From the June 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

In 1997, one-third of all U.S. businesses were owned by women, yet most major corporations had no concrete strategies for working with these entrepreneurs.

In fact, when the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) polled 765 companies about their supplier programs for women, only 7 percent of those surveyed responded, and only 55 percent of that percentage reported how much business they conducted with women entrepreneurs. Of that total, 65 percent spent less than 5 percent of vendor dollars with women; 13 percent spent 5 to 10 percent; and 22 percent spent more than 10 percent.

More education will improve these numbers, says WBENC president Susan Phillips Bari, whose organization is one of those attempting to change the status quo. WBENC was founded in 1997 to enlarge opportunities in major U.S. business markets for women's business enterprises. Two of its key achievements have been the development of a national certification program for, and a database of women business owners. Since its founding, the council has gained pledges from 46 corporate members and amassed a list of more than 245 companies and state and local government entities that accept WBENC's certification.

Acutely aware of the possibility of duplicating services other women's business organizations provide, Bari is keeping WBENC within its initial niche. In addition to developing and overseeing the national certification process, the organization educates the public about supplier diversity practices. And as part of its ongoing campaign to increase the number of corporations and government entities purchasing from women, WBENC unveiled two recognition programs at its first national gala in March. The Applause Award will recognize those companies promoting the use of women suppliers. The organization also plans to publish a list of the top corporations that do business with women-owned businesses.

Bari is confident WBENC, in partnership with other organizations, can achieve its ambitious goals. "Pooled power is a very important resource in this effort," she says. "The more women who get certified and knock on doors, the sooner the doors will open."

The Good, The Bad . . .

As women entrepreneurs become a greater force within the business world, more companies are sure to create supplier diversity programs. As with anything else in life, however, not all of them will be created equal.

Susan Phillips Bari, president of the Women's Business Enterprise National Council, offers these tips on identifying an effective program:

  • Does support for supplier diversity come from the very top of the organization? If not, there may not be much oomph behind the effort.
  • Does the program set goals regarding dollar amounts and/or number of businesses served? Does it review these goals annually?
  • Are the procurement goals part of the corporate strategic plan?
  • Is there a clearly stated procedure for helping women get in the door, as well as someone within the company who can direct suppliers to procurement officials and vice versa?
  • Is the company a member of any local, regional or national women's business organizations? Does it participate in Women's Business Enterprise-related events?
  • Does the company actively seek women-owned businesses and create opportunities for networking between its prime contractors and women entrepreneurs?
  • Does the company provide feedback to unsuccessful bidders?

Contact Sources

Women's Business Enterprise National Council, (202) 862-4810, http://www.womenconnect.com/wbenc