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Women Business Owners Lose Out in Race for Government Contracts

February 13th, 2013 ::

By Rieva Lesonsky

In spite of years of governmental efforts to help women-owned small businesses obtain government contracts, new data from Bloomberg show that in 2012, the percentage of U.S. government contracts awarded to women-owned small businesses actually dropped for the second year in a row.

While awards of contracts to men-owned firms have declined as well, the awards to women decreased at a faster rate. The percentage of contracts awarded to women-owned small businesses decreased 5.5 percent to $16.4 billion in the fiscal year ending September 30, 2012. Meanwhile, the percentage of contracts awarded to men-owned small businesses declined by 4.1 percent, dropping to $80.9 billion.

Women-owned businesses have long faced challenges in obtaining government contracts. During the Clinton administration, in 1994, the federal government set a goal that at least 5 percent of the total value of eligible contracts must be awarded to women-owned businesses; however, that target has never been met. Last year, Bloomberg says, women-owned small businesses accounted for about 3.2 percent of government contracts overall.

The irony is that just two years ago, the U.S. government launched a new effort to expand women’s access to government contracts. In February 2011, the Small Business Administration published its final rule regarding the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contract program. This program authorizes federal contracting officers to set aside certain federal contracts for eligible women-owned small businesses (WOSBs) or economically disadvantaged women-owned small businesses (EDWOSBs).

What can you do if you’re a woman small business owner interested in landing federal government contracts? First, don’t give up hope. Here are some places to start learning about government contracting opportunities and making your firm more attractive to contracting officers:

  • You can self-certify as a WOSB or EDWOSB, or use a third-party certifier to help you through the process (since it can get pretty complex). Visit the SBA’s website to learn more about the WOSB and EDWOSB certification programs.
  • American Express and the nonprofit organization Women Impacting Public Policy have launched a program called “Give Me Five,” which offers education and resources to help more women business owners access federal contracting opportunities.
  • The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has programs and training to help small businesses, including women-owned businesses, successfully land government contracts. Learn more at the GSA website.

Image by Flickr user cometstar (Creative Commons)



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