By John Stanford, WIPP Government Relations
Shortly after adding sole source authority to the WOSB program, WIPP’s Chief Advocate (and my boss, full disclosure) Ann Sullivan asked our policy team a simple question: what’s next?
Surely the much-needed improvements to the women’s procurement program we had spent the last fifteen years attaining were not the only steps needed to remove barriers women face in the federal market. The answer was straightforward, WIPP’s procurement portfolio would go onward, exploring more ways women entrepreneurs can bring innovation and value to the federal government.
The next question was not so simple. While anecdotes and intuition told us that the playing field was far from level, we lacked the data to point to the next set of systemic issues that limit access. “What are they and what can we do about them,” began a quest that reached a major milestone two weeks ago with the release of Do Not Enter, WIPP’s latest report about disparity in federal contracts.
The salient details are in the related one-pager with a full executive summary and findings in the formal report. I’ll refrain from re-digesting those documents here, but instead make a plea that you visit them. The key findings and recommendations will be the pillars of WIPP’s next push – ensuring that these mega-contracts are fair opportunities for women business owners.
Many people ask where an advocacy campaign truly begins; something that will ultimately lead to a new law or a change in regulations. At WIPP, it begins with our members. Tackling this issue would never have happened without women business owners communicating their struggles—far more than individual challenges, but instead ongoing concerns about disparities—to WIPP.
We listened. But compiling a few narratives from members will not move the needle in Washington. We needed data, analysis, and recommendations across regions and industries to garner the attention of policymakers. Enter this report. It is the launching point for a broad campaign to educate and change a contracting system that continues to leave women business owners at a disadvantage.
At WIPP’s Annual Leadership meeting earlier this month, we detailed the report to attendees and Congress. In follow up, a new WIPP member commented that she was thrilled WIPP would be taking on this issue. She described her feeling of helplessness as she lacked the voice to challenge her customer, but felt that she continued to have limited success because of the structure of her contracts. The barriers she faced could have come straight from the pages of this report.
While her story was compelling, new policies are not implemented because of individual experience. Simply put, Congress is little moved by lone stories of inequity. That is why, at WIPP, these kinds of efforts serve as a reminder that a team in Washington, backed by organizations and businesses across the country, stand shoulder to shoulder with you on these issues. Do Not Enter, and its ensuing efforts, should remind us all that no one is alone.
As the next chapter of WIPP’s advocacy for women business owners seeking access to the federal market begins, it does so not in the form of grand rhetoric or a press release, but spread out across dozens of pages of research and data confirming what we knew to be true: more work remains to be done to ensure women have a shot at the government’s largest contracts.
We hope you will join us in this fight.