Nov 20

So this is the official line: You are a woman, and you run a business. Corporations, local, state and federal government purchasing agencies have programs carved out allotting a small percentage of business to women-owned companies. This is to encourage larger companies to diversify their vendors. Section 342 of Dodd Frank establishes guidelines to incent procurement from women and minority-owned businesses. The CFPB is telegraphing audit initiatives to support those goals.

Let’s be honest. The advantage is small and procedural, and no company will hire a substandard vendor, even if they are an 8a minority woman veteran in a HUB zone, so let’s not get carried away. In this industry, there aren’t a whole lot of us. But the requirements are real – and so are the quality, capabilities and expertise of those of us out here trying to break into some pretty tough markets.

Sounds simple… two X chromosomes…check. Thirteen pairs of subtly different black pumps…check. A visceral response to the words “spa day”… check.

So why is the process so freaking hard? Depending upon your state, you may or may not have access to public certification. While there are a few private certifications available, such as the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC pronounced “WE-BANK”), many states, like Colorado, require you to obtain certification through the state Department of Transportation. That certification is the key to other state certifications that require an onsite visit. Unfortunately, the red tape and bureaucracy is insurmountable. Here at Titan we don’t run across a lot of road construction, so we are ineligible to even apply. After two years of trying to refit this high-heel with a steel-toe, we just gave up.

And you would think that proving you are a woman would be pretty simple – but that just isn’t so. A few years ago, I read a publication that inferred that all you needed to do was put a woman as president, and voila! Those few percentage points allotted to women and minorities were yours for the asking. Then, the author graciously recanted as we pointed out that may have been 10 or 15 years ago, but it certainly isn’t the case today. Becoming a WBE is serious business, requiring months of very intrusive investigation to ensure that you aren’t a CINO – a “C-level executive In Name Only.”

After a year of exhaustive examination of our finances, payroll checks, termination records, shareholders, an on-site visit, we finally received our private WBE certification. Every shareholder was vetted. Two of our shareholders were born on military bases and required letters from the State Department clarifying their birth record. We also had to request an original birth certificate validating that indeed the androgynous names “Mary” and “Katherine” actually belonged to two women and that they were born as women.

At the end of the day, we’re proud to have the designation, but we hold no illusions that this designation is the magic key that’s going to unlock every opportunity that comes our way. Sure, it gets us a seat at the table, but whether we stay or go depends entirely on the quality of our work. In my opinion, that’s true equality.

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