Over the past 20 years, the number of women-owned businesses nationwide has more than doubled. Despite these advancements, women entrepreneurs still face roadblocks related to opportunities in federal contracting.
A discussion with Candace Waterman, President and CEO of Women Impacting Public Policy
, about promoting parity in government contracts for women-owned small businesses.
Hyland: In 2017, the federal government ordered more than $500 billion in contracts to businesses. Women-owned businesses were awarded a fraction of that amount, receiving $25 billion in federal contracts. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Sheila Hyland. Women Impacting Public Policy is an organization working to help women entrepreneurs achieve greater opportunities in federal contracting. Joining me to explain how is Candace Waterman, the organization´s president and CEO. Thank you so much for being with us, Candace.
Waterman: Thank you for having me.
Hyland: What I want people to understand, first of all, is this is big business. There´s a lot of money to be had in so many products and services that people don´t even think about, right?
Hyland: You know, food --
Waterman: Everything, food.
Hyland: If you need a hammer.
Waterman: Chairs, supplies, everything to helicopters for the Department of Defense.
Hyland: And these are things that women-owned businesses can provide to the government.
Waterman: Absolutely. Women-owned businesses are inside of every industry you can imagine. And not just small. We´re manufacturing -- I mean, every industry that you can imagine, we have women business owners in that industry.
Hyland: I know that since 1994, the federal government has had the goal of awarding 5% of its government contracts to women-owned businesses. And yet I think in only one of the last 25 years, it´s actually met its mark. Why is that? That seems like such a small goal.
Waterman: So I think there are a few things that come into play. So while the percentage is smaller, I think we should look at the dollar amount. $25 billion is a lot of money to infuse into women-owned businesses across the country, and you have to think women are in non-traditional spaces in terms of having barriers to entry and things like that. And so that, I think is one of the reasons why women are at a smaller percentage going into government contracting -- because we´re in the services space and not necessarily in the products space.
Hyland: But how do we move beyond that 5% number? I mean, that´s not just a cap, that´s a goal to get to at least 5%, right?
Waterman: It is, and you know I like to think it is the floor first, not the ceiling. So I really believe that we get to that by ensuring that our women have a seat at the table, that´s first and foremost. And then when they have the seat at the table, they know now to use their voice there, because no longer is a seat at the table really good enough, you have to use your voice. And that is voicing what product or service that you provide. And it´s not just about that, it´s about what solution are you bringing to the government with whatever agencies you´re trying to do business with.
Hyland: Getting a government contract can be a lot of work, time-consuming, costs a lot of money, right?
Waterman: It can.
Hyland: And so that can be daunting, I´m sure, to many women-owned businesses.
Hyland: How do we change that and how is your organization helping to make it easier for women to get these government contracts?
Waterman: Training, training, training. That´s it. You have to have the knowledge and understand navigating the maze, if you will, of government procurement. And it is very daunting. But you have to understand it so you know what the contract calls for, you know what you´re responsible for, you know what financial responsibility you have. You have to make certain that you´re large enough to fulfill. So do you have the capacity? And don´t be afraid to go at it with joint venture or strategic alliance and not just by yourself if you don´t have the capacity to fulfill.
Hyland: What educational programs are you putting into place to help these women? I know one of them is the HER program, which is phenomenal. Tell us about that.
Waterman: Yes, so I am really excited. ChallengeHER is one of the signature programs that we have. And it is in partnership with two amazing organizations. One is the U.S. Small Business Administration, and American Express. And the three of us partner together to provide training across the country to women-owned firms who are either federal contractors or looking into going into federal contracting. So everything from how do I market to the government, how do I market to agencies? If I´m trying to do business with the Department of Defense, that´s a very different marketing plan than trying to do business with Department of Interiors. So how do I show up, how do I understand the terms and conditions of contracting, and then how do I deal with and manage the relationship post award as well. So it´s not just getting to the award and, "Oh, my job is done," but it is, "What am I doing post-award to ensure that I´m fulfilling and can possibly expand my business?"
Hyland: And I assume you´ve had some success stories since the ChallengeHER program has been --
Waterman: We have. We are really excited. Just this past December, we celebrated by having our 70th event and servicing over 21,000 women across the country. We hold matchmaker events there, so they can meet the buyers, and they can have that real connection with each other to see what it is that they want to do from a relationship and procurement perspective.
Hyland: It will be interesting to see where things go in the future.
Waterman: It is, yeah. It´s really exciting. And like I said, the 5% in helping the government reach that 5% is an exciting opportunity for us to help them with.
Hyland: Candace Waterman, President and CEO of Women Impacting Public Policy, thank you so much for joining us, and thank you for joining us as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Sheila Hyland. ♫♫ ♫♫