U.S. Senate Addresses Major Obstacles faced by Women Business Owners

In July, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship released a report entitled, 21st Century Barriers to Women’s Entrepreneurship highlighting three key areas that need improvement for women business owners: access to the federal market, access to capital, and access to business counseling and training. According to the report women-owned businesses are a $3 trillion economic force and support 23 million jobs but still face significant barriers compared to their male-owned counterparts when it comes to obtaining loans and growing their businesses.

Women entrepreneurs account for just $1 out of every $23 in small business lending, despite representing 30 percent of all small companies. Women also are more likely to be turned down for loans or receive less favorable terms than men, according to the report.

Other significant challenges faced by women are highlighted in the report, including:

  • Access to lending: Women receive just 4 percent of the total value of all conventional small business loans, and only 7 percent of venture capital funding. In addition, women face difficulty in getting right-sized loans that fit their needs. “Women are forced to rely on personal credit, loans from family and friends, and credit with high interest rates instead of getting traditional bank lending,” Cantwell said.
  • Equal access to federal contracts: The federal government has never met its goal of awarding 5 percent of contracts to women-owned businesses – a goal enacted by legislation 20 years ago. This results in women-owned businesses missing at least $4 billion annually in contracting opportunities.
  • Getting relevant business training and counseling: The SBA-operated Women Business Center program was created to help support women-owned businesses get off the ground and has successfully provided training to thousands of women entrepreneurs each year. But Congress has not provided new funding for the program since 1999, despite an increasing need.

The report recommends three remedies to improve the business climate for women entrepreneurs:

  • Modernize and expand the SBA’s Microloan Program to reach borrowers that need up to $50,000, and reauthorize the Intermediary Loan Program to allow more women to access capital between $50,000 and $200,000.
  • Enact legislation that would allow sole-source contracting to women-owned businesses through the Women-Owned Small Business Procurement Program, which would give them the same access to federal contracts as other disadvantaged groups.
  • Reauthorize the Women Business Center program, which issues grants to nonprofit organizations to provide specialized counseling and training, and increase funding to potentially help more women entrepreneurs, especially in low-income areas. The program already has demonstrated success – Women Business Centers helped clients access more than $25 million in capital and open more than 630 businesses in fiscal year 2013.

If you support this legislation, you are urged to contact your Senator and encourage them to co-sponsor this legislation.