(Washington, DC) – Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the lead Democrat on the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, today delivered the following opening statement at a hearing examining the challenges facing women entrepreneurs and strategies to strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem for more women.

(As prepared for delivery)

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing on the challenges facing women entrepreneurs and how we can help women-owned businesses reach their full economic and job-creating potential.

October is ‘National Women’s Small Business Month’ and a chance to highlight the economic contributions women make to our economy.

Women are more than half the population of the United States and nearly half the workforce.  We are the primary breadwinner in more than 40 percent of American households and control the majority of household spending. 

Women are also the future of American entrepreneurship.  Women entrepreneurs are creating new businesses, disrupting established industries, and developing innovative products and platforms at a record pace.

The good news: there are 11.3 million women-owned businesses in the United States.  These businesses employ nearly nine million people and generate more than $1.6 trillion in receipts.  Women-owned firms are growing five times faster than the national average.

One of these women-owned firms is Absolute Resource Associates, an environmental services company in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  The owner is an engineer named Sue Sylvester who told me she wanted to own a business “to control her destiny.” 

Today, her lab is a top New Hampshire small business and competing for federal contracts under a law this committee passed in 2014 to boost opportunities for women-owned firms.

Despite these success stories and other positive trends, women-owned businesses still face headwinds.  On average, they earn less than male-owned firms.  They employ only 8 percent of the nation’s private workforce and produce 4 percent of business revenues – a share that has remained the same for 20 years.

The question facing us today is: why?

One reason is that women entrepreneurs face institutional barriers to starting and growing businesses that make achieving a level playing field with male entrepreneurs a challenge.

An upcoming study by the Democratic staff of this committee found several factors that contribute to this gender gap including: fewer role models and mentors for women entrepreneurs, a gender pay gap and unequal access to startup funding and financing.

Today’s hearing is an opportunity to better understand this gender disparity and how we can overcome the financial, cultural and structural obstacles facing women entrepreneurs.

I look forward to the testimony of these outstanding women entrepreneurs.  Thank you for sharing your stories and the lessons you learned on your entrepreneurial journey.

As a former small business owner (and a women who has broken a barrier or two in politics), I know there is nothing that women cannot achieve if given an equal opportunity to compete. 

I hope today’s hearing advances the gender gap dialogue and contributes to a culture that finds more ways to help women entrepreneurs succeed.