In October, we celebrated National Women’s Small Business Month, an opportunity to share truly good news: Over the past 40 years, the number of women-owned businesses in the United States has exploded, growing from just 5% of all businesses to more than 42%, edging ever closer to parity with our male counterparts.
Translated into pure numbers, four decades ago there were around 400,000 women-owned businesses nationally. Today, we are 13 million-plus strong – mostly small businesses – generating nearly $2 trillion in revenue. In California, where I’m founder and president of Skyview Concessions Inc., the number of women-owned small businesses has grown to nearly than 150,000, and we employ more than 1.5 million.
But even with our growing numbers and increasing financial impact on the communities where we live and work, the sustained success of women-owned small businesses remains much more fragile than that of our male counterparts.
We are more likely than men to struggle to retain our employees, to meet our revenue goals and to compete with big business.
Why this gender gap persists is, of course, complicated and often affects women entrepreneurs differently.
Working mothers still shoulder much of family caregiving responsibilities, and the pandemic has stretched us and the already-tenuous network of child care options to the breaking point. And providing benefits such as child care to support parenting employees, it’s harder for small businesses to compete with the economies of scale of bigger businesses.
We can’t sustain our businesses if our communities lack affordable, high-quality child care options, for women entrepreneurs and the working mothers they employ. That is a national dilemma that deserves a coordinated national response. There are, however, other areas in which specific steps can be taken immediately to help female entrepreneurs thrive.
A recent Goldman Sachs survey of small businesses owners across the United States found that half of women small business owners face significant challenges finding and retaining employees, compared with 44% of men. Women are also more likely than men to say they are hindered by having to compete for workers with big businesses that can offer more generous retirement and health insurance benefits.
My fellow women entrepreneurs and I are taking the opportunity presented by National Women’s Small Business Month to call on our policymakers to address these stubborn disparities by reauthorizing and modernizing the Small Business Administration (SBA) for the first time in more than two decades. Bringing the SBA into the modern era, with a contemporary sensibility about what tools and resources women entrepreneurs need to survive and thrive in our every-changing economy is key to serving the needs of our small business community.
Let’s modernize access to SBA programs, eliminating cumbersome and redundant paperwork. Let’s streamline and bring into this century SBA program application processes. (Step. 1 – eliminate requirements that documents be faxed!) Let’s make sure the SBA expands access to capital for small businesses by filling the current gaps in the credit market, especially for women-owned small businesses unable to find credit elsewhere so we can continue to grow businesses like Skyview Concessions. Let’s create an information system that better informs small business owners of important programs that are historically underused because they are difficult to find and navigate.
And let’s hold the SBA accountable for meeting its own goal of awarding five percent of federal contracting dollars to women-owned small businesses. The SBA has consistently failed to hit that goal. In fact, federal contracts awarded to women-owned small businesses actually dropped from 2020 to 2021.
Let’s reduce obstacles that block us out before we event start, including high bonding requirements and the cost in time and money of preparing voluminous responses to federal requests for proposals.
As I said at the start, we have made great strides since the days not so long ago when women were required to have a male relative co-sign for a business loan. (Fact check: true.)
But as we celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit of America’s women small business owners, let’s support our women small business owners by taking strong, measurable, sensible steps that reflect the realities of what it takes to succeed our modern and ever-evolving economy.
Apryl Stewart is an entrepreneur, an expert in the airport retailing sector and a skilled executive leader in business development, sales management, operations, marketing, human resources, merchandising and buying.
She founded Torrance-based Skyview Concessions Inc. in 2007. It operates airport retail operations at LAX and SFO.