State needs to collaborate on gender parity

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On Aug. 18, 2020, we recognized the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, granting women the hard-earned right to vote in the United States, and reminding us all of Michigan’s leadership in having extended this right two years prior.

And while our recognition of this milestone was accompanied by an understanding that discriminatory barriers to voting still existed for Black and minority women for years to come — it established the foundation for a century’s worth of achievements, bringing us ever closer to true equality.

Gaining access to the ballot box 100 years ago has afforded women across the country a voice in shaping their future, unlocking economic freedoms and access to opportunities both in the marketplace and beyond. It has empowered generations of women to demand a seat at the table and recognize that they, too, can be the boss.

Today, women across the country are breaking records in representation, making up 10% of the CEOs in Michigan’s venture-backed startups and 7.2% of those heading Fortune 500 companies nationally. Yet it remains clear from these figures alone that we still have much farther to go until we reach true gender parity for half our population.

Here in Michigan, we are actively working to address these disparities, with leadership from the highest levels of our state. Last month, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that the Michigan Women’s Commission would be transitioning to the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity — and be part of the same collection of agencies as the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) — demonstrating her administration’s commitment to ensuring Michigan women can fully participate in the workforce and achieve financial freedom.

At the MEDC, we applaud this decision and look forward to partnering with and learning from the Women’s Commission to ensure we are truly enabling equitable economic opportunities for all Michiganders.

Already, we have begun taking intentional strides toward creating new opportunities for women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs to achieve economic prosperity in our state. Last year, we introduced our new strategic plan, highlighting our focus on enabling equitable economic opportunities for women, minorities and veterans across the state. Since then, we have been deliberate in supporting more women-owned small businesses, like Dakkota Integrated Systems in Detroit, ensuring they have opportunities to grow and thrive here in Michigan.

Through our recent partnership with Michigan Women Forward, we created a $1.5 million Michigan Entrepreneur Resilience Fund, which has already provided more than $565,000 in support to 94 small businesses across the state, with more than 82% going toward those owned by women, minorities and veterans. Businesses like Brown Construction Collective Plus [BCC+] in Pontiac and Lions & Rabbits in Grand Rapids have accessed the tools and support they need to survive and succeed beyond this crisis. This support has made a significant and tangible difference in helping women-owned small businesses like these in communities throughout Michigan survive this economic and public health crisis and be in position to reopen their doors and serve their communities once again.

At the same time, we are allocating $100 million in federal CARES Act funding through the Small Business Restart Program and ensuring at least 30% of these funds will support women-, minority- or veteran-owned businesses around the state. By leveraging our partnerships with local economic development organizations, professional networks and nonprofits such as Great Lakes Women’s Business Council, which work with these businesses and entrepreneurs every day to help spread the word, we can help these businesses to both survive and succeed despite the pandemic.

We also continue to identify opportunities to help foster an inclusive and accessible landscape for women entrepreneurs and small businesses, allowing them to grow and thrive far beyond the shadow of COVID-19. Through the One&All program led by the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), we are helping increase opportunities for underserved individuals across mid-Michigan to succeed as entrepreneurs or small business owners. By providing access to a professional business network, seed investment and more, this pilot program is creating a pathway for women-owned startups and small businesses to prosper in Michigan.

In the last century, we have made significant progress toward creating equitable opportunities for women, from the board room to the factory floor. And while there is still more work to be done by us all — for women, minorities and veterans alike — here at the MEDC we are approaching these next 100 years knowing the possibilities for enabling economic opportunities for all Michiganders are truly endless.

Amanda Bright McClanahan is COO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

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