WASHINGTON, D.C. — While the number of women-owned firms grows at a rate almost twice that of all businesses, women entrepreneurs lag behind in capital, contracting awards and their ability to access viable networks. Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, addressed these critical concerns at a roundtable today- 20 years after the passage of the Women’s Business Ownership Act.

"The Women’s Business Ownership Act was well past due when it was finally enacted in 1988,” said Kerry. “In the twenty years since this first major step towards equality for women entrepreneurs, women have seen tremendous triumphs- but also, still face considerable hurdles.”

Kerry recognized that despite accounting for 30 percent of all small businesses, women-owned firms receive less than 3.5 percent of federal contracts. To boost women entrepreneurship, Congress passed the Women’s Procurement Program in 2000 - which has yet to be enacted by the President. But the SBA has chosen the narrowest possible way to implement the program- labeling just four of 140 industries studied underrepresented. They submitted this rule for consideration in August. If the rule is finalized, contracting officers will only be able to restrict competition to women-owned businesses in these limited industries.

“I’m vehemently opposed to the Administration moving forward with the unconstitutional women's procurement rule that makes it harder for women to access federal contracts,” said Kerry. “If the Bush administration gets its way, the underlying principles of the Woman’s Procurement Program will be severely undermined and any meaningful change that we could have enacted will be vastly constrained.”

The Women’s Business Ownership Act was the first comprehensive small business legislation aimed to help women entrepreneurs succeed. In spite of the ongoing challenges faced by women entrepreneurs 20 years since its passage, women have pushed forward with tremendous strength and determination. The Center for Women’s Business Research unveiled a study at the roundtable - set to be officially released on Wednesday - noting that in the United States today more than 7.2 million firms are majority-owned and controlled by women, employing 7.3 million workers and generating $1.1 trillion in revenue. Between 1977 and 2002, the number of women-owned businesses grew by 824 percent, according to the Center.

“Women small business owners will continue to weather adversity as they break new ground,” said Kerry. “The path has never been smooth, but they keep pushing onward. We must do more to help remove the hurdles to success, so women entrepreneurs will continue to bolster our economy.”