Every March we celebrate the many historical contributions women have made to the United States. This year there is another anniversary to include in those celebrations. This year, 2018, marks the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Women’s Business Ownership Act, often referred to as H.R. 5050, as it represented a significant step at the time towards parity for female business owners.
As difficult as it may be to imagine, 30 years ago, in some states, a woman could not get a business loan without a man to co-sign for her. There was an overall lack of understanding about the diversity and complexity of the female business owner community. This was evident in “The State of Small Business Report” that mistakenly set forth that most women-owned businesses were home based. Recognizing that these biases and the resulting policies were impeding their ability to grow their businesses, the leaders of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) began to advocate for a better understanding of the contributions female business owners were making to the economy and for the removal of obstacles, like the male co-signing requirement, for their fellow female entrepreneurs. Their efforts culminated with the signing of H.R. 5050 by President Ronald Reagan.
Today, thanks to H.R. 5050, the U.S. Census includes women-owned C corporations in their reporting data; the National Women’s Business Council conducts important research into the women’s business owner ecosystems that is shared with policy makers; the Women’s Business Center program offers resources including business education to women across the country; and women are no longer required to have a male co-sign for their business loan. We have come a long way.
What data can do
Of course, more work remains. NAWBO was founded in 1975 to serve as the first advocacy organization for all female business owners. We are proud to represent this diverse and robust segment of the economy. According to the 2017 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report commissioned by American Express, there are an estimated 11.6 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. These businesses are responsible for employing nearly nine million individuals and generating nearly $1.7 trillion in annual revenues.
Having good data is the first step in driving good public policy. Now that we all understand the significant contribution women business owners make to the economy, it is incumbent on us all to work together to continue to expand access for female business owners to capital, contracts, confidence and community.