From Yahoo's Marissa Mayer to Ursula Burns at Xerox and PepsiCo's Indra Nooyi, women capture an ever-growing number of top spots at leading corporations -- internationally and in the United States. Compared to the 1960's when women were barred from certain jobs, we have made great strides in earning management positions at various levels to running the show. But despite the gains over the last fifty years, women still only account for 24 of the Fortune 500's Chief Executive Officer positions.
The Forbes list of most powerful women includes the likes of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Federal Reserve's Janet Yellen (in fact, Yellen is the very first woman to lead the Bank) - as well as many of the top CEO's mentioned above. However, among combined genders, men still occupy the first four spots of most influential people in the world with Merkel rounding out the top five. The fact is that women are now playing a decisive role in world politics, finance and business but at a level still not nearly equal to that of their male counterparts.
While women still covet -- and in some cases are garnering -- top spots, there continues to be a divide when it comes to pay equity and the earnings of women in the workplace. When Mary Barra took over at GM, many suggested her salary was much lower than her counterparts at other leading companies. And many may recall that President Obama's first bill signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Act, a measure designed to close the gap in earnings between men and women that result from pay discrimination. Yet despite these gains, it is estimated that women still just earn just 77 cents on the dollar compared to men.
Just as women face challenges at leading companies and within its ranks, the situation is strikingly similar among the small business community. Again, women are a growing and dominant group among the self-employed, but encounter challenges in opening and growing their own small business. In fact, according to a recent report by the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business Entrepreneurship:
"...women-owned businesses are a $3 trillion economic force and support 23 million jobs but still face significant barriers compared to their male-owned counterparts when it comes to obtaining loans and growing their businesses."
From access to capital and securing contracts to simply getting sound advice, these barriers prevent women small business owners from starting, growing and saving. Everyone knows without the startup funds or the ability to get extra help with a loan, a small business owner risks failure.
That is why countless women have applauded Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and her Senate Small Business Committee counterparts, for taking action recently with the introduction of the Women's Small Business Ownership Act of 2014. This legislation introduced last month in the U.S. Senate is a measure that seeks to close the gender gap by "improving access to lending and increasing business counseling and training services for women entrepreneurs, and giving women-owned businesses the same level of access to federal contracts as other disadvantaged groups." In conjunction with the legislation's introduction, Senator Cantwell hosted a Congressional hearing focused on women entrepreneurship and how to address these challenges and identify new opportunities.
It's seems somewhat archaic that women still face hurdles given the great successes we have made so far. But, with the appointment of Maria Contreras-Sweet as the Small Business Administrator and the introduction of recent legislation proposing further leveling of the playing field, it is our hope that more women will be given access to the tools and resources necessary to succeed. As more women move in and out of the workforce, whether it is leading top companies to opening their own business, we will continue to be an influential voice in not only the workforce, but also in the world.