Much has improved for women small business owners over the past 30 years. At the recent NAWBO 2018 National Women’s Business Conference, women business leaders discussed this progress and remaining challenges, with a spotlight on HR5050. HR5050 addressed the needs of women entrepreneurs and business owners – giving them recognition and resources, while eliminating discriminatory lending practices. On this episode of "The Heartbeat of Main Street," Jill Calabrese Bain discusses the recent conference, the doors opened by HR5050, and the path forward.
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Jill: The big buzz at the conference this year was around the celebration of a very special anniversary if you work in the small business space, and that was the passage of the Women Business Ownership Act, which is really commonly referred to as HR 5050. Thanks to folks within NAWBO who helped get this legislation passed, it was, for the first time, the ability for a woman to apply for and secure credit without having a male relative cosign. It was not that long ago, it was in 1988, so it was a very short 30 years ago.
Gregg: I'm here with Jill Calabrese Bain, she's the Managing Director, Head of Wealth Management Banking and Lending for Bank of America. This, of course, is “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America.
Jill, welcome to the show. You were just out in Spokane, Washington, and you were speaking at the annual conference for the National Association of Women Business Owners, or NAWBO. Welcome home, first of all. Tell us about the conference starting with the theme and what you were speaking about while you were there.
Jill: Great. Thank you Gregg. It was really an exciting time for us. We've been partnering with the National Association of Women Business Owners, informally known as NAWBO, for many, many years. Every single year they have and host an annual conference. We've had the pleasure of hosting that conference with them for the past six years.
For those who don't know, NAWBO has been in existence for many decades. It's just celebrated its 43rd year. They really came together, initially, in the early '70s as a way for women entrepreneurs to come together, to share best practices, to talk about public policy, so we were out there together in Spokane, Washington. The really wonderful thing about the conference is that it creates an opportunity for women business owners across the US, and sometimes across the globe, to come together and tackle issues, conversations, what in fact is facing small business owners today. They have the opportunity to spend time on different thought leadership pieces with different presenters, and really different opportunities not only to talk about what the challenges, but what are some of the successes that they see, and how do they share that as a best practice?
We're always happy to partner with those guys, and this year the theme of the conference was Work Well, Live Well. The way I think about it, if you want to live well you’ve got to work better, and if you want to work well you need to live better, so that theme was completely integrated. Female entrepreneurs they have a journey, it's really never a destination, they're all running businesses, they're all managing households, they're giving back to their communities, and they're advocating for a lot of different causes, so this was really an opportunity to take a pause for just a bit, have an opportunity to refocus, nurture what it is that they're doing. We were just excited because it really brings together wellness, and wholeness, and how we approach our business from a strategic perspective, but also what we need to do every single day to deliver for clients.
This year the keynote speaker was Liz Gilbert. Many might know Liz as the author of the bestselling book Eat, Pray, Love, which-
Gregg: Who doesn't? Who doesn't know her as the author of Eat, Pray, Love?
Jill: Exactly. I was thrilled to have an opportunity to spend a little time with Liz and introduce her to the broader group of women business owners. She really encouraged everyone to embrace their curiosity, and let go of certain things. She really showed everyone how to be creative, tackle what they do, to face down what they most fear, so she was just a great speaker, and great representation of the theme Work Well, Live Well.
Gregg: You've been going to this conference, it sounds like, for many years. I'm curious to know how you found this year's conference relative to others? What were particular themes, or issues that women were talking about this year that seemed to be new issues or new topics?
Jill: Gregg, it's always interesting. There's one prevailing theme, no matter if it's male or female, but the prevailing theme is always around access to capital. Although I would say, in reflection, that women have made significant progress over the years, in fact, we just released the Bank of America Women Business Owner Spotlight that we issue annually and that really takes a look at goals, and challenges, and experiences of women. What was most interesting to many of us is that this year's report found that while an overwhelming majority of women business owners believe access to capital has improved over the last decade—in fact 84% of them believe it improved—the majority still feels like it is more difficult to secure financing than it is for their male counterparts.
The big buzz at the conference this year was around the celebration of a very special anniversary if you work in the small business space, and that was the passage of the Women Business Ownership Act, which is really commonly referred to as HR 5050. Thanks to folks within NAWBO who helped get this legislation passed it was, for the first time, the ability for a woman to apply for and secure credit without having a male relative cosign. Think about that.
Gregg: I have a hard time even thinking of that as being possible in my lifetime, and I have a feeling you're going to tell me it wasn't that long ago that that was passed. What year was that?
Jill: It was not that long ago, it was in 1988, so it was a very short 30 years ago. When I have this conversation with my children who are teenagers they can't even fathom this as a thing.
Gregg: I'm not a teenager and I'm having the same problem.
Jill: That is cause for celebration, but it is a chance to look back and say, "Okay, well progress has been made over the past 30 years, but there is still so much work to be done."
Gregg: I guess, one of my questions, because I have to be honest and I'm sure partially because I'm a man and wasn't impacted by this in the way that women business owners were, it took a law to make that possible? Or it took a law to remove the requirement legally?
Jill: It took the passage of legislation to enable the ability and to eliminate the barriers that once existed around securing credit, so that is, in fact, what it was meant to do. What was really wonderful is that we had about five women who were really the pioneers of helping to support this legislation 30 years ago and they were all there at the conference this year, and they all got to tell a little bit of their story, and it was absolutely fascinating, and educational, and inspirational to hear what their experience was, and a real lesson for women business owners today that you never really can give up. You always have to go after your passion.
Gregg: It also seems, to me, that it's an opportunity for younger entrepreneurs, and younger business owners, in this case women entrepreneurs and women small business owners, to really understand you don't want to take things for granted that you have today. As you said, you also want to look ahead and say, "You know, there's still things that are unjust, or there are still any qualities, and we have to keep working on those too. Look, it may be a lot easier for women today, but the playing field should be level, and we have to keep working."
Jill: Yeah, and I believe that an organization like NAWBO does create the ability to pull together women such that there is critical mass and thinking around a topical issue, and gives us an opportunity nationally to be better informed around what it is that we could do differently to help accelerate growth for women. We do know that women are the fastest-growing segment of the small-business space and of the small business economy.
Gregg: Even more reasons to encourage them for all kinds of reasons, because it's the right thing to do, but it's also better for all of us including the economy itself.
Previous to this year's conference, what have been themes even the actual formal themes of the conferences? What have been the topics of big buzz? Obviously, access to capital always, and this being the 30th anniversary of HR 5050, but can you just think back and hit on a couple of other major themes, so we get a sense of what these events are like, and the things that are on the minds on the members of NAWBO?
Jill: Yeah, absolutely. The women business owners are always looking for opportunities for how do they improve upon themselves, and how do they improve upon what they can do for their businesses, and what they can do for their communities? The conferences always take on different themes, the themes that are always critical and essential for women. One thing that has struck me over the years is just the diversity in the type of businesses that we see, and it's everything from what one might think of nontraditional for women like construction management, to legal, to HR staffing.
The beauty of the opportunity to get together on an annual basis, and this always comes through, is that despite the fact that we might have somebody who is managing a bakery versus somebody who is managing a dental practice, some of the themes are always the same. Everyone is very proficient at whatever their technical discipline is, but then as it relates to business, that's where sometimes they need more support. How do we think about and plan for the next 12 months, the next 18 months? Throughout the conferences there are breakout sessions, and workshops that really hone in on wherever a business owner is in the maturity of their business, there's usually something for them that will allow them to think about: how do we get to that next level?
Gregg: You know, what's interesting as you're talking it seems, to me, that one of the obvious things for you and I to talk about is why women entrepreneurs and small business owners who are not members of NAWBO should really consider it. I want to throw out the website for NAWBO, it's nawbo.org. I'm talking with Jill Calabrese Bain. Of course, we're here on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America.
Can you speak to the kinds of benefits women might immediately enjoy as a result of becoming a member of NAWBO? Do you hear from women there, "Oh, I just joined in the last year, and here's how it helped me, and boy was I surprised at how much value I got out of this"?
Jill: Yeah, absolutely. It's always a great opportunity to speak directly to women business owners, and I have that opportunity with my colleagues across Bank of America and Merrill Lynch US Trust every year. What we hear is that they get a lot of leverage and opportunity within their own community, so if they're Chicago-based, or Columbus, Ohio based, or Cincinnati-based, wherever they might be there's a local network that they built, and then with the umbrella of NAWBO, at national level, there's opportunity then to not only learn from business owners in your community, but then learn from business owners across the country. NAWBO does make available in addition to local membership access to different partnerships and different alliances, and how you might be able to secure thought leadership on a topic that you might not be able to secure on your own. There's online resources, and there's also timely communications of things that impact business owners across the board.
What I would say is that I think there's a great local and national opportunity that might not otherwise be afforded, and there's tons of great networking opportunities, and the ability to really step up in your community, or at a national level to address and influence policy.
Gregg: What's interesting about this is as you're talking about NAWBO and Bank of America's long relationship with NAWBO I'm realizing that for many small business owners and entrepreneurs there can be a tendency to actually put your head down, even though in this interview we're really focused on women because NAWBO of course is the National Association of Women Business Owners, but for both men and women for many entrepreneurs and small business owners there's a tendency to just put your head down and just keep working, and going at it alone. One of the things I'd like to hear you talk about both in terms of women supporting women but small business owners getting support from a community, wherever that community may be, the benefits of not just putting your head down and going it alone, but really getting involved in a larger community, not just for what you can get from the community, but what you can also give, and by giving getting even more.
Jill: I think that's a really great point. What happens with the business owners and anyone who works within any type of establishment, what happens is we always get focused on what is the day-to-day necessary thing that needs to happen or else your business shuts down? What are all the tactical things that you need to do to make sure that your employees are happy, your clients are happy? Sometimes what that doesn't afford us the opportunity to do is take a step back, and think very strategically about the business, and what the priorities are both personally and professionally because those two do interact with one another.
When business owners allow themselves to take a broader view of their business, to think more strategically, they can better plan for the future. They can better plan for the way the market might be changing around them, or the competitive or client appetite, or dynamic might be. It's so critically important to be able to work and live well together such that we afford ourselves the opportunity to think about our business, and what it is that we want to do short-term and long-term. That goes for all business owners and anyone who's part of a business establishment.
Gregg: That's really well said. I'm talking with Jill Calabrese Bain, she's the Managing Director, Head of Wealth Management Banking and Lending at Bank of America. This is “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks and Bank of America.
Jill was just at the annual conference of the National Association of Women Business Owners or NAWBO, NAWBO's at nawbo.org. What's interesting, when you talk about not just looking at what I need to do today to make my business a success, but looking into the future and being part of a community to do that. I would imagine for some small business owners there's both “I don't know what to do next,” but “I don't even know how to go about figuring out how to know what to do next.” I think just putting yourself in a position of being part of a group just surrounds you with lots of people who have been where you have been, and just formally, or informally having those conversations is going to empower you, and then give you a group of people to check in with so that they can support you in going to the next level, or the next step, and you can then do the same for others.
Jill: Yeah, absolutely Gregg. I think that's so well said because one of the biggest challenges for business owners, male and female alike, is that they don't often ask for help. There's nothing wrong with asking for help to taking a little bit of a pause, looking around, looking at your network and saying, "Okay, there is someone who has walked in my shoes, let me just ask." I know that you probably feel the same way, when somebody raises their hand and asks for help we'll always help them, we'll always talk to them. That's really a culture that I believe that we need to continue to nurture.
Gregg: Yes, and when you're part of an organization like this it's actually one of the things that's at the core of the organization is I help you, you help me, we all help each other, and we succeed together.
I want to ask a question just based on your experience at the NAWBO annual conference, could you pick one piece of advice, or one lesson learned that you learned at this event, or you heard others talking about that you wish all small business owners and entrepreneurs knew? Was there one key thing that you think could make a difference for almost anyone who owns a small business?
Jill: That is such an important question. I think of really two things that come to mind just based upon our experience at Bank of America with clients. Business owners really need to create a plan, but essentially goals and strategies that are achievable and measurable in both the short-term and the long-term. The second thing I would say is never give up. Just to provide some context around that, when we set goals for ourselves that we really can't measure and seem out of the spectrum of possibility that just doesn't create a lot of confidence, and doesn't really keep us on the right path. When we see business owners are very clear on what it is that they would like to be able to experience, and they have a measurable goal around it then they're going to be willing to try different things because if plan A doesn't work, and we know that a lot of times plan A does not work, that's not a failing, but there's an inherent learning in that around how to move forward. I would say create a plan that's actionable and measurable and two, don't give up.
Gregg: That's really great advice. I'm talking with Jill Calabrese Bain Managing Director, Head of Wealth Management Banking and Lending at Bank of America.
I want to take this one step further Jill, and that is what kinds of things is Bank of America doing with small business owners, women small business owners beyond things like the NAWBO partnership?
Jill: I am so lucky to work for the company that I do, and at Bank of America we are committed to providing women entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners with the tools, advice, and funding that they need to be successful. When we think about our portfolio of clients we have 3.3 million small business clients, 40 percent of them are women, and so I know I don't need to do the math, but that's over ... we have the opportunity to serve over 1 million small business owner clients. When we think about the opportunity that we have in front of us, and the learnings that we have, we've been able to build and tailor programs that really support women.
For instance, we have The Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program. Through that program we've loaned over $40 million to nearly 2000 women business owners since 2014. We also have a supplier diversity program, $2 billion supplier diversity program where we extend opportunities to women business owners, and we have other programs, both domestic and globally, global ambassador Cherie Blair. These are all foundations for women to help them succeed. Last but not least, what I'm really excited about is just this past April we announced a partnership with Cornell University to launch the Bank of America Institute for Women's Entrepreneurship at Cornell. This is an amazing opportunity where we are establishing an online learning portal that provides women at all stages of their development, and their entrepreneurial skill set with more knowledge, more resources. It is a 12-month certification course, there is no fee up front, or no fee at all to actually participate, and we really are looking to help build and manage into a small part in helping women be successful.
Gregg: You shared a lot of different things with us. Is there one place on the Bank of America website where women can go to find out about all of these programs?
Jill: All of these programs are on the website, bankofamerica/women, and anyone can access them, and look at any of the programs that we sponsor or support, so I encourage everyone to check that out.
In closing Gregg, just thinking about this conversation and thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to have the talk today, but we believe it is critically important for us to invest in women. When we invest in women we invest in our communities, and we invest in our future.
Gregg: That's really well said. Jill Calabrese Bain, we're here with “The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks, and Bank of America, she's the Managing Director, Head of Wealth Management Banking and Lending. She was just at the annual conference of the National Association of Women Business Owners or NAWBO, NAWBO's at nawbo.org, and she did the opening remarks for Elizabeth Gilbert who, of course, everyone knows as the author of Eat, Pray, Love and was portrayed in film by Julia Roberts, which has to be a thrill, in of itself.
Jill, thanks so much for joining us.
Jill: Thanks so much, Gregg. I enjoyed it, thank you very much.