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Liz Ben-Ishai's picture

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s press conference last month announcing the House Democrats Economic Agenda for Women and Families, “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds,” ended with Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez’s speech highlighting the importance of the Agenda to small businesses.  Congresswoman Velazquez is certainly an example of women succeeding; she is one of the few women (and the first Latina) to chair a full committee in the House. Velasquez is the ranking Democrat on the House Small Business Committee, which represents a community not always associated with support for policies like those in the newly announced agenda. Yet, as Velasquez showed, small business men and women have many reasons to support these policies.

Policies that improve access to childcare, enable workers to care for themselves and their families without risking job or wage loss, and ensure that women are paid fairly are crucial for small business success, said Velasquez, particularly for woman-owned businesses. Amidst critiques of such policies from some large corporations, Velasquez’s speech shed light on the truth: women, small businesses, and the economy in general all benefit from family and woman-friendly economic and social policies.

Why do these policies matter for small business owners? Velasquez declared that when asked, most small business owners will tell you, “the biggest obstacle they have right now is lack of consumers walking through their doors.” Improving women’s economic security by allowing them to retain their jobs—instead of risking them when they lack affordable childcare, sick days, and time off to bond with and care for a new child—and ensuring they are paid equally to their male counterparts has at least one clear result: it puts more money in consumers’ pockets.  And that’s money they are likely to spend at the many small businesses that are the backbone of our economy. Workers who don’t have to worry about whether they will get their full paycheck (or keep their jobs) when they stay home to recover from the flu are more likely to feel confident about spending money at their local corner store, restaurant, or clothing shop. When women, who are the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of households, get paid fairly and equitably, they may be able to afford to walk through those small business owners’ doors. Moreover, increased demand may also spur small business owners to hire more workers, further boosting the economy.

It’s not just by fueling consumer spending among women that the policies in the Democrats' Economic Agenda for Women & Families help small businesses. The package of policies can also enable women to cultivate and exercise their entrepreneurial spirit, said Velasquez. The Congresswoman pointed to obstacles women face securing childcare as barriers to starting a business. Pay equity, she said, is also crucial for promoting women’s entrepreneurship; if women are able to save more, they are more likely to invest in their business plans. The same can be said for access to other job quality measures, such as paid sick days, paid family leave, and workplace flexibility—all of which help women care for their families without sacrificing economic security. And without such economic security, starting a small business may prove too risky for women.

The relationship between family-friendly policies and small business runs both ways. While the public policies proposed by Pelosi and her colleagues will help women gain the economic security to pursue small business ownership, some women small business owners also help to drive these very policy changes. At the press conference, small business woman ReShonda Young spoke about challenging her family-owned business to pay women equitably. Similarly, Margot Dorfman, CEO of the United States Women’s Chamber of Commerce, has endorsed policies that support improved job quality. Speaking in support of Rhode Island’s recently passed Temporary Caregiver Insurance legislation, which gives workers paid time away from work to care for their families, Dorfman said, “Women business owners understand that paid family leave is valuable for both families and businesses. Passage of this important legislation in Rhode Island will reduce health care costs over the long term and level the playing field between small and large firms. Workers who have access to paid leave are loyal employees that spare businesses the high cost of turnover.”

“Women today own 17 million businesses in the United States and ninety percent of them are small businesses,” said Congresswoman Velasquez . Woman-owned businesses, she added, have doubled the rate of those owned by male counterparts over the last ten years. When policies like those in the “Women Succeed” agenda empower women to pursue business ownership, the effects will be widespread. Velasquez explained, “Given the tools, imagine, imagine the vast potential we hold here for job creation.”

Policies that support women’s economic security also support women’s entrepreneurship and business ownership. In turn, woman-owned businesses may also, as Margot Dorfman noted, better understand the challenges women workers face, fueling family-friendly policies at the firm-level and, ultimately, at the level of public policy.

Cross posted with author permission from CLASP.

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