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As Women’s History Month approaches, it’s important that we honor, celebrate and recognize the impact women entrepreneurs are making in the business world. Women business leaders play an essential role in their local communities, our economy and the world at large. They are a vital part of the world’s economic engine, empowering the next generation of women to achieve their entrepreneurial goals.
Women made strides toward equality and made their mark on business in 1988 back then The Women’s Business Ownership Act was passed. The bill, which was supported by the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), was created to meet the needs of women through banks’ lending practices that made business ownership more difficult for women than for men , to eliminate.
This year we celebrate the 35e anniversary of the Women’s Business Ownership Act and Women’s History Month, it is important to respect and acknowledge our history and recognize its impact on the present. There is still work to be done, as we can pave the way for a successful generation of future female leaders and entrepreneurs.
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A look back at female entrepreneurship over the past 35 years
More than three decades ago, the process of starting a business changed for the better for women. The Women’s Business Ownership Act was passed and empowered women entrepreneurs across the country to pursue their business goals. Prior to approval, female entrepreneurs were required to have a male related to them as a co-signer on their business loans. The law helped reduce gender discrimination and enabled women to access capital to start a new business or fund their existing one.
Since that milestone, the number of women-owned businesses has increased significantly. A few years after its introduction, the number of women-owned businesses in the US reached 6.4 million in 1992 – representing one-third of all domestic businesses and 40% of all retail and service businesses, according to the United States Census. As of 2019, the number of women-owned businesses has doubled to nearly 13 million (representing 42% of all U.S. companies), and a 2022 study showed that the number of female entrepreneurs has increased over the past three years grew by 48% year-over-year, outpacing their male counterparts by 22%.
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How we are changing the future for female entrepreneurs
While we’ve made great strides over the past 35 years, women continue to face greater challenges than their male counterparts. For example, access to capital remains a critical issue for women and minority business owners. According to the Bank of America’s Spotlight, Women and Minority Business Owner Spotlight 2022, almost a third of female business owners don’t believe women will ever have equal access to capital, and for those who do, they think it will take an average of nine years to gain equal access. It is clear that we still have a lot of progress to make.
To help overcome inequality in access to capital, women need support and resources to navigate the capital landscape and identify potential sources of funding, such as equity, debt and grant capital. Banks have a responsibility to provide accessible capital solutions. There are a number of resources currently available that many female entrepreneurs are unaware of. For example, Bank of America launched the Access Capital Directory for Women Entrepreneurs to help women connect with organizations that provide funding to women-owned businesses. In addition, the Bank of America Institute for Female Entrepreneurship at Cornell offers women the opportunity to earn a certificate in business from Ivy League university. The bank also recently issued a public marketplace to support and highlight women-owned businesses that participate in programs to promote female entrepreneurship.
Mentorship can also make a significant difference in your professional growth. Over the years I have learned how important and valuable this is, both as a mentor and a mentee, and how much more you can achieve if you pay it forward and help lift other women. This can be done by providing programs and materials, serving as a confidant for a colleague, or encouraging women to explore new learning resources.
Related: 3 Strategies for Women Entrepreneurs to Overcome Common Hurdles in Business
Education will remain crucial as women work for full equality in business. Whether learning about business tactics or applying for grants, women should use every resource available to expand their knowledge and reach as they embark on their business endeavors. By collaborating with fellow women and business partners, they can improve efficiency, strengthen financial literacy and deploy their creativity that will take their business to unprecedented levels of new success.
Many women entrepreneurs face challenges on a daily basis, but they continue to overcome adversity and remain committed – as we have seen over the past 35 years. I have seen this especially in my personal and professional life. We have a lot to celebrate, but I’m even more thrilled and excited to see what we accomplish in the next 35 years.