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Women and the Economy: Looking Back and the Road Ahead

When it comes to discussing the American economy, gender is not something that naturally springs to the front of the conversation.
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When it comes to discussing the American economy, gender is not something that naturally springs to the front of the conversation. The status of job creation and small businesses is less than fantastic, and women are typically not included in the general dialogue. On April 6th, women from all walks of the business world joined together to engage in a conversation organized by the White House Council on Women and Girls. In attendance were numerous women business owners and academics, and President Barack Obama delivered remarks on his involvement in promoting programs that positively effect women in the economy.

Among the facts included in the White House report "Keeping America's Women Moving Forward: The Key to an Economy Built to Last" is that 16,000 women-owned small businesses received funding totaling $4.5 billion in loans from the Small Business Administration and its intermediaries.

As President Obama said:

Today, more than ever before, women are playing a central role in the American economy. American women own 30% of small businesses... consequently, when women still face barriers to participation in the workplace and marketplace, that is not just a women's issue... when women entrepreneurs continue to have a harder time accessing the capital they need to start and sustain their businesses, create new jobs, sell new products, that hurts our entire economy.

According to the second annual State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by the American Express OPEN Forum, It is estimated that there were more than 8.3 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating nearly $1.3 trillion in revenue and employing nearly 7.7 million people. The growth in the number (up 54 percent), employment (up 9 percent) and revenues (up 58 percent) of women-owned firms over the past 15 years exceeds the growth rates of all but the largest, publicly-traded firms.

The numbers tell the story. Yet the most compelling storytellers are the women entrepreneurs themselves. One after another spoke of the trouble they encountered accessing capital, of the benefits of mentorship and networking and of the pride they take in serving as role models for their children. There were women who were about to take the companies they founded public and those who were opening a second or third location, as well as sole proprietors eager to find appropriate growth strategies. From the CEO of a shoe company to the head of a group of bed and breakfasts to online specialty retailers, jewelry makers, chocolatiers, bag makers, party hosts and distribution and construction company owners, they were there to share their experiences and learn from one another. Strategies varied, but the truth was the same: as far as we've come, there is so much more to do.