Women-Owned Firms Making Their Mark in Federal Procurement

As a firm grows and seeks new markets for its products and services, public sector clients can prove to be a winning avenue for expansion. That’s what many women business owners in the U.S. are finding, according to a series of recent surveys conducted among active small business contractors.

Puzzling Elements.The groundbreaking research – conducted for American Express OPEN’s Open for Government Contracts initiative by Womenable – queried business owners who are registered on the U.S. federal government’s System for Award Management (SAM) and who had performed on a contract within the previous five years. Surveys were conducted in 2010, 2011 and 2013 and – in addition to overall analysis among all small firms – special reports focusing on trends among women-owned firms were published.

According to these reports (which are listed and hyperlinked below), women-owned firms that are involved in contracting are every bit as accomplished in terms of employment and revenue size as their male counterparts. Specifically, over the past three surveys, we have learned that:

  • It takes time and money: In 2012, active small business contractors invested an average of $128,628 in time and money during the course of the year seeking federal procurement opportunities. This includes the time spent attending meetings and seminars, investigating opportunities online or in person, and preparing and submitting bids. Women business owners invested somewhat less – $112,112 – but were every bit as successful. On average, it took women-owned firms an average of 20 months and 4.3 bids before winning their first contract; very similar to the 25 months and 5 bids that it took men-owned firms.
  • Perseverance pays off: Once small firms are actively engaged in federal contracting, women-owned firms are every bit as accomplished in terms of business size as are their male colleagues. While in general, among all firms, women-owned firms are smaller than average, among active small business contractors, 31% of women and 30% of men employ 50 or more workers in their firms, and 42% and 48%, respectively, generate $1 million or more in revenue. Selling to the federal government can lead to substantial business growth!
  • Policies matter: Back in 1994, the federal government established a 5% spending goal for federal agencies to encourage contracting with women-owned small businesses. That goal has never been met, but in fiscal year 2012 it reached 4%. There’s hope that the goal will finally be reached by virtue of a recently-established WOSB Procurement Program, which gives federal agency procurement personnel more flexibility in letting out contracts for bids (including lifting prior caps on the value of contracts that could be awarded to women-owned firms). From the perspective of active women business owner contractors, the program is starting to find its footing. Back in the 2011 survey, when the program was just launched, just over one-third (37%) of women surveyed said they found the program useful in seeking federal contracting opportunities. Now, in the 2013 survey, the view has improved considerably – fully 61% find the program useful, including 28% who find it very or extremely useful. With this playing field-leveling policy, more and more women are finding federal procurement success.

Click on the links below to download and read these reports. You may also wish to read more about the American Express OPEN/SBA/WIPP ChallengeHer program or learn more about the status of the newly-strengthened Women-Owned Small Business Procurement program. According to recent procurement statistics, even though the overall 23% small business procurement goal was recently met, the 5% goal for federal spending with women-owned small businesses was not – nor has it ever – been met. A sure sign, if there ever was one, that more needs to be done to increase access for women-owned small businesses to this important avenue for growth.

2013 – Women-Owned Small Businesses in Federal Procurement: Building Momentum, Reaping Rewards

2011 – Women and Minority Small Business Contractors: Divergent Paths for Equal Success

2010 – Women and Minority Federal Small Business Contractors: Greater Challenges, Deeper Motivations, Different Strategies, and Equal Success

Progress for Women in Federal Procurement? Not So Much …

As we womenablers know, after a very long battle, a  Women-Owned Small Business Procurement program was launched by the US Small Business Administration in February 2011. How’s that program faring nearly 18 months later? Well…

First of all, there’s been no official commentary or updates from the SBA since the program was launched. Secondly, a recent analysis in an article on Bloomberg.com finds that just $21 million has been awarded through the new program – less than the cost of one unmanned drone. WIPP Lobbyist Ann Sullivan, quoted in the article, puts it well:

“We worked for 11 years to try and get this thing in place. Is the program working? Well, looking at those numbers, the answer is no, it’s not working.”

OK, womenablers, time to put the pressure on the SBA – and on all federal agency purchasing offices – to start utilizing this program!

For advocacy fodder, you might want to download and read these two reports looking at the performance of women-owned firms in the federal contracting arena:

These research reports show that once women-owned firms start winning federal contracts, their success and business size matches their male peers – proving they are up to the task and that access to government markets can level the playing field of business achievement.