The challenges facing women business owners

Barbara Kasoff, president and CEO of Women Impacting Public Policy, in her San Francisco office.
Barbara Kasoff, president and CEO of Women Impacting Public Policy, in her San Francisco office. (ERIC RISBERG / AP)
Posted: February 12, 2013

NEW YORK - Barbara Kasoff has a message for women business owners: If you don't like the way government regulations affect your business, stop whining and get involved.

The founder of Women Impacting Public Policy, a million-member group that lobbies lawmakers on behalf of women-owned small businesses, isn't shy about telling women they need to take charge if they want their businesses to succeed - especially when it comes to government policy, and winning government contracts.

Kasoff spoke with the Associated Press about the issues that women business owners face. Here are excerpts, edited for clarity and brevity:

Question: What challenges do you still face in getting more contracts for women-owned businesses?

Answer: The challenges are to make sure that the congressional goal of 5 percent [of federal contracts being set aside] for women business owners is met. In 2011, only 3.98 percent of our government contracts were awarded to women business owners.

It's been a primary challenge to build awareness and enthusiasm among women owners for the opportunity that's out there so we can get them to compete successfully. We've got to work together, the public sector, the private sector.

Q: What has stood in the way of women getting more government contracts?

A: Women business owners did not recognize the revenue opportunities. They weren't educated [about them]. They didn't have the tools and resources from the public and private sector. We need to smooth out the legislative kinks and barriers that still exist.

Q: Congress created the 5 percent goal for contracts for women-owned businesses in 1994. It's never been met. Why has it taken so long for women to win more contracts?

A: Government is a big ship to turn. It takes time. Change does not come overnight. Some of the more positive things I see are the government's recognition and ability to bring together partners like WIPP or American Express Open and other corporate entities. When you build together these public and private sector partnerships, you're going to increase the opportunities. We're willing go to out on a limb, and believe that by the end of 2014, we're going to hit that 5 percent. And I want to exceed that 5 percent.

Q: Is it harder for women business owners to get a loan?

A: Access to capital is tight for all small business owners, whether male or female. But at this point, women have to work harder in order to be successful. You don't hear the stories you used to hear as much now - like, "I have to bring my husband in to get a loan." But some of it is still here, and some of it frankly has to do with education and preparation by women owners [before they apply for a loan].

Q: What industries are seeing the most growth in women-owned small businesses?

A: We have an awful lot of women in information technology and in services like staffing. We're getting headway in construction. I have members in the missile defense area. But in some manufacturing, like weapons of war, it might be more difficult. We don't have the numbers or the years of experience there.

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