Have you ever believed in a new initiative so much that you were willing to stick with it for over a decade?
That’s precisely what a committed group of businesswomen, advocacy groups, governmental officials and private businesses did. For over a decade, a committed group of people has worked to help women-owned small businesses finally achieve 5 percent of Federal contracts.
Finally – Passage of the WOSB Rule
Something important happened at the SBA last month. Effective February 4, 2011, the U.S. Small Business Administration implemented a “final rule” for the WOSB program. This rule is designed to expand federal contracting opportunities for women-owned small businesses (WOSBs).
The WOSB Federal Contract program authorizes contracting officers to set aside Federal contracts to women-owned small businesses. The rule applies to 83 industries in which women-owned businesses are underrepresented. It authorizes contracting officials to set aside contracts in those industries for women-owned businesses.
Now, I wouldn’t blame you if you thought such a program was already in existence. Many people did. And in a way, a women’s contracting initiative has been in existence—it’s just not had teeth behind it.
Over a decade ago Congress set a goal that federal contracting officers award 5 percent of all contracts to women-owned businesses. But it was a goal with little weight.
Without rules for implementing and measuring the goal in concrete ways, that goal of 5 percent has not been achieved. According to SBA figures for 2008, women-owned businesses’ share of Federal contracts fell short of the 5 percent goal, with only 3.4 percent of contracts. A 1.6 percent difference might sound small. But it’s not. That shortfall represents $5 Billion in annual revenues for women-owned businesses. Not exactly chump change.
Taking a Victory Lap
Enter the committed people I spoke about. On March 2, 2011, I was invited by American Express OPEN to attend a luncheon in Washington that was dubbed the “Victory Lap.” It was a luncheon to highlight the adoption of the WOSB rule by the SBA.
What struck me was the sheer number and breadth of groups and people who worked to pass the WOSB rule. They represented senior government officials (great support from both the SBA and White House), advocacy groups like WIPP and GiveMe5, businesses like American Express OPEN that have supported women’s contracting initiatives through education and through supporting the GiveMe5 organization, and the many women business owners who volunteered their time—over many years—to make this rule happen.
Some of those people were at the luncheon to take part in the “victory lap” for passage of the Rule, including:
- Marie Johns, Deputy Administrator of SBA (pictured, top left)
- Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama (pictured, top center)
- Joseph Jordan, Associate Administrator of Government Contracting, SBA (pictured, top right)
- WIPP and GiveMe5, co-sponsors of the luncheon and instrumental in driving passage of the rule
- Julie Fajgenbaum, Vice President of American Express OPEN who delivered remarks on behalf of GiveMe5 (pictured bottom right)
Others not pictured above, but who you can see in the photos uploaded to Facebook, include: Barbara Kasoff, President of WIPP; Catherine Giordano, WIPP National Founding Partner; Denise Farris of the Farris Law Firm; Ginger Lew, Senior Advisor to the White House National Economic Council and the SBA; Julie Weeks of Womenable; Ken Yancy, the CEO of SCORE; and business owner Janice Hamilton, the CEO of JMH Education. All in all, it was an impressive cross section of support for the WOSB initiative.
Karen-Michelle Mirko of American Express was also there. She has a nice write-up with resources for women business owners looking to get into or expand their involvement in government contracting. If you are interested in government contracting, I urge you to check out her post.
The Backstory IS the Story
This might have been just another report about another Federal program, but in my mind, the backstory is what makes this initiative so remarkable.
It took about 11 years to get a rule passed to turn a Congressional goal into reality. Think about that, and think about the two characteristics that small businesses have going for them, that made it possible:
Persistence: Just like in a small business where it can take a long time to achieve your goals, persistence is crucial. I am convinced that persistence in business is one of the most important factors of success. Women business owners certainly demonstrated their persistence over the 11-year history to get to this Rule.
Teamwork: And just like in your own business, no one person alone can do it all. United, you can accomplish more than working alone. As Ginger Lew pointed out in her remarks, quoting former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, “There’s a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.” She went on to say, “That admonition does not apply here.” It’s a powerful thing when people work together toward an end.