The Government’s Women’s Enterprise Task Force (WETF) announced its first major initiative this week and this looks likely to change the face of women’s enterprise in the UK. The scheme, called WEConnect (Women in Enterprise Connecting to Contracts), will be launched on Tuesday 19th February in a high-profile ceremony at the House of Commons1.
WEConnect will break down the barriers faced by women-owned businesses in securing corporate contracts. Although 16 per cent of UK businesses are women owned, only 3 to 5 per cent of corporate and public sector contracts go to women business enterprises (WBEs).
The new initiative will put certified women business enterprises in touch with key procurement contacts in multinational companies. This will encourage supplier diversity by giving large corporates the confidence to purchase from women-owned businesses which have achieved the WEConnect certification. Based on a successful US prototype2, the scheme has already signed up major corporates including Pfizer, Microsoft, Bank of America and Accenture3.
Sue Lawton, Director of Development, WEConnect says: “While you must still be competitive in price, quality and delivery, WBE certification will differentiate your business and ensure access to contract bidding opportunities that until now have been difficult to identify.”
Gwendolyn Turner, Director, Worldwide Supplier Diversity, at Pfizer Inc. comments: “As a large corporate, we have a duty to ensure that our procurement processes enable a diverse range of suppliers to bid for and win contracts. We are delighted to be supporting this important initiative, which I hope will emulate the success of the US model upon which it is based.”
Pam Alexander, Co-Chair of WETF and Chief Executive of the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) explains what excites her about the new initiative.
“SEEDA is delighted to be supporting this scheme which delivers one of the five priorities of the WETF – diversifying supply chains. There are 620,000 majority women-owned businesses in the UK – that’s more than ever before but the number of such businesses winning corporate and public sector contracts is still shockingly low”.
She added: “Companies need access to contracts in order to grow and generate prosperity. By creating new routes to procurement opportunities, WEConnect will encourage more women to think big, expand their businesses and fulfil their potential. With respected heavyweight companies like Microsoft and Pfizer already behind it, we hope WEConnect will bring about real change in procurement policies.”
Woman business owner Suzanne Doyle-Morris is one of the first batch of women-owned businesses certified by WEConnect. Her business, Cambridge-based Doyle Morris Coaching & Development, helps companies retain and develop their female executives – particularly those in traditionally male-dominated fields. She is hugely enthusiastic about the WEConnect initiative:
“I’m delighted about WEConnect because it gives me the chance to build relationships with large organisations that want to work with women-owned businesses. I’m going to get access to corporates at a level that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to at this stage. I’m looking forward to meeting procurement executives within large companies who are happy to deal with smaller businesses. It’s pushed me to think bigger than I would have otherwise. To play with the big boys, we need to be thinking bigger ourselves!”
Amanda Shaw runs Wi-Fi Solutions, a specialist network installation company covering the North West of England. “There are not many women working in IT, let alone running businesses in the sector,” she says. Amanda adds that when she started out two years ago she was loathe to approach large companies. “Now, I’m not afraid of approaching anyone – I go straight to the top!”