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Knock, Knock

Certification of women suppliers opens procurement doors.

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."

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This article was originally published in the June 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Knock, Knock.

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