I'd like to give you some insights related to individual women's businesses that are currently doing public and federal procurement to let you get an insight into these people themselves.
As Paula mentioned, we certify or verify a business 51% owned and managed and controlled by women. We call them WBEs, women business enterprises. Four provided us with some insights for your information today: Maureen Sullivan, the president of National Education Consulting Incorporated; Ema Dantas, the owner of Language Marketplace; Lise Patry, the owner of Patry Law; and Donna Lee Smith, with both P1 Consulting and P3 Advisors.
We asked them three questions. The comments covered a range.
The first question was “What successes have you had in public procurement?” These were the answers:
I've been awarded contracts for every public procurement process that I've responded to but there aren't many RFPs for legal services as it's a category for procurement that is excluded from the trade agreements. We are fortunate to have several contracts with the Federal government now and we have done it through public procurement—it only took us 17 years to get to this stage! We bid on government contracts regularly, and have an excellent success rate at the provincial and municipal levels. We have not seen any opportunities for our services from the federal government. I am the owner of 2 businesses. ... We are very successful on provincial and municipal procurements...but have not been very successful [with] the federal government.
The second question was “What challenges and barriers have you experienced related to public procurement opportunities?”
One of them explained, again, that it's difficult because of trade agreements. There aren't many RFPs, and they're difficult to find. As Paula mentioned, the federal government tailors some of the procurements to larger organizations that have already had experience, security clearance, and so on. It costs a lot in time and money to respond to federal government RFPs, so one has to think about it before engaging in that request for proposal preparation exercise.
Finally there's the idea of price. The government tends to look at price and not so much at value. That's becoming more of an issue.
Some feel it's the status quo, that it's easier to work with a certain supplier they've already had in a contract than to go with others.
They've tried to navigate the federal government tendering site for opportunities. They've found few that are relevant. They're difficult to find. These people are the experts already, and many of them are training public procurement entities, so if they're finding it difficult and they speak the language, they figure it's going to be incredibly difficult for smaller companies with less experience.
As one person said, they don't see any real barriers with their skill set, but the size of procurement really makes it obvious that the federal government is not interested in dealing with small and women-owned businesses; they would rather deal with larger entities.
What are some of the tools and resources that could support future success for public procurement opportunities?
The resources are there, but they're hard to find. The only things they can think of is more transparency in the contracts that are awarded, streamlined bidding systems, and efforts from federal bureaucrats to stretch their procurements to engage small business participation, perhaps complementing the roles of larger procurement. Simplified procurement requirements are mentioned again.
If I could summarize one point that I want to leave you with, women business owners who are here and doing business with public procurement are those risk-takers and job creators. They're the enablers. They are looking for some tools, and they're simple. They just want additional points of value for being women-owned. They also want to consider value for those who are partnering with the larger entities that already doing business with women. Those are some tools for change.
The Minister for Public Services and Procurement Canada's mandate letter is very clear. It says:
...developing initiatives to increase the diversity of bidders on government contracts, in particular businesses owned or led by Canadians from under represented groups, such as women, Indigenous Peoples, persons with disabilities, and visible minorities, and take measures to increase the accessibility of the procurement system to such groups while working to increase the capacity of these groups to participate in the system
We have to work together. In working together, WBE Canada has had a track record of success and recognition from both corporations and public procurement.
Since 2009 we've been a non-profit organization that's worked to increase the participation of women-owned business and supply chains, and we are called a council. I've alluded to that before. We verify or certify that a business is 51% owned, managed, and controlled by women. Once certified, these women are connected with buyers in both corporate and public sectors that are seeking diverse suppliers and innovative products and services.
Beyond certification, we also work on education and training and capacity-building, but the focus is on that procurement lens.
Again, WBE Canada is a certifying council. I would also say that there's an ask I have of this group: extend your ideas a bit around who else could be considered under-represented. We already have certification councils for other groups, including the gay and lesbian community and veterans. It's important to consider all who could benefit from these ideas.
Again, I would say we work already with large corporations, the major financial institutions in Canada that have supplier diversity, and two of the largest automotive companies, Toyota and General Motors. We work with the telecoms, including Bell and Telus, and the largest municipality in Canada, the City of Toronto.
Leverage the tools that are there. Confirm the diversity requirements that you've already set out. Make sure that the business is certified, that they are women's business, and that they are able to support that public procurement eligibility.
Finally, there are opportunities for public policy. What a perfect time. You're in procurement modernization. This is the time to enable those activities that we've just been speaking to. The federal government can easily develop federal policy initiatives to develop bidders. You've identified them. Consider the options available.
There are point counts provided in RFPs to the bidders who are diverse or who intentionally have programs that recognize and measure and develop those companies that are already looking at and developing and working with diverse suppliers. You do it both ways, with the diverse suppliers and also the companies that are already doing business with the federal government, in recognition together.
We put ourselves up to be a convenor, to bring together the national councils that are doing diversity and certification to support procurement modernization
Incorporate the best practices. There are lots of great programs out there, from Canada's largest municipality to government to the Pan Am Games in the past, and to the U.S. government.
In closing, I say there are lots of great places right now in modernization to do this. There is an intent and a will to do it. There are a lot of good things available from organizations that are really already developing those procedures, like NLOWE. Bring this all together and you can be successful.