Senate Discusses Gender Bias in Entrepreneurships – REVISED

IMG_2508Photo of The Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship at the Russell Senate office building last Thursday

By Alyssa Rotunno

WASHINGTON – The Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship met last Thursday to discuss legislative ways to help lessen the gender disadvantages for women in business and entrepreneurship.

Chairmen James Risch, R-Idaho, led the session alongside ranking member and New Hampshire Sen., Jeanne Shaheen. Three successful female business entrepreneurs spoke on the panel on behalf of the community to discuss what policies need to change to help businesswomen succeed.

“This is the time for opportunity.” said Elizabeth Gore, the entrepreneur in residence at Dell, a multinational computer technology company. “Women in all areas of business have such great potential to succeed, so why aren’t they?”

Women own over 9.4 million businesses, employ over 7.9 million people and add $1.5 trillion in sales as of 2015, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). Yet women only employ roughly eight percent of the private workforce, despite the number of women-owned businesses in the U.S. This statistic has remained the same for over 20 years.

Currently, women only own seven percent of venture capital, only seven percent of venture capitalists are female and only seven percent of stories in business media are about women, according to Gore.

“We’re stuck on the number seven,” Gore said, shaking her head. “We need to increase that seven percent, but instead it’s actually going down. The only way to change that is to increase access to capital, increase access to SPA loans, increase access to certifications and increase access to technology.”

The other panelists agreed with Gore, stating their ideas on what they believe needs to change going forward.

“The lack of funding is the biggest detriment and issue,” said Tracey Chadwell, a founding partner of 1843 Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in technology companies. “By giving more loans, it gives women the fuel they need to grow their business.”

This is a nationwide issue, the panelists said. Only 30 percent of female-run companies looking for bank loans received them in 2016, according to an article on CNBC.

Chadwell said she has witnessed this bias firsthand. As a young technology-based entrepreneur, she was trying to take out loans in order to start her business, but people were unwilling to give her money since her husband was not part of the company, Chadwell stated.

“When you hear stories like that, as a woman, you just shake your head,” Shaheen said. “It’s all too familiar.”

Chadwell’s story of unconscious gender bias isn’t the only one. A study conducted by researchers from Harvard and MIT found that investors were 68 percent more likely to choose the ventures pitched by men. The study isolated gender by having men and women pitch the same exact business plan to investors. Female entrepreneur’s business plans were 40 percent less likely to be chosen over men.

Michelle Richards, the third panelist and the founder of the Great Lakes Women’s Business Council (Great Lakes WBC), a nonprofit benefitting women in business, stated her company was working on ending this disparity, but it simply is not enough.

“For women to succeed, they need what I call the three C’s – capacity, customers and contracts,” Richards said. “Contracts cause the biggest issues, so we’re working on improving that aspect.”

The Great Lakes WBC started a small business-loan program that has created over 1800 jobs across nine Michigan counties.

“This is just a start for women entrepreneurs in America” Richards said.

After hearing the stories from the female entrepreneur panel, Risch agreed there needed to be a change in structure.

“The conversation has been striking this morning,” Risch said. “Federal government doesn’t always do the things they should and that’s why we’re here today.”

Women are still fighting for equal pay, maternity leave and equal access to venture capital. However, businesswomen cannot get anywhere if the people in charge don’t initiate the changes, the panelists stated.

“The unconscious bias is so strong,” Gore said. “When the formula is working and you’re raising lots of money, it’s hard to get people to break that mold.”

Although it is difficult to break the mold, Chadwell has an idea on how to lessen the gender bias and institute the change she wishes to see.

“We may not have to legislate for equality. If there are more women in business and more women CEO’s, they’ll just understand. They’ll make the changes for themselves,” Chadwell said. “That’s why supporting women entrepreneurs is so important.”

Child care and maternity leave is something Risch stated he’s flagged. The systematic burden placed on mothers and disproportionate advantages for women is under serious consideration.

After an hour of vigorous discussion, the female entrepreneurs are hopeful when looking towards the future and have ideas on how to initiate change.

“We need to simply have more women at the table when talking about access to capital,” Chadwell said. “Nothing is ever going to change if we have the same men making decisions for women’s issues.”




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