The White House *Hearts* Women Entrepreneurs

BlogHer Original Post

When you get an invitation to the White House, you go.

Especially when the occasion is the White House Women's Entrepreneurship Conference and the release of new data on how women business owners have been faring since the late 1990s, as well as new efforts to support women in their efforts to create successful businesses.

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 22: Senior White House advisor Valerie Jarrett speaks during the annual Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) September 22, 2010 in New York City. The sixth annual meeting of the CGI gathers prominent individuals in politics, business, science, academics, religion and entertainment to discuss global issues such as climate change and the reconstruction of Haiti. The event, founded by former U.S. President Bill Clinton after he left office, is held the same week as the General Assembly at the United Nations, when most world leaders are in New York City. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Why, you may ask, do women need any special help? Sadly, women haven't traditionally fared as well as men-owned businesses for a variety of reasons, including that women haven't sought as much outside business financing as men, and when women do seek business loans, they're turned down in greater numbers than men or receive less financing than men.

Hosted by White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, who is also the chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, which hosted the event, the session started off with a panel discussion moderated by MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski (who was rocking some serious heels, I might say!)

According to the report entitled Women Owned Businesses in the 21st Century, put together by the Department of Commerce, while women own about 30 percent of privately-held businesses, they account for only 11 percent of sales and 13 percent of employment, but the numbers of women striking out on their own are increasing and could well be the key to turning our country's economy around if women can get the kind of financial support that men-owned businesses typically have.

The report looks at data over a ten-year period and concludes that women business owners need additional support and that it's essential for the economy to give them that support. Why? Well, I can give you about 1.2 trillion reasons -- women-owned businesses have $1.2 trillion in annual sales and have added half a million jobs to the economy.

As Adam Sandler might say, "Not too shabby."

With an additional kick-start, those businesses can do even better. The conference was the place for the announcement of one way to help -- the Women's Contracting Rule, which will require at least five percent of federal government contract jobs be awarded to women-owned businesses. I was glad to hear that high-level government officials also acknowledged and discussed the dire need for more focus on workplace flexibility as a tool to help the country regain its economic footing, emphasizing that it's not a women's issue or a mom's issue -- it's an everybody issue that just makes sense.

The key takeaway advice for women who want to take their small businesses to the next level?

1. Learn to be calibrated risk takers when comes to starting or expanding your business,

2. Become fluent in the language of money. It's all well and good to have an idea for a business, but you can't make it work unless you understand the ins and outs of capital and financing, and

3. Surround yourself with people who are comfortable talking about the nuts and bolts of business and money -- learn from them and don't be afraid to learn from their lessons.

Unfortunately, we weren't invited to sit in on the break-out sessions (I so would have sneaked into the one with Bobbi Brown!), where about 100 or so invited business people weighed in on their take on getting things moving for women business owners. But that's OK. It's good to know that someone is focusing on positive ways that can actually help turn the economy around. Now we just need some of these smart women to really clean up Wall Street and the mortgage mess!

Joanne Bamberger is an occasional contributor to BlogHer who writes the political blog, PunditMom.  Her book, Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America will be published this winter by Bright Sky Press.

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