- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2000

Barbara Stanbridge has owned and run her own consulting business mentoring entrepreneurs on everything from new technologies to management techniques for 25 years.
The busy businesswoman also heads the National Association of Women Business Owners, a group that researches issues affecting women-owned businesses and lobbies for legislation to address those concerns.
Last month the organization held its annual conference in Washington, and businesswomen from around the country met with local entrepreneurs such as Marie Noplock, president of the physical therapy firm Maryland Therapy Network Inc., and Barbara Davis Solomon, a law partner at Solomon & Robinson.
Ms. Stanbridge was in town as well for one of her rare visits. She spoke with The Washington Times about the challenges women face in the world of procurement and their role in high-technology industry.
Question: What were the main issues discussed at the conference this year?
Answer: That would be procurement the ability of women-owned businesses to get government contracts. Taxation, of course, is always a big issue for us in terms of small business equipment expensing, payroll tax relief, the estate tax and business meal deduction.
What happens is we bring in a number of experts who talk about both sides of the issues. For instance, on Social Security we had folks speaking on all the potential nuances of Social Security reform and how it affects women business owners. Then we have conversations with our members about what is affecting them, we ask what they think about the issues.
Q: Procurement for women-owned business is part of the reason NAWBO was founded. Has the situation changed since those days?
A: Yes, one of the reasons we started 25 years ago was because women were not getting their fair share of procurement contracts. And right now we are still not getting that. The goal is that women would get 5 percent of the government procurement and we don't even get that.
A recent study done by Congresswoman [Nydia M.] Velazquez [New York Democrat] shows that at most agencies we get just a little bit over 2 percent. And that's pretty appalling and is one of the reasons we need to exist.
Q: What are you doing to change that?
A: The main goal for us with procurement is trying to hold government agencies accountable. Part of what that means is getting the support of Congress members to make sure government agencies are accountable.
The other piece of that is helping our members to be more aware of their rights.
We are also trying to eliminate bundling, which is a practice that should allow women to be subcontractors to major contractors. But that certainly isn't working. As a matter of fact, it is working against women so that we are getting fewer and fewer contracts instead of more of our share.
Q: Why are women getting fewer contracts?
A: That's a good question, and I wish I knew the answer. Part of it is just convenience. Government procurement agents are used to dealing with certain vendors and have a track record with certain vendors so they continue to work with those vendors they know.
Q: What professions are involved with these procurement contracts?
A: Oh, everything. Whether it's construction or consulting, it's the same thing. The folks who manage the contracting process have folks that they are comfortable with and they continue to go to them over and over again.
But regardless of whether it's manufacturing or the service sector, women are getting fewer procurement contracts than bigger corporations. And we have women in every conceivable service and manufacturing business. It's really very difficult for them to compete, first because they are women in general, and second because they are usually small business owners. So even if a contract will specify to deal with women- or minority-owned businesses … they often eliminate women-owned businesses. That's because there is no requirement that the main contract proposal bidder carry through to the subcontractors.
The other problem, as I said, is bundling, when the federal government bundles a number of smaller procurement proposals into a massive proposal, and that eliminates the possibility for small businesses to compete. For example, they might say 'We need 450 computers for this specific need,' and they have all these different requirements. 'But then we need these other 450 computers with these other requirements.' And so they eventually end up needing 4 million computers and making it impossible for small businesses to fulfill an order that large or that diverse.
Q: What changes have taken place over the past 10 years affecting women in the business world?
A: I think part of what you're seeing is that in the corporate world women are not rising to the top as quickly as they'd like to. In fact many of them are leaving corporate America and starting their own business. That's really a major change.
For example, 25 years ago women were just moving into management positions. Now there are a few women in a few companies that are at the top level. So the women in upper-level management jobs see very few possibilities for themselves or are not willing to make the quality of life sacrifices to achieve those top level positions. So they leave corporate America and start their own business so they can have their own life and it's balanced, satisfying and fulfilling.
Q: One field women have been slow in entering is technology. Are you seeing that change?
A: Well, you still find a lack of women going into engineering. But degrees in technology and women having careers in high-tech fields is definitely on the rise. There is a whole group of women in Silicon Valley … that are very much into growth development, forward movement and are very aggressive in terms of growing their business.
I think women are seeing technology as a very dynamic field and have sought out not only the education but the opportunities to start their own technology business.
Q: Will their success lead more women into the technology field?
A: Absolutely.
Q: Are there any last frontiers for women in business today, or are they in all fields today?
A: I think woman are into everything today. Women business owners are certainly in all kinds of businesses from trucking and logistics to day care and dry cleaners. Actually, there is probably no type of business that is not owned by a woman these days, which is terrific.
The military was probably the last frontier, and I think women have done a fairly good job at integrating into that field as well. Every manufacturing product that you could possibly think of is made by women-owned firms. Many of them are also chemists, sociologists and in every kind of science field you can imagine. I'd be hard pressed to think of an area that [NAWBO] doesn't have members in. One thing always amazed me, for example, is women in agriculture, and we have quite a number.
Q: Why is that a surprise?
A: We were talking about frontiers, and one of the things that always stands out is that there really are no frontiers. You look at manufacturing and agriculture as being two of those areas that have not been primarily known for women. So it always surprises me to see how many women are in agriculture.
They are in everything from horse breeding and raising, to futures markets and grain development. So it runs the whole gamut of the agricultural chain. One of our members was actually the first woman-owned business to introduce kiwi in America. And because of her hard work with the California Agriculture Department and local farmers, now there are five or six different crops of kiwi that are available across the country.
Many of our members are involved in family businesses they have been the female to either inherit or assume a family business. Our research has shown that women start their own businesses primarily for two reasons. One, they have reached a glass ceiling in their employment and feel they can't proceed beyond that point. But it's primarily because of an entrepreneurial spirit that women start their own firms. And so it's the nature of women who live in an area where agriculture is the economic basis to start a business in the field.

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