Framingham MetroWest Daily News Op-Ed by Sen. Kerry and State Rep. Richardson

"Make the world better."

This was the deathbed plea of the early abolitionist and champion of women's rights, the Massachusetts native Lucy Stone, who urged her daughter to carry on her dream.

Today we remember Lucy Stone as a voice of conscience. We sometimes forget that she was also an entrepreneur who raised enough money to start the weekly suffrage newspaper, the Woman's Journal, which she co-edited with her husband.

Ever since then, many have carried on Lucy Stone's mission of working to level the playing field for women. Though the movement has come a long way, its promise has not yet been perfected. As long as women are making only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, the march isn't over.

This week, we held a roundtable to examine the hurdles that women entrepreneurs face and examine solutions we can take - at the federal and state level - to empower women to overcome these hurdles and achieve business success.

Empowering women entrepreneurs isn't just imperative for the sake of equal opportunity - it is important because harnessing the full talents of all our citizens contributes to our overall economic development, alleviates poverty, and increases America's competitiveness.

This is true of economies everywhere - which is why, last week, Goldman Sachs announced a $100 million project to educate 10,000 women globally about business. Studies have found that educating women leads to higher wages, better health, and improved economic returns.

What's true in Bangalore is true in Boston: America's economic development can be strengthened by investing in women entrepreneurs. Today there are nearly eight million women-owned businesses in our country. They employ over seven million people and generate $1.1 trillion in sales each year. Here in Massachusetts, nearly 190,000 women-owned businesses contribute $30 billion to the economy and employ more than 177,000 people.

This is an economic trend we should be nurturing: Over the last decade, the number of women-owned businesses in the Bay State has increased by 43 percent - nearly double the growth of all firms.

That's the glass-half-full picture. Unfortunately, despite the steps taken, miles are still to be traveled: women-owned small businesses are smaller and have fewer employees than their male counterparts. Just three percent of women-owned firms generate $1 million or more in revenue, while six percent of men-owned businesses do. Only 16 percent of all firms with employees are owned by women. Even in federal procurement, women-owned firms receive just 3.4 percent of all contract dollars.

At the top levels in government, some assume the smug sensibility that the challenges women face have been solved. They haven't. Look no further than the fact that women entrepreneurs so far this year have received only 17 percent of small business loan amounts that are backed by the federal government. Fewer women are able to sell their goods and services to the federal government. Remarkably, the Bush Administration claims that women are underrepresented in just four out of more than 140 categories they use for federal contracting.

Women have overcome many obstacles since Lucy Stone's day, but barriers remain in their way. Will we pick up Lucy Stone's standard and lift up those remaining barriers? We should need no more motivation than to remember that with women heading almost one in four households with children under 18, women's success in business directly benefits our children and our entire society.

One way to at last fulfill Lucy Stone's final command and "make the world better": help people just like her - women entrepreneurs.

John Kerry is the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. Pam Richardson represents 11 precincts in Framingham and serves on the Housing, Mental Health & Substance Abuse, and Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities Committees.

To read this Op-Ed on the MetroWest website, please click here.