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How To Get Women In The Contracting Game

Women owned small businesses make up less than 5% of the federal procurements, but the federal government is trying to make a change. They have created requirements and set-asides to help women-owned businesses enter into federal contracts. The Small Business Administration and American Express Open have also teamed up to help get the word out about the new set-asides. The outreach effort is called ChallengeHER.

John Shoraka is the Associate Administrator of Government Contracting and Business Development at the SBA. He told me during GovLoop’s spotlight interview that there is a real need for more women-owned businesses in government.


“The federal government has a requirement to procure at least 5% of their goods and services from women owned small businesses. In 2001 there was a statutory change to allow for a women-owned small business program to set aside contracts for women owned small businesses,” said Shoraka. “When this Administration came into office in 2009, the rules around establishing the program had not yet been written, so we worked quickly to establish those rules and we actually established a set aside program for women owned small businesses. Over the years, although we have seen improvement in getting to that 5%, we haven’t quite gotten there.”

How does ChallengeHER work?

T”he ChallengeHER initiative is a co-sponsorship between SBA, American Express Open and Women Impacting Public Policy, to get the word out to women-owned small businesses to register to do work with the federal government,” said Shoraka. “We also do training around women owned small business program and the set aside program, to encourage more women owned small businesses to participate in the federal procurement process.”

Why are these set-asides important?

“I think it is important because we find that women owned small businesses are underrepresented especially in the areas where the federal government can now set aside contracts specifically for contacts set aside for women,” said Shoraka.

ChallengeHER by the numbers

  • “This year so far we have nine events confirmed around the country. Some of these events are with our district offices. SBA has 68 district offices around the country. Some of the other events are with our sister agencies. For example, the Department of Energy purchases a lot of goods and services so we want to partner up with them to educate their vendors on the program and to bring in new participants as well.”
  • “Last year we had close to 1,500 participants, this year we want to replicate that. Our goal is to educate women owned small businesses on how to do work with the federal government. Our goal is to get more of these businesses registered to do business with the federal government.”

Do you also have to educate the contracting workforce?

“The program is unique, any time you have a new and unique program there needs to be some education on both sides. We actually created a module on our Government Contracting Classroom. The module is geared towards contracting officers. We learned we do need to educate the contracting officers, but a lot of times it is actually the contractors, the women owned small businesses, who educate themselves and have the network where they visit their contracting officer and say, ‘Hey, did you know you could set this aside?’” said Shoraka.

If you enjoyed our GovLoop’s State and and Local Spotlight interview, you can more interviews under keyword “emily’s corner.”

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Profile Photo Deborah Sorgel

There are 2 mountains that women-owned businesses must climb that are not addressed by this policy. One of them is, of course, getting the set-asides done. But the other larger one is to have women-owned businesses that are not minority owned (non-8A) have the same contracting advantages that minority-owned (8A) contractors have. Many programs and contracting officers do not have the time or the will to conduct competitive searches, taking anywhere from 3-6 months. 8As get a lot of business simply because it is fast and easy to get to them. If the government wants to increase the % of WOB, then they will extend that advantage to them as well.

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