Op-ed by Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman: How Entrepreneurship Is a Path to Equality for Women

On Women's Equality Day, we should remember how business can level the playing field.
Originally published by Inc. on August 26, 2021

Women's Equality Day is typically a time to reflect on the progress we've made toward equality for women. This year, 18 months into a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, we're instead seeing -- in stark clarity - how the impacts of inequality continue to hold women back.

As Vice President Kamala Harris said: "The pandemic has exposed the flaws and the fissures in our economy." 

While the economy as a whole is on the rebound -- in the first half of this year, it grew at the fastest rate in nearly 40 years -- early analysis showed women and people of color have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. 

Millions of women have been forced out of the workforce or driven to close the doors of their businesses. Millions more struggle to feed their families, keep a roof over their heads, or find quality, affordable child care. And let us not understate this: The impact could last for generations.

Fortunately, there is hope. In January, President Joe Biden ushered in a new era of government, setting an agenda with equity -- gender and racial -- as the top priority. At his side is Vice President Harris, who shattered that persistent glass ceiling at the highest levels of government. 

The Biden-Harris administration immediately got to work building back our economy from the bottom up and the middle out. The American Rescue Plan delivered results by getting shots in arms and billions of dollars in direct relief into the hands of entrepreneurs. These crucial steps are helping small businesses reopen and rebuild. 

And women themselves pivoted and adapted, refusing to back down. Through entrepreneurship, they created their own lifelines -- starting new businesses at record rates and forging a path forward. 

Now, we must help them build on that success. 

As the voice for America's 31 million small businesses and innovative startups, I'm committed to giving women-owned small businesses the resources and support they need to keep innovating, creating, and building. And that begins with clearing away the barriers that for far too long have kept them from growing. 

Approximately 90 percent of women-owned businesses are one-person entities. Women-owned small businesses start small and stay small because they've lacked access to the capital, markets, and networks to grow -- and the emergency relief that's vital for surviving this pandemic.  

At the SBA, we're working hard to change that. 

I'm proud to say that after revamping our popular Paycheck Protection Program we've reached those smallest businesses with crucial relief -- and now we're helping them gain forgiveness for their loans. So far, we've fully forgiven more than 5 million PPP loans -- sending more than $470 billion back into the economy.

We're also continuing to disburse billions in relief through our Covid Economic Injury Disaster Loan program -- affordable loans and targeted grants for low-income communities. To date, we've provided more than $251 billion in loans, and more than $4 billion in grants.

And we're looking beyond relief to help women-owned small businesses build opportunity. 

First and foremost, we need to ensure women have the capital they need to leverage opportunity. For too long, the financing and investment world has been an old boy network -- in 2020, only 2.3 percent of venture capital funding went to women-led startups. 

We're driving change by modeling equity in our own lending, investment, and federal grant programs, including the Small Business Innovation Research program and Small Business Technology Transfer program, the world's largest source of early-stage public finance. And we're doing the same with our Small Business Investment Company program, America's largest middle market fund of funds. 

We also know that access to markets is a key part of the equation. The federal government is the world's largest buyer. And with the unprecedented investments in infrastructure that will be created through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, opportunities to do business with the government will continue to grow exponentially. 

However, we must ensure that women-owned small businesses are positioned to take advantage of these opportunities. We're building on our vast network of field offices and resource partners -- including our 136 Women's Business Centers -- to offer all entrepreneurs the training, expertise, and support they need to survive, sustain, and grow. 

This connection to resources is key. We want to be the bridge between rebuilding and thriving for all women entrepreneurs, not only because it's the right thing to do but also because the future of our economy depends on it. 

Small businesses are the giants of our economy. They create our jobs, they define our neighborhoods, they build the next great innovation that will change our world. Right now, women are fueling our nation's small-business engine. We have the chance to build on that power and take a big step forward toward equality.