Hashtag Feminism Putting #WomenontheMap

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These days, social conversations reverberate quickly around the globe on social media, spawning the term “hashtag activism.” Within that genre, hashtag feminism is alive and well (there’s even a web site, hashtagfeminism.com, that comments on the most viral tags). Earlier this month, I pointed out that the #internationalwomensday theme for 2015 was #MakeItHappen, which thus allowed people to search for this tag to learn about what events were taking place on IWD2015 around the world.

Some of the most popular recent women’s empowerment hashtags have been protests against misogyny (#NotBuyingIt, #GirlsCount, #WomenShould, #YesAllWomen and its corollary #AllMenCan) or calls to support and amplify female voices and change agents (#AllinforHer and #ChangetheRatio are two of the most well-known).

There are three new hashtags, though, that I’d like to point out – as they have the potential to dominate the “airwaves” in the months to come:

1. @UN_Women’s #HeforShe, a call for men to rally and join in on the fight for gender equality. This hashtag campaign was launched by Gen Y’s feminist heroine, Emma Watson. (Check out her eloquent address at a recent United Nations event below.)

2. The Clinton and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations’ recent launch of the No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project report, a data- and video-driven web portal (and, oh yes, a report) launched with great fanfare at a splashy event on March 9, with its accompanying #NotThere social media campaign featuring well-known portraits, magazine covers etc. with women missing – making the point that we’re not there yet with respect to gender equality. Check out the humorous short video illustrating that point.

3. A grassroots, youth-led effort by SPARK Movement to put #WomenontheMap – literally. This group has partnered with Google to map the locations of important women in history around the work on Google’s FieldTrip app. The app will notify users when they are near a landmark location. What a fantastic concept – and there’s room for more. SPARK asks for our help in sharing with them important women (no longer living) to add to the app. Let’s let them have it, shall we? Learn more here.

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NWBC Publishes 2013 Annual Report

The National Women’s Business Council, a bipartisan women’s enterprise advisory body in the US established by the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988, has published their 2013 annual report to the President, US Congress, and the US Small Business Administration.
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The colorful 40-page report contains nine policy/program recommendations grouped within four pillars (Guess which one is our favorite!):

  1. Access to Capital
  2. Access to Markets
  3. Job Creation and Growth
  4. Data

Among the recommendations are two, in our view, worth calling out and commenting upon:

  • Implement an annual Survey of Business Owners model-based program.” The SBO is the Census Bureau’s quinquennial business census, which provides we womenablers with a mother-lode of invaluable statistics on the number and growth of women-owned firms. However, being quinquennial means that the data are only published every five years, and business moves much faster than that. Of course, Womenable and American Express OPEN have published an annual State of Women-Owned Businesses reports that provide estimates in between SBO reports (see a listing of these reports HERE), but more frequent government-published data would be extraordinarily useful. However, such an expansion of SBO is also very unlikely, given the expense required and the current state of the US budget. And yet, to paraphrase Robert Browning,

    “Ah, but a woman’s reach should exceed her grasp,
    Or what’s a heaven for?”

  • Increase the number of women-owned or -led firms participating in incubators and accelerators and consider establishing an accelerator and incubator program focused on women-owned or -led firms.” Womenable has long pointed out the need for paying much more attention to issues of growth and development of existing women-owned enterprises. This is another timely recommendation, but the NWBC missed an important opportunity to call out a key partnership in this endeavor: the Nation’s 100+ women’s business centers. Rather than trying to make existing incubators and business accelerators more female-friendly (good luck with that), we should expand the remit of and financial support for WBCs to offer growth-focused programming. Indeed, most of them already do – but they are doing so outside the “marching orders” provided to them by the SBA and Congress, which essentially puts WBCs in velvet handcuffs and says that all government funds can only go toward serving nascent firms and socially and economically disadvantaged populations.

The Council has done a good job of keeping the momentum going over a period – over the past three or more years, really – of staff and leadership turnover. There’s a new Chair in place, but no Executive Director at the moment. Despite that, they’ve published a report that’s well worth reading, and using for womenabling advocacy efforts in the United States and beyond. Keep up the good work, NWBC!

Reflections on Building a Sustainable Women’s Enterprise Ecosystem

In November, I attended and spoke at the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship‘s pre-conference women’s enterprise policy day. My 25-minute presentation was entitled, “Building a Women’s Enterprise Movement That Will Stand the Test of Time: Lessons From the U.S.‘” It aimed to reflect on the recent silver anniversary of the passage of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988, to share lessons learned from the U.S. experience, and to offer observations of the common elements that bolster and strengthen a healthy and vibrant women’s enterprise ecosystem – which could be adapted for a variety of political systems and development contexts.

Here, then, is a Slideshare Slidecast of the presentation, which you can watch and listen to as you munch on your lunch. Or, fellow womenablers, feel free to download it and play it at your next women’s business organization member gathering or networking event to fuel further discussion about what ideas you might take forward in your own community. Go forth and multiply!

Policy Spark Plugs for Women’s Entrepreneurship

October 25th, 2013 marks the 25th anniversary of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988 in the United States – which is frequently referred to as the “big bang” of women’s enterprise. The law extended equal access to business credit to women business owners, directed the US Census Bureau to include all women-owned firms in its business census, established the women’s business center technical assistance program, and established the National Women’s Business Council – giving women business owners a seat at the federal policymaking table.sparkplug

What other spark plugs for women’s enterprise are out there? My fellow womenablers might want to check out the former Gender Law Library at the World Bank, now part of the Women, Business and the Law website. You can search by country or topic, and you may also wish to download the new 2014 Women, Business and the Law report. Regional fact sheets are also available.

Women’s enterprise development does not always have to be sparked by legislative action. In May 2003, a Strategic Framework for Women’s Enterprise was launched by the Labour government in the United Kingdom, which led to a number of positive programs for women’s enterprise development. Unfortunately, a party-launched initiative can fall by the wayside when leadership changes hands – as happened in the UK in 2010, when Conservative David Cameron became Prime Minister and promptly cut funding for women’s entrepreneurship, and indeed for small business development support in general.

This happened as well in Canada,  not too long after their Prime Minister’s Task Force on Women Entrepreneurs – Report and Recommendations was unveiled with great promise but unfulfilled potential. The report was launched in October 2003 – just two months before Prime Minister Jean Chretien left office. Even though his successor was of the same party, the initiative did not gain traction.

A Sterling Milestone

Marking the Silver Anniversary of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988

This month marks a sterling anniversary – the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988. The law, also affectionately known as H.R. (House Resolution) 5050, was signed into law on October 25, 1988. It ushered in a true renaissance of growth and progress for women’s enterprise development. Womenablers often refer to the WBO Act of 1988 as the ‘big bang” of women’s entrepreneurship.

NAWBO leader Susan Hager testifies at the HR5050 hearings

NAWBO leader Susan Hager testifies at the HR5050 hearings (photo by Olive Rosen)

There were four main tenets of the law:

  1. Capital: The law extended the gender equality of access to credit provided in the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 to include business credit. Just think, prior to 1988 women business owners could not get business credit in their own name!
  2. Capitol: The Act also established the National Women’s Business Council, which provides the women’s business community with a seat at the table in the US Capitol and in federal policy circles. The NWBC is comprised of individual women business owners and representatives of women’s business organizations, and must submit an annual report to the President, the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Small Business Administration each year. Read past annual reports HERE to learn what recommendations the NWBC has made to federal policymakers.
  3. Counseling: The law also launched a “demonstration project” of entrepreneurial education and counseling focused on female clients. From four initial pilot programs in 1989 has grown over 100 women’s business centers today, providing technical assistance, education, coaching and counseling, group and peer-to-peer mentoring, and ongoing support to both would-be and existing women (and men) business owners. Many former clients come back and teach and mentor. Do you have a skill or a story to share with budding entrepreneurs? Find a women’s business center near you and volunteer!
  4. Counting: Finally, the law directed the U.S. Census Bureau to include ALL women-owned businesses in their next quinquennial census. Up until that time, the census did not include all industries or all legal forms of business organization. Upon the publication of the 1992 Census in 1995, when C corporations were included for the first time, the number of women-owned firms increased by just 9%, but employment jumped by 111% and revenues generated by women-owned firms skyrocketed by 145%. Women-owned firms were finally on the map!

Take a moment and think about how much easier it is for women starting businesses now than it was for our foremothers prior to 1988 – when there were no women’s business centers, no complete accounting of the number and economic clout of women-owned businesses, no National Women’s Business Council, and no ability to access business credit without a male co-signer.

Some folks are already taking note of the impending anniversary. Click on the following links to read a blogpost from CAMEO (the California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity), an op-ed piece from Connecticut WDBC director (and NWBC council member) Fran Pastore, and an article from WIPP co-founder Barbara Kasoff. And check out what we had to say five years ago at the 20th anniversary during a panel discussion at an academic conference!

And stay tuned – women’s enterprise leaders are talking now about gathering en masse next Spring to celebrate the accomplishments of the past 25 years and talk more seriously about what the movement – and women business owners – need going forward.

In the meantime, we’d like to start a social media conversation about the past 25 years of women’s entrepreneurship. Tweet and post your thoughts about the progress we’ve made, and the work that’s yet to be done. Use the hashtag #WBOAct@25. What are your thoughts, reflections, calls to action? Ready, set, go!

NWBC Annual Report Published

The annual report from the National Women’s Business Council was issued just before the end of the year, and not only contains an abundance of statistics but a succinct set of policy recommendations, in keeping with their mandate to represent the interests of women business owners and their enterprises in federal policy-making circles.NWBC_2012AnnualReport_cover

Perhaps the most important text in the report, however, is the description of how the Council has changed its operating procedures to ensure greater continuity of operations, and their recommendations for more active engagement with respect to member nominations and closer monitoring of council member terms. Making these changes would prevent what has happened all too frequently over the past decade – the expiration of a majority of member terms at or near the same time, with a corresponding lag in re-nominations, leading to long periods of inactivity by the Council. This serves no one – not federal policymakers and certainly not the women’s business community. Improving this situation could be the best thing that the NWBC has done in a long time!

To read and download the 2012 NWBC annual report, click on THIS LINK.

On This President’s Day We Ask, “Where are the Women?”

We’ve heard the “where are the women” phrase lately, as a recent US congressional hearing on women’s health featured a witness panel that was 100% male. And, as today is President’s Day in the US, it is a good time to point out that increasing the diversity of voices at the table (Congressional witness tables included) often starts at the top. And, in most countries around the world, those political leadership voices are male.

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, the most recently elected female head of state


Not everywhere, however. Currently, there are 27 female heads of state, according to guide2womenleaders.com. (Here is a list of them.) This represents 14% of the leaders of the 193 countries represented in the United Nations. Not nearly enough, wouldn’t you agree?

Indeed, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap reports point out that, while gender parity in health and education have improved in recent years and are near parity in many countries, political and economic equality both still have a long way to go.

Where are the women political leaders? The most recent Global Gender Gap report (issued in October of last year) lists the following ten countries as those with the closest political parity between women and men:

  1. Iceland
  2. Finland
  3. Norway
  4. Sweden
  5. Spain
  6. Ireland
  7. Sri Lanka
  8. New Zealand
  9. South Africa
  10. Denmark

How does your country rate on political parity for women, as well as economic, education and health? Check out the 2011 Global Gender Gap report to find out.

Finally, good women, the power lies with us. Support your female candidates for office with your volunteer time AND your money … or run for office yourself! The world needs more women in positions of political and economic power.