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Small Biz Leader Tells Women Owners To Take Charge

A. This is a wonderful issue, a challenging issue, but wonderful because there is an enormous opportunity ahead of us. The challenges are to make sure that the congressional goal of 5 percent (of federal contracts being set aside) for women business owners is met. In 2011, only 3.98 percent of our government contracts were awarded to women business owners.

It's been a primary challenge to build awareness and enthusiasm among women owners for the opportunity that's out there so we can get them to compete successfully. We've got to work together, the public sector, the private sector. It means partnerships with the Small Business Administration, with the SBA district and regional offices and its Women's Business Centers.

Q. What has stood in the way of women getting more government contracts?

A. Women business owners did not recognize the revenue opportunities. They weren't educated (about them). They didn't have the tools and resources from the public and private sector. Nobody was focused on it, nobody said, here's a gap and we have to meet it. We need to smooth out the legislative kinks and barriers that still exist, make sure we're working together with the SBA, to give women training, to get women registered on SAM (Systems for Award Management, the federal contract awards database) so that they can take advantage of the opportunity.

Q. Congress created the 5 percent goal for contracts for women-owned businesses in 1994. It's never been met. Why has it taken so long for women to win more contracts?

A. Government is a big ship to turn. It takes time. Change does not come overnight. Some of the more positive things I see are the government's recognition and ability to bring together partners like WIPP or American Express Open and other corporate entities. When you build together these public and private sector partnerships, you're going to increase the opportunities. I think it's been slow. It's been just a year in terms of the WOSB program â¿¿ it seems like forever. We're treading water; we're not seeing the gains. They've resolved some legislative issues like the cap (on the size of contracts for women-owned businesses), but also they're putting together the partnerships and starting to scale the effort. We're willing go to out on a limb, and believe that by the end of 2014, we're going to hit that 5 percent. And I want to exceed that 5 percent.

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