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Testimony Before the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship

The SBA Administrator

MARIA CONTRERAS-SWEET

Testimony Before the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship

Testimony Date: 
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Congressional Testimony Delivered To: 
Congressional Testimony From: 

Chairwoman Cantwell, Ranking Member Risch, and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today about the SBA’s work to empower women entrepreneurs. 

Women-owned businesses are growing at an unprecedented rate. More than 1 in 4 U.S. companies is owned or led by a woman, and these firms employ more than 7.8 million Americans. While those statistics are an indication of progress, women still do not have equal access to economic opportunity. Senator Cantwell: As your report demonstrates, there is still much more work to be done.

Women remain underrepresented in the C-suite, have trouble accessing capital, and face barriers in winning contracts. It is critical that everyone in this room, and across the nation, commit to clearing these obstacles to enable our country to reach its full economic potential. 

Twenty-six years ago, Congress passed the Women’s Business Act, which was a watershed achievement because it allowed women to get business credit without the signature of a male partner or relative. Congress recognized that women are builders – building businesses, building jobs. Now, it is up to us to ensure that the next generation of women can build their entrepreneurial dreams.

We all have a shared responsibility to champion diversity and workplace flexibility to help women succeed. We must give women the choice to be what their skills and hearts desire – be it a homemaker who stays home with the kids, or a home maker who owns the construction company that is building the next residential development.

The SBA is deeply committed to fostering economic opportunity for women, through our work in the areas of capital, counseling, and contracting. Since 2009, SBA lending to women-owned businesses has gone up 31 percent across our three lending portfolios: 7(a), 504, and microloans.

In America, gender should never impact whether you can get a small business loan; only creditworthiness should. Last month, I announced an effort to simplify and streamline SBA underwriting to attract more lending partners and broaden access to capital for women. Effective this month, SBA’s new credit scoring model is helping us provide more equitable access to capital. 

Our Office of Women’s Business Ownership helps entrepreneurs start and grow their business and compete in global markets. We oversee a network of more than 100 Women’s Business Centers nationwide. These Centers provide management and technical assistance – especially to the socially and economically disadvantaged. Our WBCs do extraordinary work. Since 2009, more than 2 million women have received assistance through SBA and our resource partners. Those who receive our assistance are more likely to start a business and successfully obtain financing critical to growth.

Finally, we’re opening doors for more women entrepreneurs to compete for federal and commercial contracts.  We’re aggressively promoting the Women-Owned Small Business Contract Program through our ChallengeHer events. I saw this program in action in Boise, and Senator Risch was a wonderful host. It was rewarding to hear how so many Idaho businesswomen have grown their companies through this program. 

Nationally, women entrepreneurs still receive less than 5 percent of federal contracts. I am accelerating a study of the industries in which women-owned businesses are under-represented in federal contracting. Women entrepreneurs are now considered under-represented in83 of 260 industries. Our study will examine whether this number should be adjusted.

I urge Congress to approve sole-source contracting authority for women-owned businesses, which would give them parity with HUBZone and Service Disabled Veteran-Owned small businesses.

When we empower women entrepreneurs, we’re also lifting the millions of workers they employ. In June, I attended a White House summit that brought together women leaders and workers from across the country. It was inspiring to hear their commitment to offer innovative benefits and flexible workplaces to attract and retain the best possible talent to their companies.

Our workplace policies must adapt to the fact that both parents in a majority of American households are now working. More than 40 percent of mothers are now the sole or primary breadwinner in their household. But many cannot access flexible hours, paid leave, job sharing, and other worker-friendly policies.

When women are able to ascend to leadership positions, they can apply their experiences to support all business owners, not just women. When women are denied these opportunities, then companies do not reflect the sensibilities of half of the population. This is bad for business.

We need more women in the boardroom in private equity, making investment decisions that drive business growth. We need more women in banking to help entrepreneurs access capital and financial counseling. And we need more women as senior procurement executives in the contracting space to help the federal government meet and exceed its small business targets. I have seen how diversity begets diversity. There is no substitute for a seat at the table.

As SBA Administrator, I want the letters SBA to stand for Smart, Bold, and Accessible. I’m passionate about using all of the tools of my office to help America realize the benefits of women’s intellectual capital, insight, and ingenuity.  Thank you for allowing me to share my views, and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.