President’s Message: Is It the System?

by Angela Garmon

Most systems are fallible at conception because they are not designed for everyone to excel. Systems are generally created to reinforce beliefs or constructs that already exist. And in some cases, concerns for the minority, meaning those who are not represented in the decision-making, are not part of the equation. This lack of consideration leads to oppression if gone unchecked, which ultimately creates divides and can lead to war.

These missteps are riddled throughout American history, forcing people to fight for basic rights since the States were formed. Frustration of being oppressed leads to revolutions. Activists rise up to fight injustices, which leads to movements and then forced changes in legislation. America’s history has been an evolution of movements.

Now here we are in 2020, the year America celebrates a century of women’s suffrage. We continue to be reminded that every movement comes with a price and concepts like “gender equality” and “gender parity” are still being fought for today. It is something to note and a reality that cannot be ignored. It cannot be used as an excuse for immobility on our part but recognized as a system that needs to be addressed.

There are modern-day activists such as Melinda Gates, who picked up the torch that was blazed by courageous women like Elizabeth C. Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells — activists of their times who fought for the women’s rights, which ultimately led to the 19th Amendment.

Recently, Gates has written articles and appeared on interviews for Harvard Business Review to address the question “How long will it take the United States to close the gap on gender equality?” In the interview, “When Will We Reach Gender Equality”, HBR indicates that reaching gender equality will take 208 years at this current rate of change.

Gates identifies that women are not represented equally in key sectors and we must continue to shift status quo because this lack of representation impacts our ability to get a seat at the table where decisions are being made. One key sector that she mentions is entrepreneurship. As president of National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) – Phoenix, it is a concern for me as I talk to women every day as they plan to scale and grow their businesses but run into barriers while doing so. I see the struggles regularly, and as a State and a community we must work together to close the gap and address the needs for WBOs in the State.

Looking at the stats for woman-owned businesses in the State of Arizona, you see that while the number of firms is increasing annually, they are not growing equally in revenue and employment vitality. A recent article in the Phoenix Business Journal, “Women-owned businesses in Arizona make gains but employment slows, report shows”, indicates that woman-owned firms have increased by 53.6 percent from 2007 to 2018. However, employment for WBOs grew only by 1.9 percent and revenues by only $3.5 million over the same period of time. Interesting, right? What is causing this lack of growth?

That is a great question. The report says it could possibly be attributed to “necessity entrepreneurship.” However, I talk to countless women who have a clear vision and plan but seem to run out of resources before catching a break or cannot connect with their most profitable demographics, and this concerns me and other chapter leaders, which causes pause. Is it the system?
When meetings about entrepreneur growth can happen in the city but women do not have a seat at the table, that is a challenge because we are not part of the decision-making process. When set asides do not take into consideration the minority groups, that can be a challenge because we are not part of the procurement solution. Obtaining all the certifications in the world does not mean one will gain access, it simply means that we can play in the pool. However, if the pool is too large, then one gets lost amongst the incumbents.

States such as Texas have intentionally focused on the growth of WBOs and have seen the impact of this investment. State officials see the value of developing WBOs as an essential part of economic development.

Here’s the thing: Empowering one group does not mean a detriment to another. One rise, we all rise; after all we are a “Phoenix.” As women, we continue to navigate around the system. We find ways to push beyond status quo, break barriers and defy odds. In March, NAWBO Phoenix will host a statewide conference to ensure that the voice of women business owners is understood. Let’s begin to strengthen each other and find ways to close the gap.

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