While Washington’s incoming administration has generated questions about its prioritization of women’s enterprise development, there have been a pair of high level personnel moves to spark optimism.
Former wrestling executive Linda McMahon has been nominated to lead the Small Business Administration (SBA) while Dina Habib Powell of Goldman Sachs and its 10,000 Women program is “assistant to the president and senior counselor for economic initiatives” where she will “build new efforts around entrepreneurship, small business growth and the global economic empowerment of women.”
Powell’s position is still fresh and we’ll be keeping an eye on her initiatives and counsel in future posts, but with McMahon's confirmation hearing having taken place on January 24th, there are some fresh findings there worth examining.
McMahon comes from what was originally a small business background, having founded and built the World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. with her husband, which they grew into what is now a publicly traded stock with a market cap of $1.5 billion.
More recently, McMahon has cofounded and been the CEO the Women’s Leadership LIVE initiative, which strives to forge a community of women built to help women become leaders and build on professional success. Billed as “the Kindest Mogul you’ll ever meet” on the WLL site, McMahon has made the rounds with a promotional and mentoring tour where she speaks quite passionately as an advocate for women business owners as well as a direct and personal mentor and motivator to women business owners.
In terms of the confirmation hearings, perhaps most notably for those focused on women’s enterprise, there was an unsolicited offering early from McMahon on the role of women entrepreneurs:
“As I’ve stated, I’ve been very forthcoming in wanting women entrepreneurship to grow and continue to support that; its something very near and dear to my heart. I will continue that outreach and continue to mentor through the women’s centers as well.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen showed enthusiasm for this and quickly broke into some thoughts from a previous discussion she had with McMahon on the importance of federal contracting for small and medium enterprises and how 2016 had seen women owned business gain “access to 5%” of those contracts for the first time. McMahon called “bundling” of government contracts a potential area of concern for women or minority run businesses, as it simplifies the processes for federal agencies, but has the potential to freeze out otherwise worthy contractors.
Later in the hearing, when Sen. Mazie Hirono noted “I ask you to be a strong voice for women, should you be confirmed," McMahon replied “I want to be a strong advocate for women, for small businesses and minority in businesses and work with committee and members of congress to make sure that we have the right regulations to help our businesses grow.”
McMahon’s hearing went well by media accounts with Sen. Marco Rubio noting “I look forward to working with you when I anticipate you will be confirmed here fairly soon,” so it seems highly likely that she will indeed get the position.
While the new administration may stir controversy with some women's advocates, there is room for optimism on its women's entrepreneurial programs based on these specific appointees with their solid track records of focus on capacity building for women owned firms.
We look forward to further examinations of the efforts put forth by both Linda McMahon and Dina Habib Powell in the future.