True Colors

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This story appears in the September 1997 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

Few are brave enough to tackle as big an issue as discrimination--or optimistic enough to expect solutions; however, a recent report released by the Simmons College Multicultural Women Business Owners Project ventures to do just that. This giant step for womankind takes on the goal of solving the "whitewash dilemma," or "the dominant white anglo male perspective, which assumes all women are alike," says Lynda Moore, co-director of the project with Bonita Betters-Reed.

"The whitewash dilemma is that most of the advancement for women has been for white women and not for women of color," says Betters-Reed. "We must look at gender through a multicultural lens, which includes class and socioeconomic as well as racial and ethnic issues."

The report is the result of a conference held last May at Simmons College in Boston, in which women leaders, from U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman to Maxwell House president Anne Fudge, discussed ways of enacting change. "The report reflects the way research is done on women's business ownership, the way education and training is conceptualized and delivered, and the way policies are framed," says Moore.

Next on the agenda is a compilation of training and educational materials; more in-depth research on women business owners; and proclamation of the message to a broad-based audience.

Fair Share

According to a recent study, Uncle Sam may not be putting his money where his mouth is. Women-owned businesses' share of total federal government procurement was reported at a mere 1.5 percent in 1996, despite the federal government's goal of providing at least 5 percent of contract dollars to entrepreneurial women. According to Eagle Eye Publishers Inc., a Vienna, Virginia-based market research organization specializing in the federal market, only three of the 13 federal agencies that spend the bulk of federal procurement dollars met the 5 percent goal.

"The good news is that [the overall share] has doubled in 10 years; the bad news is it's well under 2 percent," says Eagle Eye president Paul Murphy. "Women-owned businesses are dramatically underrepresented in the federal marketplace, and it doesn't look like government will come anywhere near meeting its goals for contracting with women in the near future."

Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of the Interior were top-ranked, providing women with $23.7 million (10.2 percent), $45.8 million (5.8 percent), and $42.2 million (5.2 percent), respectively.

Meanwhile, the Department of Defense doled out more than $1.6 billion in contracts to women-owned businesses in fiscal 1996. However, that amount represented only 1.3 percent of its total contracts.

Whether the results of the study indicate a trend in government spending remains to be seen. "The proof of this trend will be in the spending in fiscal 1997," says Murphy, "and that data is just starting to appear."

Seal Of Approval

It helps to have friends in high places. That's the whole point behind the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), a new nonprofit consortium of major corporations and women's business organizations formed to provide women with a national standard of certification.

"The goal of the program is to enhance opportunities for women to do business with major corporations and government bodies," says Susan Bari, executive director of WBENC. "We wanted to design an organization that would provide women's business organizations a new service to offer their client base, women business owners an opportunity to increase their marketing potential with Fortune 500 companies, and Fortune 500 companies the ability to access a database of women's business enterprises certified [as 51 percent owned, managed and controlled by women] by a process in which they have faith."

This process involves a comprehensive application, which is reviewed by a women's organization affiliated with WBENC and then verified by an on-site visit. Upon approval, the woman receives a certificate and has her name and business added to a national database available online to corporate members.

Among WBENC's founders are Wal-Mart Stores, J.C. Penney Co. and Federated Department Stores. "I've been in the nonprofit area and in women's business ownership development for 12 years," says Bari, "and I've never seen corporate support as enthusiastic as I'm seeing from these corporations."

Contact Sources

Eagle Eye Publishers Inc., (703) 242-4201

Simmons College Women Business Owners Project, Department of Management, 300 The Fenway, Boston, MA 02115, (617) 521-2400

Women's Business Enterprise National Council, 1156 15th St. N.W., #1015, Washington, DC 20005, (202) 862-4810.

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