By Kindra Cooper

Unsurprisingly, women and minorities are still vastly underrepresented in city and state contract awards despite an increasing number of women-owned businesses filing for Minority Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) certification. At the recent State of Women in Business 2018 conference hosted by the New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce, elected officials, members of the chamber and female entrepreneurs discussed legislation at the city and state level designed to get more MWBEs hired.

Running the numbers on MWBEs: The journey is long 

MWBE certification

Even though the city seems on track to achieving its goal by 2021 (which includes prime and subcontracts with mayoral and non-mayoral agencies), assemblywoman Roynese Bichotte said the data is not very transparent, nor is it categorized by government agency.

“Many of us are questioning whether 27 percent is accurate,” she said. “We’re still getting a lot of complaints in terms of women and minorities not getting contracts.”

Governments like to trumpet the percentage of contracts being awarded, but it’s not the most important figure, Bichotte warned. Rather, it’s the dollar value of each contract that counts.

“The reality is a lot of these small businesses run by women in particular are not getting paid,” she said. “And usually toward the middle of the contract by the big prime contractor you don’t have an MWBE participating.”

Bichotte has been working to pass legislation that would penalize contractors who abruptly drop MWBEs, while giving businesses the chance to win the contract back. But there’s an important caveat: the MWBE participation goal only applies to contracts worth $25,000 and up for labor and services; OR in excess of $100,000 for construction contracts.

Currently, through the New York State Contract System, certified MWBEs can search for certified firms and interact with state agencies – but it’s a hit-or-miss process with no consequences for contractors that don’t meet the participation goal, meaning it’s just that – a goal. 

MWBE certification

Furthermore, the MWBE programs bars women entrepreneurs with a net worth in excess of $3.5 million from being included in the MWBE participation goals. Bichotte, together with the NYWCC, has been fighting to have this seemingly arbitrary provision eliminated. “We’ve got support from the city, the Senate and the assembly, Republican and Democrat,” she said. “And guess what? Governer [Andrew Cuomo] vetoed the bill. So now we’re trying to put it back in the budget. “

A new program to help MWBEs win government contracts

At the conference, the New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce announced the launch of ContractHER, a contract readiness program to prime MWBEs across all industries to win more government contracts. By providing industry knowledge, expert support, mentorship and tools, the NYWCC will help prepare MWBEs for the competitive bidding process.

If you’re an MWBE, here’s where you can find funding

Through the City Contract Loan Financing Program, MWBEs have access to loans of up to $500,000 capped at a 3 percent APR, the lowest of its kind in the entire state among government-funded programs.