For the first time ever last year the federal government awarded 5% of its contracts to women-owned small businesses. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is. The government set that 5% goal for itself more than twenty years ago–in 1994–as part of the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act. That act led to the creation of the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program in the Equity in Contracting for Women Act of 2000.
It’s been a long road for women-owned small businesses to get even this small, 5% slice of the $400+ billion in government contracts awarded to private businesses each year. Although the 5% goal was set by the fed in 1994, seven years later only 2.5% of the government’s annual spend went to women-owned small businesses (WOSB). Yesterday the U.S. Small Business Administration reported that $17.8 billion of all federal small business eligible contract dollars were awarded to WOSB in 2015. The federal government also surpassed its 23% small business procurement goal for the third year in a row; in 2015 it reached an all time high of 25.75%, or $90.7 billion in federal contracts to small businesses.
So what happened? A few things. In 2008, the number of WOSB getting contracts was still below 5%—at 3.4%–so the non-partisan advocacy group Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) and American Express OPEN, which supports small business owners, created the Give Me Five program to provide education, training and resources to WOSB. And in 2013, WIPP, Amex OPEN and the SBA launched another program, ChallengeHER, a national initiative to boost government contracting opportunities for WOSB through free workshops, mentoring and direct access to government buyers. More than 5,400 women entrepreneurs across the country have participated in ChallengeHER workshops and nearly 2,000 meetings between WOSB and government officials have taken place.
In addition, WIPP led an effort in early 2013 to get caps on awards to women-owned small businesses removed. Before the new law was passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, WOSB awards were capped at $4 million and $6.5 million. WIPP also helped drive passage of a law in 2014 that provided federal agencies with the authority to award sole-source contracts to WOSB. Up until that point, the WOSB program was the only major small business contracting program without that authority and it put female entrepreneurs at a distinct disadvantage.
Carla Harris, chair of the National Women’s Business Council, said the federal marketplace offers tremendous opportunity for women. “Now that we know the five percent is possible, we have a challenge to maintain and, dare we say, increase the goal.” That may not be easy, though. A report from the Commerce Department last month revealed that women-owned businesses have a 21% lower chance of getting a federal contract than similar companies run by men.
Original article on forbes