Though the playing field is leveling out for women in business, there are still a number of barriers making it difficult for female entrepreneurs to reach their full potential.
One such obstacle is the lack of resources made available to women in business. Whether it’s due to a lack of diversity in leadership positions or general underrepresentation in certain industries, women oftentimes suffer from a lack of support in their careers.
That’s why it’s vital for female entrepreneurs to be aware of resources like the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce (USWCC) that are designed to boost success for women across the country.
What Is the USWCC?
The Women’s Chamber of Commerce is completely one-of-a-kind. The female-focused national organization was founded in 2001 to increase economic growth opportunities for women by helping them build and grow successful careers, access more government contracts, cultivate leadership skills, and prepare for retirement. According to the website:
“We work to advance government policies that underpin Women’s Economic Priorities — a positive economic environment with policies, budgets, and leadership that supports women as students, workers, mothers, breadwinners, caregivers, business owners, retirees, and policy leaders. We are committed to transforming the economics of the business and labor markets and dismantle barriers that stifle sustainable business and economic growth.”
You can find the full list of issues the USWCC mobilizes around on its website — these are what the chamber has decided are the factors that cause the most detriment to women in business.
One example is “Asset Building & Retirement.” According to the website, older women are twice as likely to live in poverty than their male counterparts, so the chamber is advocating for better workplace and savings policies that support the roles of women.
Other issues the USWCC prioritizes are fair pay, healthcare and benefits, women in political office, consumer protection, and government contracting, to name a few.
USWCC at a Glance
Though certification is a key service offered by the USWCC, the organization has a wealth of other resources for women in business. On the website, you can find entrepreneurship news and reports, including updates on lobbying efforts. The main purpose of the website, however, is showing women how they too can get involved in advocacy efforts.
There is a page with information about upcoming events and in-person meetings. The web meetings hosted by the council — which include leadership training and briefing sessions hosted by USWCC leaders — are recommended in particular as they are easily accessible and tailored to the specific interests of members.
As part of its advocacy, the USWCC has a number of Councils and Issue Groups for which you can find detailed information online. If you feel inspired by a certain issue, join one of the many Council Groups (for example the Business Council, the Public Policy Council, the I Vote for Women Council) as those are the hubs that organize action.
While many of its resources are free of charge, the USWCC does have a series of membership programs that facilitate access to higher-level services. You can receive basic news and updates and register for meetings and events with the complimentary membership.
However, to be more involved in the advocacy side of the organization, you have to purchase the Advocate Membership, which renews annually for $35. Suppliers can pay $395 annually to gain access to an exclusive network of suppliers and easily contract with certified businesses. Businesses looking to find suppliers and receive discounts on certification can purchase the $199 annual Business Membership. Find more details about each level of membership on the USWCC website.
About USWCC Certification
Aside from inspiring action, the Women’s Chamber of Commerce empowers women through business certification.
The USWCC offers several different types of certification, including Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB), Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB), National Women’s Business Enterprise (NWBE), and International Women’s Business Enterprise (IWBE) certifications, as well as renewals.
What Is Certification?
The origin of certification programs can be traced back to 20 years ago when researchers revealed the severe lack of corporate and government agencies contracting with women-owned businesses. Since then, the U.S. government has made it a goal to level out the playing field for often overlooked female-founded businesses.
When certified, businesses are able to bid on open market solicitations for which only a certified business and/or owner are able to submit proposals. As a result, certification allows your company entry into an exclusive ring where you can access bigger and better business opportunities.
Is Certification Right For You?
While it has many benefits, certification is not right for every business. It is typically useful for companies whose products/services are targeted at corporations, retail, and/or government agencies, as well as companies that have the capacity to provide quality service and products on large contracts.
Additionally, your company must meet specific criteria to qualify. If you’re unsure what type of certification would suit your company, contact the organization.
How Do You Qualify?
As mentioned above, the USWCC offers a handful of different certifications and the requirements vary for each. Before you even consider applying for any, read up on the specific qualifications your business must meet. Generally, your business must meet the following criteria:
- Your company must be at least 51% owned and controlled by one or more women
- Owners must be U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents, or in the case of any publicly-owned business, at least 51% of the equity must be owned and controlled by one or more women who are U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents
- Management and daily operations of the company must be controlled by one or more of the women
How to Apply
The USWCC has a checklist on its website that you should print and consult as you go along. This document details all of the paperwork you’ll need to fill out for each type of certification. The application process requires the following steps:
- Complete the Preliminary Acknowledgements for the certification (setting up an account, providing your signature)
- Pay for the certification services. This amount will vary from around $275 to $350 for non-members, with discounts available to members. You can pay this fee online.
- Complete the online application. The USWCC strongly suggests filling in a printed version first as once you start completing the application online, you must fully complete and sign the document during the one session
- Upload the required supporting documents
Review of the application is broken into two parts. After your application has been received by the certification team, you will be contacted about scheduling a primary examination. Then, once the primary examiner has reviewed the application, a secondary examiner will look it over as well. It will generally take anywhere from 15 to 90 days from the date your documentation is received for a decision to be made.
As long as your company meets the qualifications and your paperwork is submitted correctly, there is no reason your application shouldn’t be accepted by the Certification Review Committees.
Benefits of Certification
Why go through all the hassle? Principally, certification increases your company’s business opportunities. This will provide you with access to a current list of the hundreds of supplier diversity and procurement executives at major corporations and government entities that accept the certifications.
The USWCC website reads that “[i]n today’s environment, women business owners are seeking to advance their business growth as suppliers to governments and large corporations in the United States and internationally."
In addition to national recognition, certified businesses gain access to a number of events open exclusively to small business owners, including networking, speakers and workshops, and one-on-one meetings with corporate and government suppliers. Other capacity development programs like mentorship and education (training and webinars) are also made available to certified businesses.
Ultimately, certification allows you to access a community of support and gain increased recognition and business opportunities. If you do gain certification, make sure to take advantage of all the resources USWCC offers, not just the obvious ones.
Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business In...
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Washington D.C.
- West Virginia