Q. What has stood in the way of women getting more government contracts?
A. Women business owners did not recognize the revenue opportunities. They weren't educated (about them). They didn't have the tools and resources from the public and private sector. Nobody was focused on it, nobody said, here's a gap and we have to meet it. We need to smooth out the legislative kinks and barriers that still exist, make sure we're working together with the SBA, to give women training, to get women registered on SAM (Systems for Award Management, the federal contract awards database) so that they can take advantage of the opportunity.
Q. Congress created the 5 percent goal for contracts for women-owned businesses in 1994. It's never been met. Why has it taken so long for women to win more contracts?
A. Government is a big ship to turn. It takes time. Change does not come overnight. Some of the more positive things I see are the government's recognition and ability to bring together partners like WIPP or American Express Open and other corporate entities. When you build together these public and private sector partnerships, you're going to increase the opportunities. I think it's been slow. It's been just a year in terms of the WOSB program — it seems like forever. We're treading water; we're not seeing the gains. They've resolved some legislative issues like the cap (on the size of contracts for women-owned businesses), but also they're putting together the partnerships and starting to scale the effort. We're willing go to out on a limb, and believe that by the end of 2014, we're going to hit that 5 percent. And I want to exceed that 5 percent.
Q. Is it harder for women business owners to get a loan?
A. Access to capital is tight for all small business owners, whether male or female. But at this point, women have to work harder in order to be successful. You don't hear the stories you used to hear as much now — like, "I have to bring my husband in to get a loan." But some of it is still here, and some of it frankly has to do with education and preparation by women owners (before they apply for a loan). But as women business owners are becoming more mature business owners they are ramping up their ability to have the right infrastructure in order to successfully get loans.
Q. What industries are seeing the most growth in women-owned small businesses?
A. We have an awful lot of women in information technology and in services like staffing. And we're building our presence in other nontraditional areas that have been difficult for us. We're getting headway in construction. I have members in the missile defense area. But in some manufacturing, like weapons of war, it might be more difficult. We don't have the numbers or the years of experience there.
Q. Where do you go from here?
A. There'll be no lack of legislation challenges. The 5 percent contracting goal is ridiculous. It needs to be higher. I think that the uncertainty that we have right now in this country makes it very difficult to plan. We want to be able to help the political climate change so it's more productive.
We don't have enough women in Congress in positions of power. We have only 98 of the 535 seats. If we're going to really have a role and are going to change things like the climate in Washington, we have to get more women elected to Congress. Women in Congress have always come to our rescue. When we fought so hard in procurement, they came out, one after another and supported our efforts. So we need to have many more women in positions of power.
There are way too many women who are self-employed and have no employees — 88 percent of women business owners. We have to change that "psychology of small." If you want to grow, you have to have the realization that it can't be just you (working in your company). At some point you'll max out. So women business owners need financing for growth and the awareness of the opportunities. Too many women are thinking small instead of thinking big.