new report by the Democratic staff of the Senate Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee analyzed the intersecting financial, cultural and structural obstacles that hold back women entrepreneurs.

First, women entrepreneurs lack visible role models and mentors.  Fewer examples of relatable female entrepreneurs in the media contributes to a perception that entrepreneurship is exclusively for men.  It may also discourage women from pursuing a career in entrepreneurship.

For younger women, a mentor can be life changing. An Accenture/Girls Who Code study found 62 percent of high school girls who had someone encourage them to study coding were likely to choose it as a college major, compared to only 15 percent who had no encouragement.

Another barrier for women entrepreneurs is a gender pay gap that deters women from starting businesses and has lifelong ripple effects on their ability to succeed. In 2016, women working full time in the United States earned 20 percent less than men who worked full time. This differential begins almost immediately after entering the workforce and grows during a woman’s career.  Research indicates that college-educated women make about 90 percent as much as men at age 25, but only 55 percent as much at age 45. This earning disparity explains why women have significantly less personal wealth and savings than men and are less able to invest in a risky proposition like starting a business.

A third obstacle for women entrepreneurs is uneven access to the financing necessary to start and grow a business.  Women receive just 16 percent of all conventional small business loans and only 4 percent of the total dollar amount. According to Fortune, women received just over 2 percent of venture capital funding and women-led companies made up 4.9 percent of all venture capital deals in 2016.

Among the explanations for the funding gap between female and male entrepreneurs is an investor class dominated by men (only 8 percent of partners at the top 100 venture firms globally are women) and unequal access to the key contacts who can traditionally open the door to financial capital.

Women entrepreneurs may be the country’s greatest untapped economic resource. Overcoming these challenges and investing in the success of women-owned businesses will drive the country’s economic growth, but public and private sector leaders must work together to tear down the hurdles facing women entrepreneurs.

Congress can help by ending pay discrimination and strengthening workplace protections for women. Expanding programs to alleviate the burden of student debt, developing computer science training programs and modernizing the Small Business Administration’s loan and entrepreneurship programs would also be a positive step.

Corporate America must examine its hiring and promotion policies for gender bias. Investors, company leaders and human resources departments must also have zero tolerance for sexual harassment and discrimination that hurts qualified women.

The committee report includes new interviews with a diverse group of 14 entrepreneurs and CEOs working in the technology, business and nonprofit arenas. Their examples show young women how to overcome adversity, how to resist traditional gender stereotypes and how to build a durable business.  

Let’s lift up the stories of successful women-led businesses and inspire the next generation of women entrepreneurs. There is nothing women can’t achieve if given an equal opportunity to compete.

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The painful – but necessary – national conversation about sexual harassment and assault has unmasked a problem that women across America have endured for generations. Against this cultural sea change, there is another form of gender discrimination that prevents women entrepreneurs and small business owners, in particular, from achieving their full economic potential.

While women entrepreneurs create new businesses, disrupt established industries and develop innovative platforms at a record pace, they still face institutional barriers to starting and growing a business that makes financial parity with male entrepreneurs a long-term challenge. This more subtle, but ingrained bias, stops women-led business formation in its tracks, disrupts careers and hobbles the earning potential of women.

Thirty years ago, there were approximately 4 million women-owned businesses in the United States. Today, there are more than 11 million women-owned businesses (39 percent of all firms).  These businesses employ nearly 9 million people and generate more than $1.6 trillion in annual receipts.

Despite this growth, women-owned businesses confront significant headwinds. On average, they grow more slowly and earn less than male-owned firms. They employ only 8 percent of the nation’s private workforce and produce 4 percent of revenues, a share that has remained the same for two decades.

A new report by the Democratic staff of the Senate Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee analyzed the intersecting financial, cultural and structural obstacles that hold back women entrepreneurs.

First, women entrepreneurs lack visible role models and mentors.  Fewer examples of relatable female entrepreneurs in the media contributes to a perception that entrepreneurship is exclusively for men.  It may also discourage women from pursuing a career in entrepreneurship.

For younger women, a mentor can be life changing. An Accenture/Girls Who Code study found 62 percent of high school girls who had someone encourage them to study coding were likely to choose it as a college major, compared to only 15 percent who had no encouragement.

Another barrier for women entrepreneurs is a gender pay gap that deters women from starting businesses and has lifelong ripple effects on their ability to succeed. In 2016, women working full time in the United States earned 20 percent less than men who worked full time. This differential begins almost immediately after entering the workforce and grows during a woman’s career.  Research indicates that college-educated women make about 90 percent as much as men at age 25, but only 55 percent as much at age 45. This earning disparity explains why women have significantly less personal wealth and savings than men and are less able to invest in a risky proposition like starting a business.

A third obstacle for women entrepreneurs is uneven access to the financing necessary to start and grow a business.  Women receive just 16 percent of all conventional small business loans and only 4 percent of the total dollar amount. According to Fortune, women received just over 2 percent of venture capital funding and women-led companies made up 4.9 percent of all venture capital deals in 2016.

Among the explanations for the funding gap between female and male entrepreneurs is an investor class dominated by men (only 8 percent of partners at the top 100 venture firms globally are women) and unequal access to the key contacts who can traditionally open the door to financial capital.

Women entrepreneurs may be the country’s greatest untapped economic resource. Overcoming these challenges and investing in the success of women-owned businesses will drive the country’s economic growth, but public and private sector leaders must work together to tear down the hurdles facing women entrepreneurs.

Congress can help by ending pay discrimination and strengthening workplace protections for women. Expanding programs to alleviate the burden of student debt, developing computer science training programs and modernizing the Small Business Administration’s loan and entrepreneurship programs would also be a positive step.

Corporate America must examine its hiring and promotion policies for gender bias. Investors, company leaders and human resources departments must also have zero tolerance for sexual harassment and discrimination that hurts qualified women.

The committee report includes new interviews with a diverse group of 14 entrepreneurs and CEOs working in the technology, business and nonprofit arenas. Their examples show young women how to overcome adversity, how to resist traditional gender stereotypes and how to build a durable business.  

Let’s lift up the stories of successful women-led businesses and inspire the next generation of women entrepreneurs. There is nothing women can’t achieve if given an equal opportunity to compete.

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