National Small Business Week: Let’s talk about women-owned and supported businesses

Take a walk down Reading’s Main Street and Haven Street and look at our local businesses. Notice anything in particular?

Many, if not most of them, are owned by women. From fashion to cookware, from wine to gourmet foods, from cupcakes to chocolates, women are the primary owners of our thriving local businesses.

It is National Small Business Week, and while we celebrate the contributions that small businesses make in every community in every corner of the nation, today I want to focus on the female business owners and our particular needs and issues.

Today, President Barak Obama called small businesses the “lifeblood of our economy, employing half of our country’s workforce and creating nearly two out of every three new American jobs,” He added, “During National Small Business Week, we renew our commitment to helping these vital enterprises thrive.”

According to the 2007 census, women own nearly 30 percent of all businesses in the U.S., and it’s slightly higher in Massachusetts. According to the National Women’s Business Council, when you add the number of businesses owned by women with the number of businesses led by women, the result is 36 percent of businesses in the country are either owned or led by women.

As a business owner, I know that owning a business is really the only way for a woman to “have it all.” It makes sense for a a woman to own a business, so she can dictate her terms and find life balance for herself. As someone who has worked outside the home for a company, I can say that it is very difficult to continue on the fast track without giving up something. Owning a business provides some flexibility, and allows us to take advantages of opportunities we would otherwise be robbed of.

That said, many of the stresses on small businesses today involve issues that will most strongly impact women, both the owners and the employees.

The twin issues of hiking the minimum wage and providing paid sick leave for all employees, even those of small businesses, will cause a hardship for the businesses and the employees, who tend to be overwhelmingly women with families. On the surface, only a heartless capitalist could come out against these issues, but dig a little deeper and you’ll see why the owners of small businesses are worried.

Anytime an employee calls in sick (and we require workers to be healthy a full 24 hours after an illness before coming back to work), we need to cover that shift, either by ourselves or by calling in another employee. If we need to pay sick leave, we will be paying two salaries for one shift, or do without the extra person, taking the shift ourselves.

I can assure you that we, like all other small businesses, will opt to do more with less, and not bring in an additional person, unless absolutely necessary. Our overhead costs are already so high that we do not hire additional personnel unless we absolutely cannot function without them.

If a mandate from the state comes down saying we have to pay employees for sick days, something will have to give. Most likely, that will mean fewer shifts for employees, and fewer hires.

When it comes to raising the minimum wage, we ask, where do the politicians think all of this extra money is coming from? The increased cost in minimum wage doesn’t equal a rise in sales or lessening of expenses, therefore, smaller companies like mine will have to, again, hire fewer people and also pass on costs to customers in order to stay on business.

We are like all small business people. We are trying to not only stay in business, but grow our business and that means hiring more employees, again, who are primarily women. We want to put people to work, but that is becoming harder and harder to do. If the legislature opts to include incentives such as lower payroll taxes or other tax benefits for small businesses, then that would certainly lighten the load. That seems unlikely, however, as it would cost the state money. But, you cannot keep imposing these mandates that are withdrawals to a company’s financials without giving them something to deposit. Not if you want to keep and encourage these small businesses, the “lifeblood of our economy,” to quote the President, to flourish.

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