Charging that government, financial and educational institutions discriminate against women business owners, President Carter yesterday promised action on a task force report calling for broad government initiatives to support women entrepreneurs.
The task force report was the product of six months of study by nine federal agencies. It urges increased federal financial, management and procurement assistance for women in business but treads lightly around the question of cutting women in on the narrow slice of aid-to-the-disadvantaged pie the government already has set aside for blacks and other minorities.
"I don't think there's any doubt that a federal agency or private lending institution, an institution of higher education, has an almost innate feeling that a business investment would best be made through a man (rather) than a woman," Carter said.
"It's not fair. It's not deserved. There's no reason for it. But it exists," he said.
The reports recommendations make clear that the government must start at ground level if it is to help women-owned business expand the 0.3 percent share of U.S. business receipts they held when last counted by the Census Bureau in 1972. The first steps are to count the number of women-owned business in the country and determine what problems they have getting credit, the report said.
The report recommends that the Federal Reserve Board be directed to require lending institutions to keep records on their reasons for rejecting business loan applications, as they now must do for consumer loan applications under equal credit opportunity legislation.
It also calls for an executive order creating a woman's business program, similar to the executive order that created a federal minority business effort in 1968.
The major result of the 1968 order was a decision to use the Small business Administration's authority to reserve certain contracts for small businesses as a tool to spur the awarding of federal contracts to minorities.
The program - known as 8(a) for the section of SBA's law that authorizes it - has been much criticized, but provides more than 80 percent of federal contracts that go to minorities.
Sources said the women's task force, originally proposed creating a separate 8(a)-type program for women, but was turned down for cost reasons by the Office of Management and Budget.
The final recommendation of the task force is to include women in the current 8(a) program, but only it is better funded and run. Sources said an uproar in the minority business community over the prosepect of large numbers of new women participants in an already funded program was a reason the recommendation is circumspect.
"We'll have to watch it to see that women don't get the same lip service other minorities are getting," said Rep. Joseph Addabbo (D-N.Y.), whose small business subcommittee held hearings on women business owners last year.