By JOYCE M. ROSENBERGNEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Barbara Kasoff has a message for women business owners: If you don't like the way government regulations affect your business, stop whining and get involved. The founder of Women Impacting Public Policy, a group that lobbies lawmakers on behalf of women-owned small businesses, isn't shy about telling women they need to take charge if they want their businesses to succeed â¿¿ especially when it comes to government policy. "You, the woman business owner, need to get involved," Kasoff says. Female business owners are a growing force in the U.S. There were more than 8.3 million women-owned businesses in the country as of 2012, up 54 percent from 1997, according to a study commissioned by American Express. The most recent census figures available on businesses show that there were 7.8 million women-owned businesses in the country in 2007. That was nearly one-third of all non-farm businesses in the U.S. "We are part of all the discussions," says Kasoff. "No longer are we in a situation of being told what will happen. We're part of the team." WIPP has over one million members across the country including those in 68 affiliated advocacy groups. Kasoff is particularly proud of WIPP's success in government contracting issues. The group lobbied for the Women Owned Small Business program, which took effect in 2011, under which the government targets granting 5 percent of eligible federal contracts, or about $20 billion, to companies owned by women. Its most recent success: In late December, Congress approved a defense spending bill that removed caps on the size of those contracts. Caps that other small business owners didn't face. But those achievements haven't been easy. First, she says, she had to get women owners to realize that government policy does affect them. And that they have to join forces to get the changes they want.