“Now more than ever, our small businesses need us.”
—Isabel Casillas Guzman, President Biden’s pick to lead the Small Business Administration and the first Latina to serve in the role.
In the history of the United States, no presidential Cabinets have ever matched the gender or racial balance of the country. But America could soon see its most diverse Cabinet ever—with the first Native American secretary of the interior; first Latino homeland security chief; first openly gay Cabinet member and more. In two departments—Treasury and Intelligence—there has never been a woman in charge … until now. Altogether, Biden has announced 12 women in his Cabinet, the most ever.
To celebrate the historic number of women and women of color in Biden’s Cabinet, media thought leader Pat Mitchell is kicking off a new series: “Table for 12,” which will appear on PatMitchellMedia.com—and be republished here at Ms.—every week!
This Week: Isabel Guzman
On March 16, the Senate confirmed Isabella Casillas Guzman, President Biden’s pick to lead the Small Business Administration (SBA), an agency that has seen its profile grow enormously in response to the pandemic. “Now more than ever, our small businesses need us,” Guzman said.
Guzman comes to the post after leading California’s Office of the Small Business Advocate since 2019. Before that, she was the deputy chief of staff at the SBA during the Obama administration. “I am confident that I can hit the ground running,” Guzman told senators in her confirmation hearing.
She is the first Latina to lead the agency and the only Latina in Biden’s diverse Cabinet. He has also chosen three Latino men for other Cabinet posts: Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of homeland security, Xavier Becerra as secretary of health and human services, and Miguel Cardona as secretary of education.
Guzman joins an economic team that includes Secretary Janet Yellen at the Treasury Department, Secretary Gina Raimondo at the Commerce Department, and Cecilia Rouse, chair of the Economic Council of Advisors, among others.
‘Small Business Is Personal’
Guzman counts herself among the fourth generation of Texans who originally fled the Mexican Revolution from the state of Aguascalientes, in Mexico, on her father’s side. Her parents moved from Texas to Southern California in the 1960s and she was born in Burbank, Calif., in 1970.
She has often said that “small business is personal” for her. She grew up helping her father with his business. “My father started his first veterinary hospital when I was one year old. And I recall early childhood memories of tagging along with him to the hospitals to check on the animals under his care. As I grew older, I worked alongside my dad.”
“I loved the connection he had with the clients he served every day. At a young age, I experienced firsthand how important small business owners are to the communities they serve and why we rightly call them the fabric of our neighborhoods,” Guzman said.
Guzman has degrees in business and economics from the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. In her own career, she has been an entrepreneur herself and consulted with entrepreneurs as they started and grew their businesses. As California’s business advocate, she served the state’s 4 million small businesses employing 7.1 million people and worked to assist those hurt during the pandemic get the financial aid they needed.
Small Business Administration Is Big Business
The Small Business Administration was established in 1953 by Congress. It varies by industry, but a small business is generally defined as having fewer than 1,500 employees and a maximum of $38.5 million in average annual receipts, according to the SBA. With nearly 32 million small businesses making up 99.9 percent of all U.S. firms in 2020, small business is big for the United States’s economy.
Guzman will manage the Paycheck Protection Program, which has already distributed nearly $1 trillion during the pandemic. In a series of reforms over the past month, the Biden administration has made changes to the program aimed at increasing equitable access to relief and to further ensure small businesses get the help they need, especially Mom-and-Pop businesses in underserved communities.
Guzman says that she will prioritize helping women-owned businesses, and especially minority women-owned businesses, get back on their feet. In celebration of Women’s History Month, Guzman wrote at the SBA Blog:
“My mother, who was a teacher, instilled in me the importance of using my voice to advocate for others. That’s why I am so passionate about using my platform as the SBA Administrator to bring about meaningful changes for the small business community—particularly women business owners of color.”
Because while women-owned businesses are one of the fastest growing segments of the small business community—up from 5% of businesses in 1970 to 38% today—the opportunity gap persists and has been made worse by the pandemic. Women-owned businesses were 1.7 times more likely to close during the pandemic than their male counterparts.
The SBA has and will continue to play a critical role in helping our nation’s women-owned small businesses start up, grow and be resilient. We’ll achieve this through impactful initiatives that truly work for women business owners. We’re making progress and I’m excited to report that PPP loans to women-owned small businesses were up 14% in March.”
Beyond pandemic relief, the SBA offers numerous targeted resources for women business owners. This includes more than 130 Women’s Business Centers and the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Contracting Assistance Program.
“Having successfully navigated a high volume and sophisticated business environment in California, I am confident that Isabella understands the urgent and complex needs of this moment,” Senator Alex Padilla (D- Calif.) told Forbes.
“One of the places she’ll do a very good job is to look out for the interests of small business and figure out how to make the wheels and engines of government work to get them the help they need to do what they do best, which is grow the economy and create jobs,” former SBA chief Karen Mills told Business Insider.
During her Senate confirmation hearing, Guzman said she was “deeply committed to helping to support our nation’s small businesses and entrepreneurs. They are facing an unprecedented crisis and need our support to survive.”
A heartfelt feminist welcome to the table to Guzman!