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Women in Action: Gender Equality in the Government Marketplace
Anyone with experience contracting for the government knows that it is a highly competitive arena. Large companies, often owned and operated by men, have an abundance of resources at their disposal when pursuing government contracts. They tend to have more experience, more connections, and more relationships with agency representatives than small businesses. These assets make them very attractive candidates to agency purchasers looking to procure comprehensive services on a limited budget.

Small businesses that are owned by women are at an even greater disadvantage because they often have fewer resources, less experience, and less access to credit than men-owned small businesses. There are now more than ten million women-owned small businesses in America and they are actually starting up at twice the rate of men-owned businesses, and yet they win less than five percent of all federal contracts and only seven percent of all venture capital funds (Forbes, 2015).

In an effort to combat this preferential treatment, Congress passed the Small Business Act of 2013 which establishes that small businesses must account for at least twenty-three percent of all prime government contract awards. It also increases the goals of procurement from women-owned small businesses. The Small Business Administration (SBA) found that while most of the 2014 goals were met, there are significant reporting issues that negatively affect the accuracy of the positive performance statistics.

The SBA argues that broken reporting requirements, a lack of enforcement, and businesses misrepresenting their size all contribute to the reality that large companies continue to secure contracts that are intended for small businesses. Furthermore, they contend that many large companies are able to elude agencies and win contracts specifically meant for women-owned small businesses (Uzialko, 2015).

Despite this corrective action in Congress, historical disparities persist. However, some ambitious lawmakers have decided to go even further and advocate more aggressively for gender equality within the government procurement sector. In June of 2014, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire introduced the Women’s Small Business Procurement Parity Act which would create more transparency among businesses in the federal government marketplace and develop more opportunities for women-owned small businesses to compete for federal contracts (Forbes, 2015).

This encouraging trend has not only been spreading in Congress. More and more states around the country are recognizing the need for justice and equality for women-owned small businesses struggling to receive recognition and win contracts from state and local agencies. For instance, in October of 2015, Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri signed an executive order intended to advance diversity in the government marketplace by contracting with more women and minority-owned businesses. Nixon hopes this will be accomplished by moving away from an outdated paper-based system and creating a state-of-the-art online network to allow every business the opportunity to view and compete for state agency contracts (Rechenberg, 2015).

Though more headlines today are focusing on women moving into powerful roles as CEO’s and top executives at big companies as well as important leaders in politics and government, there needs to be more attention given to average women working harder than ever, defying the odds, and launching successful small businesses. Women-owned small businesses face an uphill battle contracting within the government marketplace due to a long history of inequality and favoritism. While these issues are being tackled by some courageous advocates, the real fight must come from women-owned small businesses by continuing in their efforts to network with agency purchasers and win government contracts.

Works Cited

Rechenberg, Emma (2015). Governor Nixon Aims to Increase Diversity in Government Contracting with Latest Executive Order. KBIA. October 23. Web.

Uzialko, Adam (2015). Small Businesses Losing Out on Government Contracts. Business News Daily. October 23. Web.

“Women-Owned Small Businesses Secure Less Than 5% Of Federal Contracts, And How We Change That.” (2015). Forbes. October 15. Web.

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