Secretary Elaine Chao


Conference on Women Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century

Thank you, Anne.

There are three reasons why Anne is so special to me. First of all, she’s one of the most dynamic, influential leaders in the House of Representatives. Second, she’s my Congresswoman back in Kentucky and she’s doing a great job. And third, she’s on the appropriations subcommittee that determines the budget for the Department of Labor! So it’s always really nice to see Anne Northup.

Before I begin, I want to greet all of those who are joining us via satellite today…they are also participating in our e-forum, using the same keypads.

First up, we have the great state of Missouri. Hello Missouri. And the great state of Maine… and also hello to Florida… and finally our group in Arkansas.

Spending the last 24 hours with all of you has been phenomenal. I can’t get over what a special, dynamic crowd you are…. Your work in yesterday’s breakout sessions was really exciting. The conversations were so honest, and I promise that your concerns and recommendations are being heard by this administration.

I’m not surprised, mind you, by this level of energy and passion. Because I see you as a truly historic group of leaders… I believe that you are leading a silent - but very powerful - revolution for American women.
As business owners, you are gutsy.

Your natural courage makes things happen in your businesses that have a wonderful ripple-effect for our country’s economy.

You know what risk-taking is all about, and you don’t shy away from it.

Am I right?

How many of you… please use your keypads for this… how many of you were afraid, when you started your business, that it would fail?

Okay, yes, quite a few of you. But you didn’t let that stop you, now, did you.

Thank goodness you didn’t. Because without entrepreneurs, America just wouldn’t be America.

That’s why I am thrilled to be here with you, celebrating your accomplishments. I hope you are proud of what you’ve done, and of what you mean to this great country.

I want to talk today about how far women in this country have come, and where we’re going next.

But first I need to talk shop. As Secretary of Labor, I am constantly thinking about jobs, and lately my concern has been the rise in unemployment since the attacks of September 11th. But things are turning around. A good example of that is the group of women who we saluted yesterday, whose businesses were so affected by the attacks on the world trade center. Those women, and their businesses, are surviving - and even thriving - in spite of the horror that took place so close to them. Like those women, all of you gathered here for this conference are absolutely key to our economy… and it is true of all of you that your immense resilience and ability to create jobs will bring us to full economic recovery.

So as the woman in America who is most preoccupied with jobs and unemployment… I want to thank you for all you do, and all you will do as we recover from America’s recession.

The facts about women-owned businesses and job creation are so impressive, but even more so when put in context.

Think about it this way: it wasn’t very long ago when we were bumping our heads on the glass ceiling, when no matter what we did at the office we were referred to as “the skirts.”

The women of my generation, and generations before us, were laughed at in school if we said our dream was to become President.

But now I want to talk about the good news, and it is this: those days are over.

I think the best way to show how much things have changed is to tell you about some of the young women I’ve been working with over the last few years.

These young women, in their early to late twenties, have no idea about much of what I just described. They are shocked to hear the stories of their mothers and other pioneers, to hear those memories of being a working woman in the 70s and 80s.

You see, when the girls of Generation Y stood up in their sixth grade classroom and said they wanted to grow up to be president, their teachers and fellow students applauded and encouraged them. The glass ceiling, for their generation and those that follow, is becoming porous… it is no longer a barrier that stops everyone, but a challenge to break through.

If they decide to start their own business some day, it is highly unlikely that they will be discouraged to do so based on their gender.

Tell me… by using your keypads… how many of you here today felt that you were discouraged from starting your business because you were a woman? By bankers, lawyers, or even your own friends and family?

Women under the age of 30 are probably shocked that you received push-back based on the fact that you were female.

And their shock, their disbelief, means we have achieved great progress, great success.

Today is a very good day in America for women entrepreneurs.

Now, I don’t want to imply that you live on easy street by any means. I know that you have a number of challenges and concerns, some of which are the same as your male counterparts, but some of which are actually quite different.

All business owners are concerned about taxes, regulations, access to capital, and finding qualified employees… and I’m going to get to those concerns a little later.

But you started your businesses for different reasons, and that means your priorities can be a little different, too.

For many of you (almost one third), starting your own firm was a way to get around that glass ceiling.

And contrary to popular belief, most of you aren’t business-owners-by-inheritance. You aren’t just the wives or daughters of business owners. Studies show that women tend to establish, rather than acquire, their businesses.

And now that you own these businesses, you manage your employees a little differently than your male counterparts.

Women-owned firms in the U.S. are more likely than all firms to offer flextime and profit-sharing to their workers.

You understand that education is the basis for individual accomplishment… so you are also more likely to encourage further education for your employees through tuition reimbursement.

You understand the need for more flexibility, the challenge of balancing work and family - after all, that was one of the greatest benefits of becoming your own boss.

You have special concerns about retirement, because women are still catching up from the days when it wasn’t considered important for a woman to save - she wold just rely on her husband’s pension.

And I believe that you are more aware of the importance of health-care coverage… because the bottom line is that women are the primary health care decision-makers for themselves and their families.

This administration is dedicated to addressing your unique concerns. I know that President Bush is going to talk more about his small-business initiatives later this morning, but I want to mention a few things that we’ve been particularly focused on at the Department of Labor.

One of the most important things we’re working on is expanding the flexibility of employers like yourselves to offer compensatory time off in lieu of overtime pay to your employees.

It’s time for the federal government to understand that our work and family lives are changing. Balancing work and family is increasingly difficult, especially for women, so we want to make policy changes that give employers and employees more options, more flexibility.
We also know that keeping up with all of the Department of Labor’s regulations can be time-consuming, costly, and even frightening for you. As small-business owners, you usually don’t have a staff of lawyers and Human Resource managers to keep track of all the rules and regulations, so you worry that you might be breaking laws that you don’t even know about.

That’s why we’ve cut the Labor Department’s Regulatory Agenda - that’s the list of regulations that are somewhere “in the works” - by one-third since we got here in 2001.

It’s also why we are working on increasing our Compliance Assistance efforts - something you’ll hear more about in the coming months. We are telling all of our agencies to offer more help and information to employers who really want to comply, but aren’t sure how. We all want a safe, healthy, fair workplace for employees, and assisting compliance will help achieve that ultimate goal.

Your ideas are so important to us as we strive to achieve a culture of safety, satisfaction, fair compensation and job security in the American workplace.

We know that, because of your leadership, employees are being treated better than ever - as women you bring a lot of high-touch to our new high-tech world. Scientific research has shown us that women do in fact have a higher ability to collaborate with others and nurture those around them. In the workplace that translates to more teamwork and better benefits for employees.

The era of the command-and-control management model is being eclipsed by the new collaborative-management and customer-focused model.

This model is proving to be more flexible, allowing American businesses to be more competitive - and therefore more successful - in the global marketplace.

The business writers are calling it the “feminization of management thinking.”

I like to call it being a savvy business manager and leader.

So not only are your contributions to the economy invaluable… your contributions to making the 21st century a rewarding place to work are a well that has just begun to be tapped.

So I ask you to please stay engaged… we at the Labor Department really do value your ideas. And if we’re doing something to impede your ability to compete and succeed, you must let us know. We will listen.

I also ask that you never forget to take great pride in your accomplishments as entrepreneurs and as women…. Take pride in your silent revolution.

Because of you, girls are now inheriting businesses, wealth, and financial independence from their mothers.

As Martha Stewart would say… “this is a good thing.”

Those of us in the government want to help you stay at the top of your game, but you may have to shout now and then to get our attention… because you must never let government hold back your revolution.

Thank you so much for coming, and thank you for keeping our economy strong.