Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with the Business Tribune in my capacity as Programs Director and President-Elect of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) Oregon Chapter. In that interview, I talked about how the 18-month-old NAWBO Oregon Chapter stands on the 30-year legacy of NAWBO and the groundbreaking 1988 law that made it all possible. I also spoke about the challenges that women business owners still face today.
Women’s contribution to business is previously misrepresented
Before the 1990s, the business sector’s spotlight is focused entirely on men and their contributions. Women’s contributions to business didn’t matter much. In fact, prior to the passage of the Women’s Business Ownership Act, the US Census Bureau only collected data from women business owners who operate from home. The Bureau largely disregarded data from bigger women-run corporations, known as C-corporations.
This level of misrepresentation obviously made it difficult for women back then to start up and grow their own enterprises. Gender stereotyping labeled women as high-risk borrowers, so few banks and lenders were willing to give them the funding they needed. Those that were required women borrowers to have their male relatives sign their loan applications for them. There were even stories of women having their teenaged sons sign these applications for them, if you could believe that.
Aside from lack of funding sources, women in business also didn’t have much support in terms of education and resources. Women business owners were pretty much on their own back then, to succeed or fail only by their sheer grit.
NAWBO lobbies to change the scene for women in business
Fast forward to 1975, when a group of like-minded, Washington DC-based businesswomen got together to share information and solutions to challenges faced by women in business. Led by Susan Hagar, this group of women eventually incorporated themselves as the National Association of Women Business Owners.
Initially, NAWBO endeavored to show support for women business owners by publishing a directory of women-run enterprises in the Baltimore area. NAWBO’s growing influence led the group to take part in the White House Conference on Small Businesses. They also participated in task forces and committees to bring to the fore women’s concerns and challenges in the world of business that time.
Their efforts paid off in the long run. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed H.R. 5050, also known as the Women’s Business Ownership Act. NAWBO was recognized as one of the organizations whose support made this historic law possible.
H.R. 5050 changed the landscape for women in business. For one, it scraped existing laws requiring women to get male family members to sign for their loans. For another, the Act created women’s business centers throughout the country. From these centers, women can get seed funding, training, resources, and other forms of support to start up and grow their businesses. Lastly, the Act enabled the formation of the National Women’s Business Council. The Council assists in creating policies regarding women in business.
Women in business still face challenges today
The passage of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988 certainly opened more doors for women in business. More than that, the law revealed the true value that businesswomen bring to the table.
Nonetheless, women business owners still face a myriad of challenges today, 30 years after President Reagan signed the Act. These issues lie mostly with finding adequate funding and gender discrimination. Entrepreneur Magazine has a great infographic that illustrates the problems that women in business still face right now.
Personally, I find finances to be a major challenge in running Sacred Fire Creative. As I mentioned in the Business Tribune article, I can be obsessive with my personal finances and the money that comes in and out of my company. So, it’s always my advice to other women business owners who are just starting up to keep track of their finances. More importantly, they should seek financing instead of using their credit cards when taking care of their business expenses.
With regards NAWBO Oregon, our focus right now is to build a strong support network for our growing membership. Eventually, once we get the numbers, we will shift our attention to advocate state-level legislation that will promote concerns of Oregon’s women business owners.