What’s your perception of today’s woman-owned small business? Is it the crafty type like a homemade toffee candy business? If you think so, you are way off base. It’s finally true. Women-owned businesses have now surpassed the simple craft route by being significant contributors to the economy. It’s time to cheer, but just a little.
Here’s what the data shows. A study released last Friday by three women’s business groups and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. found that women-owned small businesses in the U.S. create an economic impact of nearly $3 trillion. That’s some serious revenue. Those dollars translate into the equivalent of the world’s fifth largest gross domestic product. Amazing. Women-owned small businesses also employ 23 million people. Now that you are done cheering, what do you think should happen next? I think there’s more work for women to do.
Enough financial help is not finding its way to women-owned businesses. The study found that women business owners face continuing challenges such as access to capital, rising health care costs and securing federal contracts. If the latter problem were addressed, the first two could be addressed, too.
Guess how much federal money is finding its way to women-owned businesses? The study found that 3.4 percent of the federal government’s contract dollars went to women-owned businesses in fiscal 2009. That was below its goal of 5 percent. Why is it so difficult for the government to make contact with businesses who have a $3 trillion economic impact? You’ve got me stumped.
Yet, I don’t blame the government for the shortfall in funding. Where are the women’s organizations helping other women in business?
I went to the web site of one of the women’s organizations who participated in the study. Part of their mission was to promote policies and programs that support women’s business enterprises at all stages of development. You would think getting government funding (and increasing the puny 5% amount) would be top of their list. Their failure cannot be for lack of finding small businesses run by women. What is it then?
Maybe it’s what I’ve experienced with some women’s organizations. You would think that the women business organizations would be most helpful to other women. In my experience, unless it’s a technical (information technology or engineering) organization for women, what you find is that the women involved are more self serving than serving other women in business.
I once attended meetings of a national women’s business organization. I remember meetings where none of the board members made an effort to reach out to new members. The board members talked among themselves and didn’t speak to attendees who were there for the first time. Talk about making someone feel unwelcome! At another meeting, the organization hosted a trade fair of women-owned businesses. The president of this group walked up to a group of women who were talking to one of the exhibitors at her booth. The president announced that she needed a photo opportunity. She pushed aside the people talking and shook hands with the exhibitor for the photo op and then dashed off. I saw this and thought, “She sure thinks she’s more important than anyone else.” It turned me off to the group. That’s the kind of self-serving behavior I mean.
So if more women are going to get ahead, they can’t rely on the government helping them, unless they can find the government money themselves. I wish more successful women helped other women business owners. It may be an uphill battle. As Dave Packard, one of the founders of Hewlett-Packard, once said, “Talking with successful people is a great way to learn about what it takes to be successful, but not to bank on them helping you be successful in the future.” It’s sad that this applies to women in business.