Strength in Numbers

As the Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and as the White House liaison to the business community, I had the pleasure of participating in the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) 2010 annual conference. For me, the gathering took on particular significance because it fell on the 47th Anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, signed into law by President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

When I began my career in the early 1980s, I was only one of a few women in my law firm. Of my client base, women comprised a very small percentage. And as I told the audience, for many women in the workplace at that time, discrimination was a fact of life. Thankfully, that is no longer the norm. After 35 years, NAWBO represents more than ten million women-owned businesses, which generate significant revenue and millions of jobs for our nation's economy each year. Women in business are no longer an anomaly; they are a powerful force that cannot be ignored. And the Obama Administration recognizes this fact.

In separate events at NAWBO’s annual conference, Small Business Administrator Karen Mills and Ginger Lew, Senior Counsel at the National Economic Council, offered specific examples of Administration efforts to support women business owners. In my remarks, I provided a broad overview of what the Administration has done and will do to continue its support. For example, 4 million small businesses are now eligible for tax cuts under the Affordable Care Act. Also, the President recently formed an interagency task force to improve the access for small businesses -- especially businesses owned by women and minorities -- to federal contracting opportunities. This is in addition to the SBA's issuance of a draft rule, which will implement a ten year-old Executive Order to improve women-owned small businesses' ability to compete for federal contracts.

I also spoke about a few of the many ways in which the Administration is working to support working women across professional sectors. For instance, President Obama created the National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force to coordinate the federal government's efforts to improve the enforcement of equal pay laws. The President, the First Lady, and the White House Council on Women and Girls also hosted the first Workplace Flexibility Forum this spring, which showcased a variety of companies' policies that allow employees to both be productive in their work while also allowing them the time to meet family, educational and financial obligations. The federal government, through the Office of Personnel Management, has also launched a pilot program to provide directions to their employees about their work product, allow them to work independently, and then measure outcomes strictly by productivity.

Finally, I pointed out that the Obama Administration, through the White House Council on Women and Girls, is not just supporting women who are already in the business world, but it is also working to encourage young girls to enter it. For instance, the President is focused on encouraging more students, especially women and minorities, to explore their interests in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and then institute the mechanisms to help women enter and stay in related careers -- the careers that will drive our economy of the future. Furthermore, the Council on Women and Girls, together with the Department of Treasury and the President’s Council on Financial Capability, conducted a nationwide educational challenge this spring to provide students with the tools needed to make smart financial choices and to demonstrate that careers involving finance and administration are very rewarding.

In all of these ways, and many more, the Obama Administration is committed to supporting the work of NAWBO’s members and to ensuring that future generations of American women can pursue successful careers as entrepreneurs and business owners.

Valerie Jarrett is Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls

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