Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Illinois' newly elected officials must advocate for women business owners in 2019 - Crain's Chicago Business

When Illinois swears in its new class of state representatives following this year’s midterm elections, more than 40 women will take the oath of office, mirroring a historic nationwide trend of female representation in politics that many have labeled as a resurgence of the “Year of the Woman.”

Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker and our new state leadership must take this opportunity to promote economic empowerment for women and minority business owners in Illinois. To do this effectively, the new administration should consider economic, social and health-related initiatives as they set their legislative priorities for 2019.

• State leaders must support legislation to increase the minimum wage as well as paid sick time for all employees. These two priorities would help women financially support their families while reducing the risk of jeopardized job security or financial setbacks for missing work, which often disproportionately impacts working mothers.

• Improved access to affordable health care for business owners and employees can also help alleviate these issues and ensure that female and minority entrepreneurs can compete with larger companies for the talent they need to grow their business. According to a 2017 survey conducted by the Women’s Business Development Center about the importance of affordable health care for women-owned businesses, 85 percent of business owners said that access to health coverage was important to their decision to start their business.

• Mothers also need access to quality childcare. A recent report from the New York Times found that enrollment in early childhood education programs has doubled in the past decade, presenting a lucrative opportunity for small-business owners to develop needed child care businesses so mothers can go back to work. Our leaders must be sure that the women and minority business owners who step up to fill this need receive state payments due to them and the support necessary to run their businesses.

• Illinois must also find common-sense solutions to disparities in access to capital. According to research from the National Women’s Business Council, men typically start their businesses with nearly twice as much financial capital as women ($135,000 versus $75,000). Incentives to help level the playing field in terms of access to markets will be an integral component of increasing success for women and minority entrepreneurs.

• Increased access to contracts is crucial as well. This year, Illinois passed legislation requiring 20 percent of contracts awarded to businesses by state officials go to those owned by women, minorities and people living with disabilities. Gov.-elect Pritzker must continue encouraging the state and its entities, like public universities and community colleges, to prioritize these contracts.

• Women and minority business owners in Illinois deserve a voice in Illinois’ legislative priorities. In the past, Illinois governors have established programs like the Illinois Women’s Business Ownership Council, which has been eliminated, and the Illinois Business Enterprise Council to serve as advocates for women and minority business owners. Pritzker should consider re-establishing or expanding these programs and providing his direct oversight to ensure diverse entrepreneurs are given a seat at the table.

It’s been a historic year for women in politics, and we encourage Pritzker and our state representatives to continue the momentum of this “Year of the Woman” by supporting the economic empowerment of female and minority business owners in 2019.

Hedy Ratner is founder and president emerita of the Women’s Business Development Center in Chicago. Emilia DiMenco is CEO.


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