The topic of this year’s Women’s History Month is "Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives." As we look back at the changes throughout history, women’s presence in our economy has shifted significantly. Now we have more women in the workforce than ever before, a number that is close to surpassing that of men. Gender equality is not simply about getting a woman a spot at the metaphorical table. Women have made great strides in education, the workforce, and their role in the economy, but there still are not enough women in leadership positions.

Consider this--the number of women venture capital partners has dropped to 6 percent, from 10 percent in 1999. This directly correlates with women’s access to capital; only about 7 percent of venture capital funding in the U.S. goes to women. A Harvard Business School study asked potential investors to rate a series of pitches, some of which were narrated by women and some by men. Even when the scripts for the pitches were exactly the same, only 32 percent of people said they'd fund the woman, compared to 68 percent who said they would fund the man.

The popular TV show Shark Tank has shown that when there are female investors, female entrepreneurs have a greater chance of receiving funding. Over the show’s past 6 seasons, about 53 percent of pitches from female entrepreneurs got a deal compared to about 48 percent of pitches from men and coed partnership accounted for 54 percent of the deals made. Shark Tank has two female investors, Barbara Corcoran and Lori Greiner, and of the deals made with female entrepreneurs when they were present, they made nearly 49 percent and 44 percent of them respectively.

Women have huge purchasing power and make 80 percent of the consumer purchase decisions in homes across the U.S. Women provide a unique perspective about what consumer products and services would enhance their everyday lives. It is time they have an equal opportunity to participate in the competitive startup industry. So as we start to weave the stories of the future, what are we doing to bridge this gap and what will we do to empower women?

To help address these issues SBA and Microsoft have launched InnovateHER, a business challenge focused on innovative products and services that could improve women’s lives. Through partnerships with our Women’s Business Centers, Small Business Development Centers, SCORE chapters, accelerators, incubators, and other organizations, InnovateHER provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs to showcase products or services that have a measurable impact on the lives of women and families, have the potential for commercialization, and fill a need in the marketplace.

There is an economic case to be made and women across this country need people thinking about and investing in better inventions--medical inventions, home inventions, and workplace inventions that impact the lives of women, our families and our country. After all, so many women and their families could agree there is always room to innovate, whether it is making a better breast pump, identifying new ways to find an online caretaker or even creating surgical tools designed for a woman.

A lack of inclusion in the innovation space leads to missed market opportunities, especially when women will be making the majority of the buying decisions in the country. So join us as we work with local organizations to hold over 80 InnovateHER challenges across the country in March, select some of the top finalists, and host a final pitch contest during SBA’s National Small Business Week on May 8.