as Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs and Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Howard University. Having first heard her speak when she was a student, Kim is inspired by Dr. Lilia Abron, President and Chief Executive Officer of PEER Consultants.

For All: Between academia, the private sector, the public sector, and nonprofits, where have you seen best practices for connecting women in STEM to entrepreneurship? Where in these spaces have you seen gaps or missed opportunities?

  • Dr. Kimberly L. Jones: Having served on an advisory board for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), she often thinks about how policy connects to her work. In academia, she sees a gap in connecting students studying STEM to the real world and opportunities outside of academia. Students want to understand how to make a difference and find ways of taking their learnings to other arenas. As she sees it, the curriculum is really strained and there has not been enough space in the curriculum for considering topics like STEM entrepreneurship.
  • LaKisha Greenwade: What she has seen in Maryland is a strong emphasis on universities coming together to ensure students not only apply what they are learning, but also receiving some funding and coaching so they can leave school with some intellectual property (IP). She serves as coach in the i-Corps program and has seen how things are evolving in the STEM field. To her, there is an opportunity to tailor the messaging that the next generation of STEM receives and in the messaging that entrepreneurs take into the field.
  • Dipanwita Das: As the CEO of a company backed by venture capital (VC), things look a little bit different to her. She has been talking a lot about the impact of accelerators because they combine funding opportunities with invaluable mentorship. She has seen a lot of women mentors in her own field of pharmaceuticals, but she knows its not the same across STEM.
  • Dede Zecher: In terms of gaps, gaps in awareness around IP can hurt those who are just starting their businesses. When people think of IP, they think of big players like Google and Coca Cola, and they also think of IP as being expensive. People need to be in a position to make informed choices about IP when they are starting out rather than being left unaware and having to pay the price later. She also noted that USPTO has launched an IP Identifier tool that helps people determine what their needs are when it comes to IP.
  • Carrie Sheffield: She shared her own tricky experiences with IP around trademarking the name of her business, mentioning her appearance on Entrepreneur’s Problem Solvers podcast.
  • Rikki O’Reilly Jones: Mentioned more information about the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The SBIR program specifically has a $3.2 billion spend and the STTR program has a $450 million spend. All that is needed to get into the program is an idea (as opposed to a patent), and they fund prototypes all the way to commercialization and beyond. She also mentioned accelerators as a resource for issues around funding and noted the women’s business center (WBC) program as another resource for entrepreneurial development.
  • LaKisha Greenwade: The i-Corps program is also for entrepreneurs on the idea and ownership side of their innovation, where innovators can get connected to additional opportunities.

For Carrie Sheffield and Harrison Jumper: We discuss the leaky pipeline of women in STEM quite often. How can entrepreneurship be leveraged to plug some of those leaks and where do you see opportunities to get and keep women in STEM entrepreneurship?

  • Harrison Jumper: Thanks to the passage of bills like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and other major investments enacted in the 117th Congress, more funding is flowing into STEM fields and STEM professionals will play a major role in filling in the gaps related to that and other laws. Some notable statistics, the Brookings Institute found that women only account for 18% of infrastructure jobs for many reasons. He also took the opportunity to highlight a focus of his office, which includes the issue of access to capital for women entrepreneurs. In 2023, 62.3% of women sought funding to cover operating costs for their businesses, while only 54% of men sought funding for this purpose. Meanwhile, men were more likely than women to seek funding for expanding their businesses. There are also disparities in contracting opportunities. For example, despite there being a goal for five percent of contracting dollars awarded to go to women each year through the women-owned small business (WOSB) federal contracting program, this goal has only been met twice. His office also often hears from constituents about workforce development and retention issues. According to the Center for American Progress, one in four women take a break in their career and four times as many women as men dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic. Lack of access to childcare and paid family medical leave also contribute to workforce participation disruptions. As he sees it, there are a number of complex solutions at the federal level to meet the moment and numerous investments have been made over the years in working to solve these problems.
  • Carrie Sheffield: Being on a university campus for this conversation, she wanted to highlight the need to go even younger when it comes to connecting women to STEM, as inspiring young women is important. One of her old roommates is a founder of Hello World CS in Texas. They surveyed 1000 students in their programs, and 88% of their students signed up for computer science in middle school while only 33% of students outside of the program did the same. Her friend’s program is opt-in, but she believes that to change the needle at the policy level, participation in STEM programs should be a default for young women and that this should start at a younger age. She also uplifted issues relating to learning loss due to COVID-19 and potential solutions like school choice, as she believes someone’s zip code should not be a determinant of their educational success. When it comes to entrepreneurship, she sees huge access to capital issues at play. Between her mom’s generation and women today, she has witnessed major generational shifts, but access to capital is still a tricky topic. The Harvard Business Review did a study asking VC investors questions relating to risk and reward. In a blind test, for women and men innovators, men were more likely to be asked about the upside of their product and work (the reward) while women were more likely to be asked about the downside (risk). To her, understanding why we see that type of bias is really important.

For Rikki O’Reilly Jones and Dede Zecher: How do you see current and potential women business owners connecting with new and existing opportunities offered at the federal, state, and local level when it comes to STEM, such as patenting, SBIR/STTR, and initiatives driven by the CHIPS and Science Act, the Inflation Reduction Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure law, and the Justice40 Initiative?

  • Dede Zecher: To touch back on what was previously shared, Dede mentioned that only two percent of VC funding is going to women while only 18% is going to co-led firms. Under the leadership of Kathi Vidal, Director of USPTO, the office started the Empowering Women Entrepreneurship (WE) initiative. The office does a “WE Wednesday” event every month which are open to the public. One of the good pieces of advice she wanted to share with audience members is that when they are declined a funding opportunity, they should ask “you’re not interested, but who might be?” Another point she shared was that the Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE) is currently developing recommendations for a national entrepreneurship strategy. Additionally, EDA is implementing the funding and expansion of the Tech Hubs program, which is designed to support innovators across the country.  
  • Rikki O’Reilly Jones: The percentage gaps are real for women business owners, and the SBIC program, the SBIR/STTR program and SBA at large are trying to bridge these gaps through billions of dollars’ worth of investments and in developing innovative policies. With the new SBIC rule to create accrual debenture SBICs now active, this will put more money into communities so that more investment managers actually look like the people in whom they are investing. Changes such as these have been built on years of best practices and lessons learned and have led to the creation of policies to help our sons and daughters in the future.

For LaKisha Greenwade and Dipanwita Das: Have you witnessed any industry-specific barriers to entry for women entrepreneurs, what advice would you give to women facing barriers, and what would you tell any policymakers listening when it comes to lowering them?

  • LaKisha Greenwade: Thinking about her own experience going from ideation to commercialization, LaKisha shared that she wants people of color to be seen as geniuses. Having spent her whole career in marketing for engineering firms and companies, she decided to make the switch herself to entrepreneurship. She had the idea, but what she did not have was the funding. Through her work, she has seen a gap in awareness and exposure to STEM, and a lack of understanding that even though not everyone is going to be an engineer, anyone can be a STEM innovator. But for that to happen, there need to be a lot more angel investors because VC is not always the first step or one that works for everyone. She believes it should be easier for people to serve as angel investors, and she is trying to pay this forward by being an ecosystem builder herself by creating bootcamps and assisting others in navigating through the application process for programs like SBIR/STTR.
  • Dipanwita Das: Going back to VC, she believed it is worth discussing scale. If you want women to build businesses, you must give them millions of dollars of funding, rather than small dollar investments. Women in business have to give investors confidence, but women need the capital and time to make mistakes and close contracts. The small dollars being thrown at female entrepreneurs are not giving them enough opportunity to work out the kinks. Women are often put in the category of building things for the consumer market or for other women, likely because women represent a lot of buying power. The association of what women stereotypically bring to market can really work against women business owners. On the other hand, the data shows that women owned business have 33% higher return on investment than men for every dollar invested. The other thing that is a real barrier is ageism, which can cut both ways for those who are considered too young or too old. Research has found that best time to go for venture funding is when business owners are in their mid-40’s, but even that does not factor in isms like racism and sexism. Her advice is for business owners to stick to the numbers, because the only way to breakthrough a financial mind is with the data, no matter how unfair the situation. She also suggested that when business owners are pitching, it is better to let the audience ask questions for themselves rather than overexplaining. It is better in her eyes to build in really big markets and make the potential impact of the contribution being provided undeniable. She continued by suggesting that women find men who are going to walk in the room with them, even if the women have all the answers and insights. Moving back to VC, she noted that VC has switched away from pushing for firms to raise as much money as possible because a lot of companies are now on the hook for valuations. From what she has seen, private equity and growth capital are favoring bootstrapped self-funded businesses. As growth capital is moving downstream, investors are looking at small dollar-funded companies who are more likely to grow and break even, which favors women-owned businesses. To her, VC is in a moody space, but they are still chasing after AI. Growth capital might be better.

For Dr. Raven Baxter: If the future is female, what should we learn from the past when it comes to women’s engagement in STEM and entrepreneurship?

  • Dr. Raven Baxter: When it comes to access to education, Raven notes that a number of advancements to leveling the playing field for women and people of color have occurred only recently. From her own point of view, science culture is really antiquated. Another issue is that researchers are not taught to think in the entrepreneurial space. Those pursuing STEM are often put in an academic pipeline where there were no opportunities to think as entrepreneurs. When she was in school, she was under the impression that she needed to be a business student to leverage the business development resources and there were not many opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. She would like to see more embracing of non-traditional pathways and allowing people to share more of who they are. Researchers and innovators to her are not just scientists but often people who want to have community impact and run non-profits. Overall, she believes there is tons of work to be done.

For Carrie Sheffield and Harrison Jumper: Is women’s entrepreneurial and workforce participation in STEM an issue that can transcend political divides? Where do you all see opportunities for common ground?

  • Carrie Sheffield: She sees a number of opportunities for bipartisanship in advancing women’s entrepreneurship. Some of the examples she noted included that regulation should be smart, empowering and beneficial as opposed to restrictive and controlling, especially around independent contracting and occupational licensing, that there is alignment around the tax code and topics like the earned income tax credit and the research and development tax credit, and that there is also agreement around the reauthorization of SBA, the need to improve childcare accessibility and the funding of historically Black colleges and universities. As she sees it, there is a bipartisan sense that the system is rigged and that together we can find areas of agreement to derig the system.
  • Harrison Jumper: He agreed that these issues can transcend political divides, and shared examples from his own work. The WOSB Contracting Transparency Act passed the House in the 117th Congress by an overwhelming bipartisan majority. The bill has not yet passed the House in the 118th Congress, but it was included as part of Representative Houlahan’s Small Business Contracting Transparency Act, which passed unanimously through the Small Business Committee in July. Another example he shared was the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which included provisions to reauthorize the Women in Aviation Advisory Committee. He also uplifted Representative Houlahan’s role as a co-chair of the bipartisan Women in STEM Congressional Caucus. From the constituent services perspective, he noted that business owners call their office regularly, often about COVID-19 related issues previously but also concerning access to capital as well. The political party of the person reaching out does not matter, Representative Houlahan’s office will work to connect them with the appropriate resource from small business development centers (SBDCs) to SCORE to WBCs. He believes there is an opportunity to raise awareness around those types of programs as well.

For LaKisha Greenwade and Dipanwita Das: Women have often been hidden figures in technological advancement. How can we ensure that women lead in advancing industries of the present (infrastructure/manufacturing) and the industries of the future, rather than remain stuck in the shadows?

  • LaKisha Greenwade: To LaKisha, it is incredibly important that all understand that there is more than one way to be a leader in STEM. If that mindset is supported and cultivated, that will be a key driver in creating a prosperous future. Uplifting the collective insights shared, she noted that there was a lot of power in the room. By coming together and amplifying programs like WE Wednesdays and more, all can serve as leaders in STEM. As business owners face sustainability issues, there are opportunities to ensure that these programs can be built using design thinking and reverse engineered to bring others to the table to guarantee all can take advantage of them. Together, all can use their own power to create change.
  • Dipanwita Das: She elevated the need for responsible innovation. Women have often been left out of opportunity and been pushed out for being the reasonable voice in the room, so when given the chance, she would like to see women give that success back. She believes women have the power to innovate responsibly and work to minimize harm.

For Dr. Raven Baxter: How are women engaging with STEM at the community-level, be that in schools or in the workforce? Where do you see opportunities to strengthen that connection?

  • Dr. Raven Baxter: Women only occupy 28% of STEM careers. At the start of her journey, although she is a molecular biologist, her initial content on social media was around hair and beauty and aimed at Black women. When she pivoted to posting about science, all of her followers stayed. She found that they were extremely excited to engage with her science content, with her followers sharing that they had never been able to engage in science in this way. She hopes that science continues to engage people’s interest so that less people say that science is not for them. To her, this should be a process that parents and children participate in so that bridges are created to connect people to STEM in non-traditional ways. By the time she became a professor, she decided that she wanted to share how STEM can be used to help people. To create this change, STEM needs to be accessible to people at a younger age and expand the way people think about the roles could have in STEM. The center of everything she does is aimed at increasing public engagement in science.

(Question Omitted Due to Time) For Rikki O’Reilly Jones and Dede Zecher: Any woman can be a STEM entrepreneur or innovator. Please share your thoughts on that statement and how programs available today relate to it.

For All: When we talk about the industries of the future and how women connect with them, does the future look bright to you? What should we be doing today to ensure an even brighter tomorrow?

  • Dipanwita Das: To her, the future looks extremely bright, and there are three things that make it really exciting. First is access to information, as people never had this much access to information. Second is that more stories have been uplifted about women in a diverse set of fields and from unique backgrounds. The final thing that makes the future bright is mentoring, because even thirty minutes of time can mean the world to someone who is working to follow in the footsteps of those ahead of them.
  • LaKisha Greenwade: Discussing her own industry, she is incredibly energized by the future of wearable technology and how it is being designed to solve problems across a number of fields.
  • Rikki O’Reilly Jones: She wanted to consider what individuals can do from the get-go. Because small businesses are apolitical and everyone wants women business owners to win, she believes it is important to stay plugged into resources offered by SBA. For example, the SBIC directory lists each investment firm that has been licensed. These SBICs share the industries they are supporting, what they are interested in and their contact information. In her eyes, there is a solution to every problem, and it all comes down to being intentional.
  • Dede Zecher: Discussed USPTO’s Camp Invention program and how the program engages the next generation of innovators in work that crosses fields and disciplines. This work inspires her, and she noted that because of programs like this, she believes the future is bright. She also reiterated the importance of mentorship and networking building and how USPTO provides resources to help everyone find a mentor.
  • Carrie Sheffield: On the topic of disruption, she shared that although the concept of disruption and the future can be scary, change has become the norm. For example, as a journalist, she shared that the media has been ever evolving, always in a phase of creative destruction. Embracing change is essential. Discussing AI, she noted that in spite of fears around jobs being lost, innovation will also create jobs, as has been witnessed through the rise of computers and the internet. She closed by connecting back to faith, whether in yourself or in God, because it is important to know that at the end of the day, you are not alone. On this topic, she referenced her work in the faith-based investment community through Faith Driven Entrepreneur.
  • Harrison Jumper: He mentioned how inspired he was to participate in this panel full of very smart women, and noted how Congress and the White House are passing bills that create more opportunity that women need to be connected with. That being said, according to the National Partnership for Women in Families, if occupational segregation were eliminated (i.e. women participated in industries at a rate proportional to the total population of women), women would gain another 145,070 jobs per year. To him, this just shows that across the federal landscape, more needs to be done to ensure that these investments are opening up opportunities for women specifically.
  • Dr. Raven Baxter: She shared that she believes that this break away from the elitism and exclusivity of entrepreneurship is a positive thing. On the topic of mentorship, she is working on trying to figure out how to see herself as a mentor in spite of the feeling she is not in a position to do so as she works on her own self-improvement and betterment. To her, it is about moving forward on faith and purpose and she noted that she looks forward to passing along the tools shared today. In her mind, she knows that this work will have a lasting impact on our country.

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.

RECAP

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.

Moderator

  • Sima Ladjevardian, NWBC Chair

Opening and Closing Remarks

  • Tené Dolphin, NWBC Executive Director

Panelists

  • 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.