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Fighting for a Voice and Winning a Place in the U.S. Economy

By: Ashley Judah, NWBC Legislative & Policy Advisor

Fighting for a Voice and Winning a Place in the U.S. Economy

After over 70 years of persistence and strategic activism, women found a voice in our political process and opened the gates to pursuing their entrepreneurial destiny. Ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution prohibited the states and federal government from denying the right to vote on the basis of sex. Fast forward 100 years, and women comprise almost 24% of the 116th Congress—not only casting ballots for themselves but voting in representation of hundreds of thousands of citizens on our nation’s most pressing issues, including those shaping the business climate.

As women’s role in American society expanded beyond the home front, through the political process, and into the realm of enterprise, another roadblock emerged to make their presence known. The Economic Census failed to include them in its data products. The Survey of Minority-Owned Business Enterprises (SMOBE) was introduced as a special project in 1969 and eventually became a part of the Economic Census in 1972. Still five years later in 1977, the Survey of Women-Owned Business Enterprises (SWOBE) was initiated to provide crucial demographic information on female entrepreneurs. SMOBE and SWOBE were eventually combined to create the Survey of Business Owners (SBO).

Women business owners were barely recognized in the 1980s despite growing data pools on their contributions to U.S. commerce. A groundbreaking effort to establish credibility on a national platform began with the White House Conference on Small Business (WHCSB) in 1980. The number of women delegates participating in the 1986 WHCSB almost doubled that of the 1980 WHCSB – increasing from 16 percent in 1980 to 29 percent in 1986. The shift was a clear indication that women-owned businesses comprised the fastest growing segment of the small business community. Discussions at the 1986 WHCSB paved the way for the passage of H.R. 5050, the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988 – the legislation that paved the way for the success of women’s entrepreneurship in the U.S.

H.R. 5050 eliminated state laws requiring women to have a male relative or husband co-sign a business loan, established the Women’s Business Center Program through the Office of Women’s Business Ownership at the Small Business Administration (SBA), and created the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC). Now in its 31st year, the NWBC continues the charge to provide actionable policy recommendations to the President, Congress, and the SBA on issues impacting women business owners and entrepreneurs.

At NWBC, we recognize that barriers remain for women’s business enterprise to reach its full potential. The Council strives to propose solutions pertaining to credit access, federal procurement, and venture capital funding for female founders. We hope to encourage women to start and grow their businesses in STEM, an industry with proven high-growth potential. We remain committed to identifying resource voids and untapped opportunities for rural women entrepreneurs. 

In celebration of Women’s Equality Day and the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, we pause to remember the mountains conquered, while also applauding the ever-growing contributions of women entrepreneurs to the U.S. economy. According to a January 2020 data release from the Department of Labor, the number of women on payrolls (excluding farmworkers and the self-employed) exceeded that of men in December 2019 for the first time since mid-2010. Women held 50.04% of U.S. jobs and surpassed males in the workforce by 109,000.

Now, consider entrepreneurship. As of 2019, women-owned businesses represent an estimated 42% of all U.S. businesses (nearly 13 million), employ 9.4 million workers, and generate $1.9 trillion in revenue. Over the past five years, the annual growth rate (21%) in the number of women-owned businesses has been more than double that of all businesses (9%).

Women continue to defy expectations, scale walls, and conquer unchartered territory. The NWBC is committed to highlighting these victories until women’s entrepreneurship is no longer an anomaly but a vibrant part of the mainstream.

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