2018 marks the 30-year anniversary of H.R. 5050 – The Women’s Business Ownership Act, which eliminated the requirement that a woman needed a man’s signature to secure a business loan. Today, there are 40 million small businesses in the United States, 30% of which are owned by women. Having equal access to business financing is one of the primary reasons for this growth.
Jen Earle, who serves as CEO of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), believes in the power of change.
“NAWBO was the first national organization to organize women business owners into a united voice for change and equal rights under the law,” said Earle. “H.R. 5050 was meaningful in that it was a clear representation of the power of women to drive change when we aggregate our energies together and work collaboratively with leaders in legislative change.”
Earle is fast to add that NAWBO continues to serve today as a powerful influencer for women entrepreneurs, locally, nationally and globally. “We don’t just talk about opportunities for women in businesses; we drive them. We are the only organization to corral our resources to marshal change in public policy and legislation that is a game changer for women business owners.”
Earle’s journey to CEO of NAWBO is not unlike many of the women business owners she represents, and battles for, each day – it came with starts and stops, and side trips along the way. Born with a natural, innate entrepreneurial drive and sense of larger purpose, Earle searched for opportunities that would allow her to make an impact. Earle found herself back in her home state of California after graduating from the University of Notre Dame. She worked part-time for a production company while searching for the right job. What started as a temporary resting spot on the way to her true purpose turned out to be the springboard to her next role – that of a small business owner. It was at this production company where she met her future business partner, and together they created their own company, reaching seven-figure revenues in a few short years.
“I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and that our experiences prepare us for our next chapter,” Earle says. “After a few years at the production company, I found myself unhappy. I had simply traveled too far from my core mission, which was to serve and help others. I knew I wanted and needed a change.”
One of Earle’s great loves was nonprofit work and giving back to the community. Throughout her professional career, Earle remained actively involved in community outreach. During her years at the production company she supported a group called Ladies Who Launch, and the women in that organization introduced her to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). Once she started working with NAWBO, Earle knew she had found home – the work became a “labor of love” very rapidly.
“I was helping women. I was using my expertise and talent to make a difference and create impact. I was happy,” Earle says. Shortly thereafter, the NAWBO Board of Directors asked Earle to take the reigns as CEO, where she has been ever since.
Earle is comfortable sharing the important lessons learned from her life journey:
- Be open to opportunity, however it manifests itself to you. It may appear when you aren’t looking, and when you think you aren’t ready.
- Stay true to yourself, and work hard to find your true north. This will help lead you to opportunities that align with what is important to you.
- Stay involved in your passion, even when it isn’t your current job. Keep connected to what matters most to you.
- Be brave enough to know when to make a change. Be willing to take a risk on a new adventure when the door opens, and when you know it supports your core purpose.
- Remain connected to other women – we are a powerful network of support. Don’t remain alone in the trenches – there is a lot to learn from each other.
Today, Earle leverages her role as CEO of NAWBO to solve a very important need she felt as a small business owner – the yearning to be connected and supported. “When I was an entrepreneur, there were a lot of days that felt lonely and scary. I was often in unchartered territory and learned by trial and error.” Earle says. “NAWBO brings women together who work across the spectrum of business to help each other and learn from each other. Our roots in advocacy are only part of our story. We provide leadership training, business education, professional networking, and social interaction – this is a place to make friends for life while also driving economic, social and legislative change. Collectively, we have scale and magnitude. I encourage women to join their local NAWBO chapter and get involved. If NAWBO isn’t right for you, then continue to find your own group – don’t go it alone.”
In 2018, Earle will lead NAWBO to tackle issues pertinent to today’s woman business owner and entrepreneur – primarily parity in representation in the board room, elected offices, and compensation. “Today, women-owned businesses do not create the same level of revenue as their male counterparts,” Earle says. “We have made progress, but we have still have a long road ahead. I am excited to join the women of NAWBO to drive positive change for women across the globe, and to make 2018 a milestone year for women business owners.”
Founded in 1975, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) is the unified voice of over 9 million women-owned businesses in the United States representing the fastest growing segment of the economy. NAWBO is the only dues-based organization representing the interests of all women entrepreneurs across all industries; and with chapters across the country. With far-reaching clout and impact, NAWBO is a one-stop resource to propelling women business owners into greater economic, social and political spheres of power worldwide. Respected with elected officials in Washington, D.C. and state capitals across the country, recognized in the media as a thought leader on women’s business issues, and joined with corporate partners and other non-profit organizations who share our mission and expand our influence, NAWBO is the country’s premier women’s business organization. NAWBO’s many milestones and awards over the decades exemplify the rich history of success the organization and its thousands of members have enjoyed.
About Karen Harrison
A 25-year banking veteran, Karen has held senior executive management positions at leading financial institutions prior to joining Bank of America in 2011 as the Small Business Banking Manager for San Diego, Imperial and South Riverside counties. During her tenure at Bank of America, she has also served as a National Sales Performance Manager for Small Business and Market Manager for the Small Business Client Management team for the West Region.
Karen is actively engaged in the community and is a recipient of the Global Diversity and Inclusion award at Bank of America. She currently serves as the Executive Sponsor for Bank of America Community Volunteers/San Diego Market, Chairman of LEAD for Women, San Diego Chapter, as well as serves on the Board of Directors for LEAD San Diego, Junior Achievement of San Diego, and the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) San Diego Chapter, the Women’s Leadership Council for the United Way, and the California’s Women Leaders Network at Bank of America. She is a former Big Sister for Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America. An honors graduate, Karen holds an MBA from the University of Phoenix and a BA from California State University, Fresno. Karen is married, resides in San Diego, California, and has eight Godchildren.