Women Impacting Public Policy
The women of WIPP rocked last week. WIPP (Women Impacting Public Policy) held their annual conference this week in Washington, DC.
I attended in my role as the Board Chair for the Center for Women’s Research.
The sessions began at the conference hotel – and then moved to Capital Hill for the WIPP Congressional Luncheon featuring Senator Mary Landrieu and Representative Renee Ellmers. Senator Landrieu is the Chair of the Senate Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee and a strong champion for the types of technical assistance that really fit what our small business owners need.
After these talks, Donna James, Chair of the National Women’s Business Council, facilitated Ana Harvey (Assistant Administrator of the Office of Women’s Business Owners of the SBA), Marsha Firestone (President and Founder of the Women Presidents’ Organization) and Andrea March (Cofounder of the Women’s Leadership Exchange) and me in a panel to talk about the agreements – and needed action – that came from the September APEC “High Level Policy Dialogue on Women and the Economy.” This agreement is dedicated to taking “concrete actions to realize the full potential of women, integrate them more fully into APEC economies, harness their talents, remove barriers that restrict women’s full economic participation, and maximize their contributions towards economic growth.” That’s all.
Our job as panelists was to think about how this new agreement related to women business owners in the U.S. We were rather united as a group that the agreement was a great place for many countries to start, however, it needed to go much further for the U.S. Many of the things in the document are ideas, activities, approaches that we’ve thought about, tested, and in come cases, accomplished. BUT it provides an excellent tool to talk about what type of action is really needed for the entrepreneurial economy of the U.S.
The four main areas considered are access to capital, access to markets, capacity and skills building, and women’s leadership.
For capital, much of the emphasis seems to be on encouraging women business owners to follow the path of increased debt. My question is about better understanding the fit with the risk-reward profile of start-ups and the overall business model of banks. The SBA guarantees certainly help mitigate that, but they also are generally not targeted to start-ups. We really need to separate out the start-up and funding capital discussions and get carefully creative. (Go, Donna James!)
Access to markets was designated as the most important of the topics by one of the panelists. I completely agree it is critically important. I’d just suggest that it is not enough to help women understand existing regulations, instead those regulations need to be reviewed by experts in large and small businesses to get a system that actually makes sense for all. (All digits crossed for good news soon on the 3% withholding reg.)
Capacity and skills building was my favorite one. However, my main point was that it is not only about building the capacity and skills of women business owners. It is just as critical that service providers (bankers, accountants, attorneys) and policy makers (and their congressional aides) understand the world of small business. Then maybe we could get out of the reg repeal business because the unintended consequences would have been known ahead of time. I know I’ve talked about this one before. It’s my drum and I’m beating it.
And finally, women’s leadership. I’m not even going to touch (at least today) the “Publicize the economic benefits gained from promoting work-life balance..” Instead, I’d like to focus on one of my favorite lines in the whole report – …”increasing their access to opportunities.” Too often when we talk about women’s leadership, we’re really talking about women’s management approach. Entrepreneurial leadership is about the ability to create a vision and convince others to follow in order to create some kind of value – for the person, business, community, society, and so on. This type of training needs to start with the “capacity and skill building” to be able to identify opportunities, create the vision of BIG opportunities, and then have the skill set to lead.
On a fun note, after lunch we were actually able to take the congressional subway from one building to another. It is amazing how excited we all got about riding that little train under those powerful hallways.
President’s Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship