The United States Small Business Administration was established after World War II with the goal of helping small businesses participate and thrive in our economy. Today, the SBA connects business owners with financing and education. Since its inception, the SBA has enabled millions of loans, and countless business counseling, training, and mentorship sessions across many groups and dozens of district and regional offices.
Kathleen McShane is the Assistant Administrator and the proud leader in charge of overseeing the SBA Women’s Business Centers throughout the country. According to the SBA, the WBC mandate is to “provide advice, assistance and support to promote, coordinate, and monitor the efforts of the Federal government to establish, preserve, and strengthen women-owned business.”
Formerly the CEO and Founder of Ladies Launch Club, an organization dedicated to providing mentorship and education for female entrepreneurs, McShane has devoted much of her life and career to promoting and supporting the economic activities and power of American women.
As an SBA leader, she has been well-positioned to continue that work and to comment on the changing landscape for women in business and entrepreneurship today. In a recent phone call, she shared her perspective with on what has and has not changed for women at work, and her hopes for how the SBA can continue to support women in the future.
Q: The business landscape is always changing. In 2019, what is your top advice for women who want to not just grow their businesses but truly thrive in environments or industries where female leadership may not be the norm?
Kathleen McShane: If you asked me that question 10 years ago, I’m sorry to say the answer would be pretty much the same.
A lot has changed in terms of support for women who want to launch or expand a business, but a lot has not changed in terms of the biases that are associated with women and the fact that women really don’t have the access [to capital] that they need.
When I talk this way, I’m speaking generally, [from my experience]. I also believe that women haven’t changed enough in terms of how we see ourselves.
As much as it has to do with [gender] bias [in business], a lot of it has to do with the way women approach business, which is totally different from how men approach it. That doesn’t mean that one approach is right and one is wrong. It simply means that women approach things differently.
For example, we find that many women don’t typically go into business explicitly to make a lot of money, whereas men [will say they] go into business to make money. It’s clear that that’s what they want to do.
What a lack of confidence costs
Q: What is so different about how the women you see approach business?
KM: With many women, their confidence level can be lacking. [In my experience at the SBA], we think anecdotally that Women’s Business Center (WBC) programs can increase their confidence. We do a study every year because we’re instructed by Congress to talk about what we’ve done and what the outcomes have been, and I included a question about confidence.
In our recent study, 76 percent of women strongly agreed or agreed that going through services that are women-centered increased their confidence. [Editor’s note: According to a representative for the SBA, this survey was internal and has not been published.]
Confidence affects our success. For example, some women don’t think of themselves as worthy, which keeps them from charging properly for their services. I say, “If you don’t have enough confidence to charge me properly, why should I have confidence in you to hire you?”
One of the things that we worked on in [my former company] the Ladies Launch Club, was to really begin to shift the mindset.