As the government agency charged with managing the nation’s finances and safeguarding and growing America’s economy, Treasury has long understood the critical role women play in moving our country forward. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we have an opportunity to reflect on the progress that’s been made both inside and outside the walls of Treasury, and look for ways we can do more to promote gender equality, expand opportunity and empower women across the economy.
According to the Small Business Administration, there are approximately 7.8 million women-owned small businesses in the United States. Treasury is committed to seeing that number rise so those businesses can create jobs and power our economy. That starts with doing all we can to support women-owned entrepreneurs through our internal decision-making. As a large government agency, Treasury contracts with hundreds of businesses every year and we have consistently made consideration of women-owned small businesses a priority. In fact, based on preliminary data for FY 2013, Treasury has achieved more than double its SBA-set women-owned small business contracting goals for three years in a row.
Beyond utilizing our own purchasing power to support women entrepreneurs, Treasury is also investing in women small business owners across the country through our Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, or CDFI Fund. The mission of the CDFI Fund is to increase economic opportunity for underserved populations and in low-income areas by supporting financial institutions dedicated to community development investments. To that end, between 2003 and 2012, CDFI Fund program awardees made 16,627 loans totaling $342 million to low-income women. Through Treasury’s New Market Tax Credit program, also administered by the CDFI Fund, we have supported investments of $1.4 billion in women-owned or controlled businesses and $181 million to low-income female borrowers.
Beyond the CDFI Fund, Treasury is empowering women through other programs. Through the Capital Purchase Program, part of our efforts to stabilize the financial system following the financial crisis, we worked to appoint women to corporate board positions where Treasury had a stake. Across the department, our efforts could have long-lasting impacts that not only empower women business owners and leaders, but can help change cultures inside and outside of government for years to come.
Looking to Treasury’s international programs, we continue to forcefully advocate for ways that our allies and trading partners can promote the full economic and political participation of women inside their borders. Around the world, cultural and economic barriers prevent nearly a billion women from fully participating in economic growth. In order to break down these obstacles and unlock the economic potential of the world’s women, Treasury has focused on promoting the participation of women and girls through multilateral development banks like the World Bank. By pushing for policies to integrate a gender perspective into the design and implementation of development projects, Treasury is committed to advancing gender equality and continuing to open up the labor force to women across the globe.
While we have made substantial progress both at home and abroad, we know there is much more work to be done. I look forward to working with the Council on Women and Girls to maintain our focus on these initiatives – our economy and the American people are counting on it.
Jacob J. Lew is the Secretary for the Department of Treasury.