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Women-Owned Small Businesses & Contracting: Making Our Mark

Women and Government ContractingAs November is National Entrepreneurship Month, the Women’s Business Center would like to acknowledge the women who are working hard to open and run their own businesses. Women continue to be faced with challenges in the business world, however, we are slowly yet surely making our mark.

According to the Small Business Administration in 2016, there are 29.8 billion small businesses in the US and women run over 9.9 million of them. Women-owned businesses generate trillions of dollars in sales and create millions of jobs.

Access to contracts is key to business growth. Government contracting is particularly important as the US government is the largest consumer of goods and services and agencies are required by law to provide contract opportunities for small businesses. Although progress has been made, women are still underrepresented in many industries that win government contracts. According to the US Department of Commerce, it is estimated that these contracts are 21% less likely to be awarded to women-owned businesses.

Back in 1994, the government set a goal to spend 5% of its contracting budget on women-owned businesses to combat this issue. Women-owned businesses are defined as those owned by women with a 51% or larger share. Efforts to reach the 5% goal repeatedly failed over the years and progress was stagnant. With a push from women in Congress, the government revisited the goal in 2011 and put new practices into place to revive the initiative to reach the 5%. The new policies allowed government agencies to actively set aside specific contracts to be awarded to women-owned businesses. A sole source authority rule was then established in 2015. With these new initiatives, significant progress has been made in the last six years.

During the 2015 fiscal year, it is estimated that $17.8 billion contract dollars went directly to women-owned small businesses and the 5% goal was finally achieved. Meeting this goal marks a historic achievement for both the federal government and the millions of women-owned businesses. Not only did the government reach its goal for women-owned businesses, but it also surpassed the 23% small business procurement goal and awarded 25.75% of contracts, or $90.7 billion, in federal contracts to small businesses - the highest rate in history.

Reaching the 5% goal is a considerable, though long overdue, win for women-owned businesses and a step in the right direction. Not only are more contracts being awarded, but resources and advocacy for women in business have also grown significantly with organizations and programs such as Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP), The Give Me Five Program, The SBA’s Women-Owned Small Businesses (WOSB) Federal Contracting Program, and even local programs such as the University of Hartford Entrepreneurial Center’s largest initiative, the Women’s Business Center (WBC). We at the WBC are committed to supporting the growth of women-owned businesses as we continue to work towards increasing the number of government contracts awarded to women.

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