Small business leaders from the Pittsburgh region traveled to the nation's capital this week to meet with President Obama and members of his administration. Among the Pittsburgh contingent was the director of the Center for Women's Entrepreneurship at Chatham University. Rebecca Harris said one of the main takeaways from the day was that there are actually jobs out there, even as the unemployed continue to struggle.
"There are job opportunities being created around the country now, but a lot of people aren't being trained," said Harris. "These are highly specialized jobs and many people lack the qualifications needs, so this is really a clear opportunity for businesses to start training the workforce to take advantage of these opportunities."
In addition to a lack of training, a recent report found that women-owned businesses are growing faster than male-owned businesses, but are not hiring and creating jobs at the same pace.
"Women tend to be much more risk-averse, less willing to take on credit and so they're afraid in many instances to hire and take on the responsibility of employees," said Harris.
In fact, she said, many women surveyed said they want to grow their businesses, but they want to do so without taking on more employees. Harris said that's simply not realistic.
"It's going to become an economic issue because women-businesses, if they continue this ten-year trend of starting more businesses than male-owned businesses, what's going to happen in ten years is we're going to have too many small companies that don't have enough employees and that's a huge impact on the economy," she said.
Harris said women business owners need greater access to education programs on successful employment practices and strategic business growth, thereby giving them the tools to grow their business while also creating jobs.
Small businesses, which in the U.S. are companies with 500 or fewer employees, represent 99.7% of all employer firms and employ about half of all private sector employees according the Small Business Administration. Harris said there is a reason leaders from the Pittsburgh region were invited to the White House.
"Pittsburgh, they said in these meetings, is really a bellwether for the entire country because it has the ed, the meds, manufacturing, business, and innovation," she said. "My position on it is what are we going to do to make sure that women can get to the level of male-owned companies and continue to advance their role, because right now they are not equal players."
In addition to the Center for Women's Entrepreneurship, representatives from Innovation Works, BlueTree Allied Angels, Urban Innovation 21 and others took part in the White House meetings.