Beth Solomon and Diane Tomb from CNBC

The Important Role of Female Small Business Owners

The Important Role of Female Small Business Owners 2

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg sparked a national conversation recently, when she called for women to “lean in” and pursue their careers aggressively.

While opinions are strong—and they vary—one thing all should be able to agree on is that entrepreneurship and business ownership are good things for women. In fact, if recent research is any indication, more women entrepreneurs is a good thing for everyone in the community: men and women.

Let’stake a look at the numbers: There are more than 10 million businesses owned by women, employing more than 13 million people and generating $1.9 trillion in sales. Not only that, women-led businesses are one of the fastest growing types of the small businesses—a rare bright spot in today’s sluggish economy. The number of women-owned businesses increased nearly 60 percent since 1997. Lastly, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners’ (NAWBO) 2013 State of Women-Owned Businesses Survey, 2013 looks to be the “Year of the Female Entrepreneur,” with women business owners’ optimism at high levels (81 percent) on the opportunities that lie ahead.

Optimism Among Female Entrepreneurs

Where does this optimism come from?

Perhaps it’s from seeing glass ceilings breaking from Capitol Hill to the corporate boardroom and everywhere in between. Perhaps it’s from the perseverance grounded in years of parents raising their daughters to believe that just because something hasn’t been done by a woman yet, need not mean that it will never be done by a female.

Both of us had mothers, who encouraged us (or was it more of a push?) to start our own businesses and who showed us through their actions, as well as their words, the benefits and challenges of owning your own business. They taught us to value creativity and hard work and as we carried those values into the workplace, it instilled in us the confidence to start our own businesses and pursue our dreams on our own terms.

Whether it was a lemonade stand, asking for more money as a babysitter, or teaching tennis lessons, starting businesses as girls built confidence in us that comes from taking on the unknown and meeting a challenge—and feeling the sweet success of running an operation—even if it’s profits were under $20.

Teaching us to start businesses put us as young girls in control of capital. Earning, owning and making decisions about money was training that continues to be useful every single day, especially as we have both gone on to run our own businesses.

Capital Access for Women Entrepreneurs

But whether it’s a lemonade stand or a national business, entrepreneurship requires the fuel of capital to succeed—this is a key lesson from our collective experience. In fact, this continues to be the biggest impediment to women-owned businesses and the professional flexibility and control ownership provides.

According to the NAWBO 2013 State of Women-Owned Business Survey, nearly a quarter of women business owners did not seek a new loan or line of credit because they did not believe they would get it. This fear is not unfounded: loan approval rates for women-owned companies are 15 percent-20 percent lower than they are for their male-owned counterparts. Given the success of female entrepreneurs and business owners, this seems to be akin to leaving job creation on the bench, precisely when we need it most.

Expanding the opportunity of entrepreneurship and capital access for women is vital to our national success. The risk of starting your own business or owning your own enterprise isn’t for everyone, male or female, but women have proven that when they do take the risks, all benefit.

As the leadership of women in business organizations continues to grow, female entrepreneurs will have many trailblazers to follow. We have a woman Administrator at the Small Business Administration, Karen Mills, who has been one of the most ardent advocates for small businesses in this nation’s history. We are both proud to have worked alongside Administrator Mills and her stellar team at the SBA in creating opportunities for more women in business.

New Women’s Small Business Lending Initiative

This Mother’s Day, our organizations will launch a Women’s Small Business Lending Initiative, bringing capital access options and training to more women through the nation’s network of 270 Certified Development Companies, SBA Loans, and SBA Women’s Business Centers.

As we reflect on the important women in our own lives this Mother’s Day, it’s also worth considering the thousands of women who are starting their own businesses, creating jobs and creating value for their communities and giving thanks for the great fortune of living in a country that cherishes freedom and celebrates progress. Now is the time to “lean in” with the financing women need to power the American Dream and job creation for all of us.

Solomon is the President and CEO of the National Association of Development Companies (NADCO) and Tomb is the President and CEO of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), both trade associations in Washington, DC.

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