Will New SBA Rules Give Women Entrepreneurs Their Due? After a decade-long struggle, a new program to boost federal contracts among women-owned businesses kicked in. Will it work?

By Carol Tice

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Will New SBA Rules Give Women Entrepreneurs Their Due?Small-business owners have many gripes about the federal government's contractor programs -- among them, the pay often arrives slowly and bigger businesses seem to get the lion's share of the contracts. But a new rule that went into effect last month offers a ray of hope that the number of contracts awarded will ascend among one group that's been historically underserved in government contracting: women-owned businesses.

After a decade-long struggle for passage, the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program took effect on Feb. 4. The rule grants public agencies the authority to set aside certain contracts to go only to certified, women-owned businesses and economically disadvantaged, women-owned businesses. The point of the exercise: Meeting Washington's long-missed goal of awarding 5 percent of contracts to women-owned businesses annually.

You read that right. Nearly 40 years after women's lib, the big goal is to hit 5 percent, when the SBA's own figures show women own close to 30 percent of American businesses.

Part of the reason is women tend to start more one-person businesses than men. In 2002, the SBA reports women owned 6.5 million businesses, but only 14 percent of them were employers, representing only 6.5 percent of national employment. Government contracts tend to need bigger firms to fulfill them. But still, the new program seems like such a small step.

While some are applauding the new program as a real victory for women, I have to say I have mixed feelings about this program. My objections:

• It's patronizing. Can women only win federal contracts if they don't have to compete for them against male-owned businesses? Is federal bias against women so entrenched that the only way to overcome it is to create a rulebook where in some corners of contracting, men are forbidden to play?

• It pits women against each other. The set-aside format will likely tend to ghettoize women's applications so they all compete against each other for the same few contracts. The end result may not involve more women clutching a signed contract in their hands. Instead of creating a women-only contracting zone, it might be more useful if additional resources were devoted to mentoring women entrepreneurs to help them go after the whole range of federal contract opportunities.

• It's a set-aside. These programs don't have a great history of encouraging the best and brightest. And at some point, it wouldn't surprise me if some excluded business sued for discrimination.

• It's not enough. It would be great to see the Obama administration talk about real, systemic change in the contracting system that would bring women to the table in greater numbers. Instead of offering up just a token 5 percent of contracts to women business owners, the White House could strive to raise the goal.

What do you think about the Women-Owned Small Business Contract Program? Leave a comment and sound off.

Wavy Line
Carol Tice

Owner of Make a Living Writing

Longtime Seattle business writer Carol Tice has written for Entrepreneur, Forbes, Delta Sky and many more. She writes the award-winning Make a Living Writing blog. Her new ebook for Oberlo is Crowdfunding for Entrepreneurs.

Editor's Pick

She's Been Coding Since Age 7 and Presented Her Life-Saving App to Tim Cook Last Year. Now 17, She's on Track to Solve Even Bigger Problems.
I Helped Grow 4 Unicorns Over 10 Years That Generated $18 Billion in Online Revenues. Here's What I've Learned.
Want to Break Bad Habits and Supercharge Your Business? Use This Technique.
Don't Have Any Clients But Need Customer Testimonials? Follow These 3 Tricks To Boost Your Rep.
Why Are Some Wines More Expensive Than Others? A Top Winemaker Gives a Full-Bodied Explanation.

Related Topics

Business News

California Woman Arrested For $60 Million Postal Service Scam

Lijuan "Angela" Chen faces two charges that each carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Business News

Apple Just Unveiled Its VR Headset. What You Need to Know.

The Vision Pro is Apple's first major product launch since AirPods.

Science & Technology

'We Were Sucked In': How to Protect Yourself from Deepfake Phone Scams.

Phone fraudsters are using AI to clone the voices of loved or trusted people to rip them off. Here's how to detect if the phone is real or robot.


5 Things You Can Do Now to Improve Email Marketing

Abide by these simple tricks to help your campaigns gain more visibility and generate revenue in the process.


The Return to Office Movement is Causing a Mental Health Crisis. Employers Are Part of The Problem — But They Can Be Part of The Solution.

Employee mental health substantially worsened with the return to office demands, and it's causing disengagement and low morale. The solution demanded by employees is the answer.