Over the last few months, one thing has been made very clear – 2018 is The Year of the Woman. Our platform to speak up and speak out has never been bigger, and thousands of women nationwide are igniting change in their communities. In the last year, a record number of women have filed to run for public office, and the number of women in Congress is at an all-time high. But this all-time high – 106 female members of Congress – is still too low. Women make up more than 50 percent of our nation’s population, but make up only 20 percent of our country’s congressional body.
To help bridge the gender gap in Washington and to better connect women across the country with lawmakers and key business leaders, the Women2Women Conversations Tour was founded. The tour was launched in Charlotte in 2014 and for the past four years, panelists have spoken with hundreds of participants and traveled coast-to-coast to learn more about what women – and their families – want to see from their local officials.
These women are involved, engaged and passionate about their communities. Female members of Congress have joined the tour to speak with local moms, business owners, teachers, doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs about the issues facing them and their families. During last month’s Women2Women focus group in partnership with the Charlotte Chamber’s Power of Women platform, we wanted to know – what keeps you up at night? What are the issues facing your family that concern you every single day?
The common themes were lowering the cost of health care, the growing opioid epidemic and ensuring the next generation has the tools and education they need to succeed. Here in Charlotte on International Women’s Day, which is Thursday, we plan to dive deeper into these issues and learn how local and federal change-makers can help deliver results. Getting anything done in Washington may seem like a long shot at times, but the Women2Women tour has helped produce action on legislation to connect those in need with better mental health care, combat the opioid epidemic, and work to end human trafficking in the United States.
In Charlotte, our goal is to also use this momentum to empower and improve outcomes for female entrepreneurs. According to one of Women2Women’s key partners, the National Association for Women Business Owners, more than 11.6 million firms nationwide are women-owned. These businesses generate nearly $2 trillion in annual sales, and the growing impact these businesses have on our economy is undeniable. But even as women-owned firms continue to open and create revenue, they are still growing at a slower rate and earning less than male-owned firms. What’s worse, when accessing revenue and capital to help start their businesses, women receive disproportionately less than men do. According to Fortune, women received just over 2 percent of the venture capital funding in 2016.
In honor of International Women’s Day, we will continue the drum beat and kick off our first tour stop of 2018 with an event Thursday that includes Queens University President Pamela Davies and Charlotte businesswoman Linda Lockman-Brooks. Women2Women is committed to delivering real solutions to women nationwide, and we want to hear from you. Won’t you join us?
Sarah Chamberlain is the President and CEO of Republican Main Street Partnership and the founder of the Women2Women Conversations Tour. Vilma Betancourt is the Public Policy Director for the National Association of Women Business Owners Charlotte Chapter. Cherise Walker is the Vice President of Special Projects for the Charlotte Chamber. Visit https://mainstreetadvocacy.com/charlotte-2018 for more information.