Women a Big Force in Business, Study Finds

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By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 3, 2009

Women-owned businesses generate about $3 trillion in revenue and employ 16 percent of the workforce, making them significant players in the national economy, according to researchers who conducted a benchmark study released Friday.

The study was led by the nonprofit Center for Women's Business Research with sponsorship from Women Impacting Public Policy, a nonpartisan group, and Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer. The research provided an in-depth look at the economic impact of women-owned businesses, which were defined as privately held companies at which women held at least a 50 percent stake. According to the study, those businesses employ 23 million people, nearly double the number of the 50 biggest companies in the country combined.

Advocates for women in business said the results are a wake-up call for those who consider women to be niche players.

"This really gives us good, secure statistics to go to policymakers with," said Margaret Barton, executive director of the National Women's Business Council.

The study was released during the Economic Summit for Women Business Owners at the W Hotel in D.C., convened by Wal-Mart and WIPP. Among the top issues for members were access to capital for small businesses, the impact of the government's stimulus programs and the cost of health care.

Marion Bonhomme owns Knowledge Connections, a telecommunications engineering and consulting firm based in Herndon. She said her main concern was securing financing. Her bank reduced her line of credit and increased interest rates and fees in the wake of the credit crunch, she said. That has forced her to lay off 10 percent of her more than 100 employees.

"I could not get the financing in order to support them," she said.

Bonhomme said she hoped that attending the summit would allow her voice -- and those of other women business owners -- to be heard.

Wal-Mart, the main sponsor of the event, said about 40 percent of the business members of its Sam's Club division are women who own small businesses. Chief executive Mike Duke said that was one reason behind the retailers' decision to participate.

"This is real. We really are committed to you and your business," he told the roughly 300 women at the event.

Wal-Mart has been the target of the nation's largest class-action sex-discrimination lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in 2001 and is still winding its way through the legal system. During the summer, Duke pledged to increase the number of women promoted within the company and established an advisory "global women's council." Wal-Mart was also a founding sponsor of WIPP, and the company's human resources director, Susan Chambers, is chairwoman of WIPP's corporate advisory board.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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