Credit: Startup Stock Photos, StockSnap
Credit: Startup Stock Photos, StockSnap

More than two decades after the U.S. government set a goal of awarding 5 percent of federal contract money to women-owned small businesses each year, success has been achieved. In all, 5.05 percent of contractually-awarded funds — or  $17.8 billion — was granted to female entrepreneurs in 2015, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) said this week.

The news is long-overdue. After all, more than 36 percent of small businesses in America are run by women.

Related: Getting Federal Contracts Into Women’s Hands

A number of projects and policy shifts enabled this achievement, says Kristie Arslan, executive director of Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP), including the ChallengeHER Campaign, a joint offering from WIPP, the SBA and American Express OPEN that was launched in 2013 to promote the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program.

Eliminating caps on the dollar amounts of federal contracts for women-owned small businesses was an important change that paved the way to reaching the goal. Prior to 2013, contracts awarded to female entrepreneurs could not exceed a value of $4 million (except for manufacturing contracts).

Allowing female entrepreneurs to receive no-bid contracts helped, too. This specific policy change allowed a contracting officer to award a contract to a qualifying female entrepreneur without having to wait for other bids to be put on the table.

But Arslan says raising awareness about federal contract opportunities, and encouraging women to pursue them, was an especially crucial part of reaching the 5-percent goal. “We’ve been going around the country, educating women on how to do business with the federal government, as well as advocating for changes that will help streamline and clear the path.”

Going forward, she and others hope to build significantly upon what has been achieved by continuing education and outreach efforts, as well as staying on top of relevant policy changes.

“Five percent is a drop in the bucket of what it should be, considering the number of women-owned small businesses there are and how fast they’re growing,” Arslan says. “We’re really pleased to have finally reached this goal. But this [achievement] is the floor, not the ceiling. We have to keep going, keep pushing for opportunities for women.”