The Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce remains focused on advocating for policies beneficial to the country’s growing number of female entrepreneurs and small business owners. According to CEO Margot Dorfman, there’s still a great disparity in terms of access to capital and ability to procure federal government contracts for female entrepreneurs. Her organization hopes to break down of some of the barriers in 2016. Dorfman spoke with MiBiz on some of the strategies the Women’s Chamber hopes to use this year.
What’s the landscape look like for women-owned businesses and female entrepreneurs?
From what we see, just at the high-level, women now own 9.9 million small businesses — 36 percent of all U.S. firms. We generate $1.6 trillion in revenues annually. The unfortunate thing is our production does not commensurate with the numbers. We only produce 4.82 percent of all revenues for U.S. firms. Because of that disparity, women-owned firms are losing $10 trillion annually.
Where does that disparity come from?
There’s a number of issues that we see. The ability to access larger contracts and especially government contracts — that’s one challenge. Another is the ability to access capital. There’s still cherry-picking going on with banks where they want to lend large dollars, not smaller dollars. Also, they’re still asking for women’s husbands’ signatures on their own personal business loans, even though their husbands have nothing to do with the business itself. So women tend to not have access to capital at the rate they might be able to just because of the barriers.
How is the Women’s Chamber helping female entrepreneurs with access to capital?
The U.S. Women’s Chamber has worked in a number of ways to try to assist women-owned firms and has done a lot of legislative work. We find that if we actually try to wait and just do policy, our members could starve or go out of business. What we’ve focused on beyond that is looking at ways to drive sales for women-owned firms. That provides the opportunity to have some cash flow where they may not have to take out loans. The other piece of that is we started womensbusinessloans.org and that provides women business owners with loans up to $300,000.
We also have announced the launch of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce Seed Federal Credit Union. Once that’s fully up and running, we will sort of change the industry standards for lending to women-owned small businesses. If we are not discriminating and they’re coming to us, maybe others will change their ways.
What are some of the top priorities for your organization in 2016?
We look at access to contracts. First off, the U.S. Women’s Chamber has worked hard to remove the barrier. There is a women-owned small business program that the Small Business Administration has failed to implement to its full potential. The original law was signed back in 2000. The U.S. Women’s Chamber had to file a lawsuit against the SBA to get that moved forward. We dropped the claim in 2011 so you can see how long it took that to get going.
From a policy standpoint, how does the Women’s Chamber differ from other business organizations?
The U.S. Women’s Chamber tends to be a little different. … We are very different than any other chamber out there. Some of the smaller chambers may be more in alignment with where we’re headed. But I know the U.S. Chamber and the U.S. Women’s Chamber are usually on opposite sides of the table. Very rarely do we do find ourselves on the same side of the table. That’s because the makeup of women business owners, according to the last census data that came out, revealed that between 1997 and 2007, the number of women-owned firms grew by 44 percent.
What has that shift meant?
What was happening during that time is we saw the shift of women leaving corporate America in droves because of lack of fair pay and family-friendly work environment and the glass ceiling that still exists today. When women left those firms and they started those businesses, they didn’t start their business with discrimination in mind. So they automatically provided for themselves and the employees a family-friendly work environment … for the benefit of all. With that comes the platform, which is not about business ownership, it’s also including women workers.
Do you have any broader policy goals you hope to work on this year?
Raise American incomes. This is very important because those folks that need a raise in incomes are the American consumers. Without that growth, then there’s no business growth. We also want to stabilize health care costs for small businesses and individuals.
Interview conducted and condensed by Nick Manes. Courtesy photo.