Posted on Monday, April 4, 2011
A few weeks ago, the White House released a report on the status of American women: "Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being." This was a big deal: it's the first comprehensive federal report on women since 1963. Yes, you read that right: The last time the federal government produced a report on women was during the Kennedy administration, with Eleanor Roosevelt in charge. Clearly, they've had a lot of time to do research.
The report illustrates how women's lives are changing in five different arenas -- people, families and income; education; employment; health; and crime and violence. Most of it isn't especially surprising: Women are marrying later and having fewer children. Women live longer than men but generally face health problems like arthritis, asthma, depression, and obesity. Younger women are more likely than younger men to have a college or a master's degree. Stuff we already know.
But as the founder and president of Count Me In for Women's Economic Independence, a not-for-profit provider of resources for women growing micro-businesses into million dollar enterprises, I was most interested in the employment area. And for better or for worse, none of it was especially shocking, either. For example, although the number of women and men in the labor force has nearly equalized in recent years, women still earn about 75 percent of what men earn. A big reason is because females don't go into science and technology-related fields, which typically lead to higher paying occupations (women tend to gravitate toward lower paying jobs, like teaching).
But here's what did surprise me: Nowhere in the 85-page document was there any mention of women-owned businesses. Not a peep. We heard a lot about women and education; we learned how old college-educated women are when they marry (the median age is 30, fyi). But there was not one word about the ten-and-a-half million women who are in business for themselves.
Granted, President Kennedy's report didn't mention women business owners. But that's because we didn't even count them in the US Census until the 1970's, when women won the right to business credit in their own name.
I'm not quite sure why women business-owners were left out of the Obama administration's report. How can you expect to create jobs if you're not speaking to the people who create them? It's not like women-owned businesses don't account for much in this economy. According to an October, 2009 study from the Center for Women's Business Research -- a bi-partisan federal government council created to serve as an independent source of advice and counsel to the President, Congress, and the U.S. Small Business Administration on economic issues of importance to women business owners -- women-owned businesses contribute nearly three trillion dollars to the US economy, and create or maintain 23 million jobs [pdf]. Or look at it this way: If women-owned businesses were their own country, they would have the 5th largest GDP in the world, ahead of France, Britain, Italy. As it happens, as I write this the president is in Brazil, which some speculate will soon have the 5th largest GDP. Never mind the trouble in Libya, Yemen and Japan; Obama obviously thought it was critical enough to the US economy to figure out how to increase trade and exports with Brazil. Well, what about increasing the capacity of women-owned businesses and elevating their exports?
There's more. A December 2009 report by The Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute found that women-owned small businesses will generate more than half of the 9.72 million new small -- business jobs expected to be created -- and roughly one-third of the 15.3 million total new jobs anticipated -- by the Bureau of Labor Statistics by 2018.
It's too bad the White House didn't feel the need to mention this, because it's precisely the sort of thing women need to hear. Women -- no, people -- get inspired by one another. Women entrepreneurs achieve the most success when they operate in a cohort, challenging and pushing each other forward. Tina Rosenberg's Join The Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World demonstrates how peer pressure can be an agent of positive change and can modify behavior. What's more, female entrepreneurs are sadly lacking in role models.
I know this White House is committed to creating jobs. And women business owners of America are doing their share by employing 16 percent of the workforce and climbing. I just hope we don't have to wait another 45 years to be visible to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
THE HUFFINGTON POST - Nell Merlino, Founder, President and CEO, Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence