Today is our 3rd Annual Western Women’s Center (WWBC) Conference, with the theme of ‘Her Story, Her Journey.” This full-day conference brings together business owners, community members, advocates, and service providers from across western North Carolina to learn, share, and recognize the important contributions women make to our communities and our economy.
Women certainly are important economic drivers. According to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), there are more than 9.1 million women-owned businesses, which employ almost 8 million people and generate $1.4 trillion in sales. And women-owned businesses are on the rise: according to a report commissioned by American Express on The State of Women Owned Businesses, between 1997 and 2014, women-owned firms increased by 68 percent. That is 1.5 times the national rate of business growth. In fact, North Carolina ranks as one of the top five states with the largest increase in women-owned businesses during that time period– 91 percent.
Of women-owned firms, 2.9 million are owned by women of color, which employ 1.4 million people and generate $226 billion in annual revenues. Entrepreneurship appears to be particularly strong among African-American women, who own 49 percent of all African-American firms, and Native American/Alaska Native women, who own 47% of all Native American/Alaska Native -owned firms. Latina women own 36 percent of all Latino-owned firms, and Asian-American women own 35 percent of all Asian-American owned firms.
Back in March, advocates around the country called for “A Day Without A Woman” to highlight the impact and economic power of women, and bring attention to the inequality that women face. Women were encourage to abstain from work, shopping, and other economic activity. In response to this, Time magazine looked at what the economy really would look like without women– and the result really highlights the impact and disparity of women in the economy. For example, while half of the workforce (47 percent) would disappear, several industries would lose a majority of workers, and 15 percent of executives at large corporations would disappear, median earnings would increase significantly. This is because women make up the workforce for two-thirds of minimum wage jobs and across the board women continue to see wage disparities, earning 79 cents for every $1 earned by men. Taking women out of the economic equation would result in a rise in median earnings.
Women-owned businesses also continue to face challenges in accessing capital and resources to start up or expand their ventures, and reach their full economic potential. These barriers are evident in how women-owned businesses perform in the economy. In North Carolina, almost 21 percent of firms are women-owned, but they only account for 9.4 percent of sales. With the right outreach and support in place, women entrepreneurs would be able to significantly increase their chances for long-term success as well as the impact they have in their families, communities, and the state as a whole.
Nevertheless, women can and do make great contributions to our state and our nation. The WWBC works hard every day to ensure that the women of western North Carolina have a fair shot at business success. Today is a day to come together and celebrate the diverse, passionate, and impactful women of western North Carolina, each with their own story to tell. And it is also a day to bring together our best thinking and learning to help tackle the obstacles that keep women from achieving their dreams.
Hope to see you there!