If companies such as Motorola Inc. have their way, certification of woman-owned businesses will become standard issue for receiving contracts.
Motorola's supplier diversity program now requires that woman-owned companies be certified by a neutral third party. The Schaumburg, Ill.-based company sponsors one of the certifying groups, the Women's Business Enterprise National Council.
Until recently, certification was not a major issue for woman-owned companies. It was simply enough to self-register to be listed on a Web site, called Pro-Net, administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
That is changing. Motorola now aims for 5 percent of its purchases to be awarded to woman-owned companies, said Nan Kelley, manager of Motorola's supplier diversity program.
"It's partly our mission to do more," Kelley said. "It's been our experience that woman-owned businesses are generally good customers and suppliers to Motorola.
"And we understand that while woman-owned businesses in the United States make up a large percentage of companies, they've not measured up in terms of corporate contracts."
Indeed, according to the Women's Business Enterprise, while women now own more than 38 percent of all U.S. companies, they receive less than 3 percent of corporate purchases. About two-thirds of U.S. businesses do less than 5 percent of their work with woman-run companies.
Something is wrong with that picture, said Susan Phillips Bari, president of Women's Business Enterprise.
"There are some that do a lot better," Bari said. "The key to make this work is commitment from the top of the corporation at the [chief executive officer] level."
Many of the group's corporate sponsors, including IBM Corp. and Lucent Technologies Inc., have set concrete goals.
One glaring omission is the automotive industry, which recognizes minority-owned companies but not women for its purchasing targets. Calls to two U.S.-based automakers were not returned.
Even resin suppliers are recognizing the role of women. Mount Olive, N.J.-based BASF Corp. ran a one-day seminar last year specifically for women in the plastics industry. About 100 female purchasing managers, designers and engineers attended, said BASF industry manager Marianne Howery.
"It's been a conscious effort of the company to promote and advance women," she said. "We've come a long way as an industry."
Motorola has upped the ante on its program each year since it started in 1995. For the first five months of 1999, the company spent $80 million in purchases from woman-owned companies, Kelley said. For many of its divisions, the company now hits its 5 percent goal, she said.
To be certified, a woman must own a majority of the company and run day-to-day operations. Family-run firms or those with a husband and wife sharing leadership do not count at Motorola.
"If a company wants our assistance in the program, there's an entrance fee," Kelley said. "A company must be certified."
The entrance fee can be large in time spent. Third-party certifiers visit plants, dig into the financial histories, look at ownership documents, call customers and ask a lot of questions.
One company, H&W Plastics Inc. of Bowling Green, Ky., went through the lengthy process. President Robin Hunt said altogether it took more than 40 hours.
"A lot of corporations are starting supplier diversity programs for women," Hunt said. "All the time spent in certification is well worth it."