Finally: Women Get Their 5%

Long-awaited SBA rules to benefit women-owned businesses actually will hit the mark. Here’s why.

 Finally, women-owned businesses have a real shot at getting Federal contracts. Thanks to Obama administration priorities, the Small Business Administration just  launched a new set of procurement guidelines that are supposed to ensure that women-owned businesses actually account for at least 5% of the contracts.

 The largesse is not spread evenly. The administration is concentrating on 83 industries in which it believes that women-owned businesses are especially under-represented.

The NAICS codes reflect the range of industries that are chronically and tiresomely short of women, like construction and information technology. It also includes some surprises:  #711510 is “Independent Artists, Writers and Performers;’ # 5614 is “Business Support Systems” and # 6214 is “Outpatient Care Centers” – and women own healthy proportions of business and health care services firms.

Here’s why this program will work when earlier efforts have failed: Tighter accountability.

When the stimulus money was doled out, the SBA took the initiative to have its staff follow up weekly with staff at the agencies shoveling out the money.  In the past, agencies have promised to play fair and distribute contracts to women and minority owned firms. But they tended to follow the well-worn path and award contracts to the usual suspects. Then, they would claim that there wasn’t time to find and vet women and minority-owned firms. Whoops!

The SBA’s new procedure of incremental accountability actually worked. Hitting the 5% goals took only…nagging. When the other agencies realized that their lame excuses would no longer be accepted, they started looking for women-owned firms earlier in the contracting process. And, voila, they found them!

The SBA assured me last summer that it would cross-pollinate this successful model to subsequent programs.  It’s heartening to see that the agency is following through as promised. Why shouldn’t women-owned firms get at least 5% of the contracts? After all, women own 29% of all U.S. companies.

Image courtesy of Morguefile contributor penywise.



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