(WOMENSENEWS)–Nineteen companies were selected today for best-management practices in working with female-owned vending and supply companies in 2008.
WBENC’S 2008 America’s Top Corporations for Women’s Business Enterprises
In addition to hardy perennials–such as UPS, Energy Future Holdings and ATT, which have made the nine-year-old list every year–three newcomers were Dell, the computer giant; Accenture, the technology and management consultancy; and Manpower Inc., a temporary personnel staffing firm that serves companies around the world.
“This is a commitment from the very top,” said Linda Denny, president and CEO of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, a nonprofit trade group in Washington, D.C., that produced the list and certifies subcontracting companies as majority women-owned. “There are companies out here even in the middle of this recession that are walking the walk.”
The listing, released March 26, “America’s Top Corporations for Women’s Business Enterprises,” recognizes companies for how they manage their procurement and diversity programs and how they conduct businesses with women-owned firms after a confidential review process. This is the ninth year the listing was produced.
Denny is not only pleased by the companies that won certification. She’s also pleased so far with the new political administration in Washington.
In 2000, a new law required the Small Business Administration to set aside at least 5 percent of its contracts for women’s business enterprises.
But when the Bush administration issued regulations to implement the law in January 2008, they restricted the contract earmark to only four industries in which women-owned firms were already extremely under-represented.
“It was more roadblocks than it was enabling,” Denny said. “Needless to say we vigorously protested it.”
SBA Reviews a Roadblock
After President Barack Obama took office, the SBA announced it would set aside the regulations, open a new comment period and issue new regulations.
Although 41 percent of the nation’s private firms are owned by women, just 3.3 percent of government contracts representing billions of dollars annually are issued to them.
Denny said the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council will work closely with the new administration to develop equitable contracting regulations that are more equitable for women.
The SBA also guarantees approximately $20 billion in loans annually.
As part of the $787 billion federal stimulus package announced in February, the agency is waiving its loan fees to small businesses in order to lower the cost of capital and help entrepreneurs secure enough credit to do business in a fiscal crisis that has made obtaining credit difficult for many firms and even impossible for some.
Kept in Stimulus Loop
Denny says female entrepreneurs need to be kept in the loop about the government’s economic stimulus program.
“We need to help inform them about what areas will be a major focus in the stimulus,” Denny said. “Some of that is yet to be determined. Obviously the infrastructure things–highways, transmission lines, those kinds of things–will certainly stimulate work for our companies because we have many women-owned businesses in those areas. There’s going to be a lot that comes out of it.”
This year’s 19 companies–nudged up from 18 last year–represents a record and coincides with a three-fold increase in the number of applications by women’s business enterprises for the council’s certification. There are currently over 8,500 certified companies.
Research released by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council in June 2007 found female consumers were positively influenced when they knew companies were dealing with female suppliers.
Helping Brand Loyalty
In a survey of 1,227 women between 35 and 55 years old–a prime consumer group that makes most household purchasing decisions–81 percent said their awareness of a company’s woman-friendly contracting policies builds their sense of loyalty to the brand; 79 percent said they would try services and products from companies that buy from women’s business enterprises.
Denny calls her group’s third-party certification process–which verifies that a business is at least 51 percent owned and operated by a woman or women–a “ticket to growth.”
Her organization was founded by a group of corporations in 1997 to create an independent certification process and Denny says she is seeing more companies position themselves as friendly to female-owned contractors and implementing more diversity programs that benefit women as a result. It now has over 250 corporate members.