Biden-Harris team says goodbye to one of its highest-ranking Black women at Small Business Administration

Natalie Madeira Cofield, an assistant administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), headed the agency’s Office of Women's Business Ownership.

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One of the highest-ranking Black women within the Biden-Harris administration departed on Friday. 

Natalie Madeira Cofield, an assistant administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), headed the agency’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership. She was the first Black woman to hold the position at a time when Black women are the nation’s fastest-growing entrepreneurial demographic. 

Natalie Madeira Cofield
Natalie Madeira Cofield, former assistant administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), headed the agency’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership. (Photo: U.S. Small Business Administration)

In an interview with theGrio, the presidential appointee reflected on coming into the office amid the economic and health crises brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, during which Black women saw a sharp decline in business ownership.

“The work that I did at SBA came during a time [when] women and our economic recovery was at the bottom of the totem pole,” said Madeira Cofield, who explained that women’s ownership was at the “most dire state that it had been since the 1980s.”

During her tenure, Madeira Cofield funded the largest expansion of the Women’s Business Center network in the history of SBA – a total of 146 locations were added across the country – in every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) are operated by SBA and designed to help women start and grow their small businesses. As the agency notes, the networks seek to “level the playing field” for women entrepreneurs.

“I was honored and proud to be able to do that work because every woman in every state in the United States of America should have a Women’s Business Center that they can walk into to seek counsel and support,” said Madeira Cofield.

The Howard University graduate is also credited for tripling the number of Women’s Business Centers on the campuses of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions. She also distributed more than $70 million in direct grants to nonprofit organizations.

Other highlights from her time as assistant administrator include establishing a two-day inaugural Women’s Business Summit with more than 20,000 attendees and remarks by Vice President Kamala Harris, and establishing the first WBC in the historic Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, also known as Black Wall Street.

Madeira Cofield said she found her work at SBA to be “meaningful.” She said she is especially proud of the work she did to elevate the Office of Women’s Business Ownership directly under the leadership of Small Business Administrator Isabel Guzman.  

SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman
Isabella Casillas Guzman during the Confirmation Hearing Held For SBA Administrator at the US Capitol on February 03, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

“This is a move oftentimes that you see with organizations that take diversity, equity and inclusion seriously,” she said. “In prior circumstances, the Chief Diversity Officer …. there might be multiple layers above them, and they never have the ear of the highest executive. In this instance, we were able to move the office to be a part of the administrator’s office and report directly to the administrator.”

She added, “To actually go through the process of doing all the organizational, all the structural, all the policy, all the internal politics of moving this office, it really ferments the important role that women play as the fastest-growing entrepreneurial segment in the country.”

Tene Dolphin, executive director of the National Women’s Business Council, in a statement, applauded Madeira Cofield’s work at SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership and her “remarkable strides in uplifting women leaders.” Dolphin noted that Madeira Cofield “built her career on supporting women business owners across the country.” 

Before entering SBA, Madeira Cofield was an award-winning entrepreneur and “economic activist” who counseled CEOs of billion-dollar organizations, executives of global brands, White House officials, mayors, and community activists and leaders. She has been responsible for supporting the deployment of more than $200 million in funding for entrepreneurs and ecosystems throughout the country.

Madeira Cofield told theGrio she entered SBA as an entrepreneur and advocate and is leaving the administration to continue that work. 

“I think that there is a lot of work that can continue to be done on the outside of the administration as an advocate, ally supporter, and a champion for continuing to raise certain comments, questions, concerns, and needs that our community has in a way that I wasn’t able to in the administration,” she said. 

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff (R) stands with Small Business Administration assistant administrator Natalie Madeira Cofield (L), and Pennsylvania Representative Susan Wild (C) as they listen to Mike Grather (2nd R), president of Lightlab international demonstrate equipment during a tour of the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, a small business incubator, in Allentown, Pennsylvania on May 5 ,2021. (Photo by Ed JONES / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ED JONES/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Madeira Cofield said she is looking forward to seeing her successor “command a level of attention that I know my predecessors wanted, but the synergy of politics wasn’t there for them to make that type of power move.”

“The time is now. The occasion and the need for equity for women continue to be at the forefront of everyone’s conversation, so it commands that level of attention and that level of leadership,” she added. 

Madeira Cofield said the work at SBA is especially critical for Black women entrepreneurs. As she noted, 80% of Black households are led by a Black woman who is the primary income breadwinner. 

The work of the Office of Women’s Business Ownership, she said, “allows for that 80% of households across the country to have more disposable income [and] to have more economic power.”

“Despite the fact that nearly 60% of Black businesses are started and run by a Black woman today, we still see nearly a third of the revenues of our male counterparts,” she noted. 

“We are seeing exponential growth, but we still have work to do as it relates to the equity of access to contracts, access to capital and access to market and opportunity to really close that gap.”

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