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Are Women-Owned Businesses a Priority or an Afterthought?

woman-owned business
woman-owned business

Since the onset of the pandemic, we have seen considerable attention given to small businesses, and the importance of supporting woman- and minority-owned businesses is always acknowledged. But have women-owned businesses been getting the consideration they deserve when it comes to actual business contracts?

While progress has been made, it has been at a glacial speed for many women- and minority-owned businesses. Public sector procurement initiatives and goals are critical; they are often the impetus for the private sector to diversify its supply chain to include women and minority businesses. While this occurs most of the time, there are public sector agencies that do not always assure a fair distribution of procurement opportunities for women and minorities.

As one example, the Illinois Tollway missed an opportunity earlier this year to significantly expand its inclusion of women in connection with its technical assistance funding to support the distribution of massive construction projects. The construction industry has many qualified women-owned businesses, but women-owned businesses, like minority-owned businesses, are not seeing enough opportunities for participation. The funding was to enable business support organizations to provide outreach and technical assistance to women- and minority-owned businesses.

After evaluating the applicants for this funding, the Tollway reported to its board that four finalists had been evaluated as qualified, including the Women’s Business Development Center, which serves women-owned businesses, and a for-profit woman-owned business. However, neither of these vetted women-led organizations were selected to receive funding. 


While it is commendable that the two organizations that received funding represent organizations and businesses serving Black and Brown communities, the total $16 million multi-year funding could have given more consideration to supporting women-owned businesses.

It is critical that the public sector continues to set the standards for the private sector so we can fuel more economic growth and strengthen our communities. But in the example above, the public sector agency could have given more consideration to the affirmative inclusion of women-owned businesses, leaving us to wonder if women-owned businesses really are a priority, or merely an afterthought? 

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