Why It's Time to Stop Giving Women Entrepreneurs Special Help

Last Updated Sep 28, 2010 5:47 PM EDT

It's time to stop giving women entrepreneurs special help. They don't need it.

Women business owners get lots of help, from both government and private sources. The federal apparatus includes the women's business office in the SBA, a network of more than 100 women's business centers, government contracting setasides for woman-owned businesses, and government-backed loan programs for woman-owned businesses. Some gender-specific government programs are replicated at state and local levels, especially contracting setasides. The private initiatives include Make Mine a Million $ Business, a program sponsored by American Express that supplies women entrepreneurs with coaching, financing and marketing help.

This support has been in existence and expanding for more than two decades and it's been successful. The Center for Women's Business Research said in its 2008-2009 report on women-owned business that 40 percent of all businesses are 50 percent or more owned by women. The center also said in the same report that the number of women-owned businesses was expanding at twice the rate of businesses in general, and has been doing so for two decades.

These figures may well understate the number of women-owned businesses today. In 2008, for instance, an official in the Small Business Administration's office of women-owned business told me, an accurate updated count would probably show that 44 percent of all businesses were woman-owned.

So if 44 percent of all businesses were woman-owned in 2008, and women-owned businesses were multiplying twice as fast as other businesses, shouldn't we soon be in the position of having roughly the same number of women-owned businesses as there are women in the population?

The answer, of course, is yes. Unless something strange has happened, woman-owned businesses will soon -- perhaps already do -- represent a proportion of all businesses that is equal to or close to women's representation in the general populace. Women have, it appears, achieved equity in business ownership, or something much like it.

This calls into question the purpose of government and corporate assistance provided to women business owners. That's not to say such help should go away, or even be reduced. It does say that perhaps it's time to recognize that programs designed to help women get into business no longer seek to remedy an inequity. They are just another set of privileges given to a politically powerful special-interest group.

Image courtesy of flicker user Crystian Cruz, CC2.0
  • Mark Henricks

    Mark Henricks' reporting on business and other topics has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Inc., Entrepreneur, and many other leading publications. He lives in Austin, Texas, where myth looms as large as it does anywhere.

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