Why, after nearly three decades, do we still publish our annual Women in Business special section?
After all, don’t we live in a time when women have careers, own their own businesses, and run multi-million dollar corporations?
Allow me to offer at least one reason: It wasn’t always this way. There was a time, in the not too distant past, when women had far fewer rights than they do now. Far fewer.
For example, in America in the 1970s married women, when referred to in print, never had first names: It was Mrs. John Smith or Mrs. William Jones. Banks had the right to refuse you a line of credit without your husband’s signature. If you were lucky enough to get a professional job, getting pregnant could result in termination. Airline attendants (stewardesses) were exclusively young, attractive, single women required to maintain a designated weight, and stay single or risk losing their job.
Not that long ago, women did not report the TV news, few were admitted into law school, medical school or the military; mailmen, firemen, policemen were all off limits.
The idea of a woman owning her own business and competing with men in a man’s world was not particularly encouraged. In fact, some thought the idea laughable.
Against this backdrop of patriarchal regulations, and fueled by a rising feminist movement evidenced by the formation of the National Organization of Women, Ms. Magazine, and a growing wave of feminist literature and spokespeople, American women began to demand equality. The Equal Rights Amendment, first introduced in 1923 and finally passed by Congress in 1972 to guarantee the constitutional rights of all regardless of one’s sex, went to the states for ratification. That same year, Title IX prohibited federally funded educational institutions from discriminating against students based on sex, opening viable school sports to young girls.
October is National Women’s Small Business Month, a salute to the Women Owned Business Act, which was passed in October 1988.
The act was created to address the needs of women in business by giving women entrepreneurs better recognition, additional resources and by eliminating discriminatory lending practices by banks that favored male business owners over female.
As recently as 2009, the issue of equal pay for equal work was addressed when President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that restored protection against pay discrimination. Even today, American women still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.
The goal of economic parity remains a challenge and focusing on increasing the number of women-owned businesses in our state and the country is a powerful tool toward achieving that goal.
According to the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, as of 2018, there are 12.3 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. Compare that to 1972, when there were only 402,000 women-owned businesses, representing 4.6 percent of all firms. Currently, women own 4 out of every 10 businesses in the U.S.
Yet, even with such growth, in 2016 women received just over 2 percent of investor and venture capital (VC) funding and women-led businesses comprised only 4.9 percent of VC deals.
Why do we continue to publish Women in Business? Clearly, much work remains. Moreover, if we’re not diligent, we will lose the ground we’ve gained.