June 14, 2012

Women and Business

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

As you all know, the business world is changing, and has been for some time.  Many women now excel in business.  Our progress has not come all at once, but I have worked hard to build my business.  I have basked in the pleasures of modest success, and I have tasted the bitter disappoint that follows any setback.  Many women have experienced similar pleasures and disappointments.  For those who have not, you have every right to try your hand at your own business.  In all likelihood, you would excel.

In the north Milwaukee neighborhoods I represent, women have become community leaders in business.  We own restaurants, beauty shops, construction companies, and, yes, law firms.  Ultimately, who can be surprised?  The skills women have used to hold their families together, to balance their budgets and inspire bonds of affection, have served women well in public life. 

On the other hand, government has not always served women in business as well as women have served themselves.  Last year, the Chamber of Commerce was dismantled at the request of Governor Walker.  The Department of Commerce was a highly functional government organization dedicated venture capital investment in business. 

Governor Walker replaced the Department of Commerce with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation or WEDC, which would function more as a private corporation.  While I believe Governor Walker sincerely thought the change would help the businesses of Wisconsin, he never reflected on the dangers to women and minorities. 

The fact of the matter is that women and minority-owned businesses never had the benefit of a head start.  We have had to work hard to make the make each and every one of our extraordinary advances.  The Department of Commerce had acknowledged this reality.  Our legislative mandates had required programs helping to develop minority and women-owned businesses.  The newly formed WEDC has not been guided by these mandates.

As a woman and an African-American business owner, I know the importance of hard work and sacrifice.  I also know that hard work can amount to less than anything when capable and ambitious men and women lack access to the capital with which to begin.  Ultimately, I believe the conversation surrounding government investment in business boils down to a tension between distinct ideals.  Do we ensure our society support a diverse and varied group of motivated entrepreneurs, and do we allow an unaccountable private organization the discretion to choose what values our contributions will support?

As individuals, I believe we must take responsibility of our actions, and by extension, the health of our businesses.  As a business community, I believe we have a duty to take charge of our collective destinies.  We cannot give that responsibility to any one man or woman.  We can certainly not give that responsibility to an unaccountable. 

As the responsibilities have been shifted to others, our government leaders have not given our venture capital programs the attention they deserve.  Today, even IBM may receive subsidies, while many of the talented women struggle to get their feet off the ground.  You may not agree with everything I have to say, but I hope you know that I understand who you are and what you are trying to build.  I know, because I am one of your number, and I will fight on my own behalf, as well as yours.  Every woman deserves a chance at greater success.