Over the past few weeks, Kimberly and I have attended multiple events in the greater D.C. area all focused on various aspects of the contracting world. Small business meetups, innovation conferences, networking breakfasts--the list goes on; one detail we could not help but notice was that the amount of women in attendance was painfully low, across the board.
In a benchmark year, when the SBA celebrated the fact that the government reached its prime contracting goal for spending with women-owned small businesses for the first time since they initially set the goal in 1994, the lack of women in the contracting field remains slim. We wanted to get an idea of the kind of barriers women have to overcome on a regular basis to win contracts, so we asked a few of Eastern Foundry’s women all-stars.
Charlotte Lee is the CEO of Kastling, an IT modernization company focused on agile product management and strategic analysis. Charlotte also happens to be our resident Forbes 30 under 30 nominee and recently got back from the summit in Tel Aviv. As a young woman in the contracting industry heavily dominated by males, she has experienced adversity. “The contracting industry is a proper caricature of being a woman in most industries,” said Charlotte. “Women are underrepresented in lucrative and powerful positions across the board. There are certainly initiatives for women in contracting, they just aren't properly fleshed out and often have barriers to entry such as lengthy applications, high cost, and limited attendance capacity.”
“The WOSB certification and sole source program was only enacted in 2016, so maybe we will see a rise in women executives, but I for one am doubtful. The WOSB certification and sole source program is much weaker than the 8(a) certification which is predominately held by men, it’s weaker because it’s limited to a seemingly arbitrary list of NAICS codes. If I say, I’d like there to be at least 1 major IT/Defense, woman-only, IDIQ, BPA or contracting vehicle solicitation per agency, I’m mostly met with a blank ‘why? That seems unfair to men.’ I hope that in the future the contracting world becomes more inclusive, but gender inequality exists throughout America and won’t be stopped until its actively contested.”
Tiffany Roth, VP of Business Development at WOSB cybersecurity company SecureStrux, has seen similar issues in the industry while working with the Small Business Office. “We submit a request to the Small Business Office for agencies to meet or to inquire on a specific opportunity, and we don’t seem to get any progression,” said Tiffany. “I have found it difficult to obtain a face-to-face meeting, where it is much easier to talk through agency needs in a personal setting. I am not sure if this is necessarily a lack of effort from the Small Business office or more of what they feel is their lack of influence in swaying the acquisitions. If women are to take advantage of opportunities as a WOSB, we need more support from the Small Business Office itself.”
When discussing the industry as a whole, Tiffany hasn’t felt exactly disadvantaged. “If anything, negotiations are sometimes more difficult for women in certain instances,” she claims. “In negotiations, women can at times be seen as emotional in asserting themselves and holding their ground. I have not experienced this directly, but I know it’s often a problem for some women colleagues.
Law firm Jackson Kelly, who specializes in government contracting, conducted a report on the state of women in contracting and found that, “While there are now more industry groups overall in which WOSBs can be awarded federal set-aside contracts, special set-aside opportunities for economically disadvantaged WOSBs have actually decreased.” We see that although there is much progress when it comes to women in the workforce, many areas are still lacking.
Here at Eastern Foundry we provide the resources necessary to elevate the voices of our Woman-Owned Small Businesses and make sure that they are capable of winning every contract they choose to pursue. In 2016, it should not be the case that half of the workforce faces adversity simply because of their gender. We are here to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Lauren Schmidt is the Director of Client Development at Eastern Foundry