Firms bidding for government contracts should hand over gender quota data

A report published by the department for business, innovation and skills suggests inexpensive measures government could take to help tackle the gender divide amongst entrepreneurs.

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Government should ask large firms to hand over their diversity data in their application, the business secretary’s women in business champion, MP Lorely Burt has recommended.

A quarter of women in IT feel they could never reach senior level, a recent study found. In a report published by the department for business, innovation and skills, Burt outlined several low-cost suggestions to turn this around and encourage more female entrepreneurs.

For example, the report suggested government could introduce a new question like: “Is your company 51 percent of more women or woman-owned, controlled and managed?” on its Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ) forms that all firms bidding for work over the value of £25,000 must complete.  

This data could help guide government policy, the report suggests.

'I don’t like quotas, but I like what they do'

It stated: “While care must be taken not to over-burden firms with excessive paperwork, procurement is potentially a powerful tool for data gathering.”

Procurement is considered a powerful tool to promote diversity by larger private firms like IBM, the report stated. But when diversity is ignored procurement can have the opposite effect, the report found.

“Cautious procurement officials focus on price and stick to trusted suppliers. There may be a fear of moving out of the ‘comfort zone’ which unintentionally locks out more diverse suppliers. This can lead to a form of unconscious bias, in which well-intentioned procurement officials tend to buy from suppliers who look like them.”

The report quotes a European commissioner who made the comment, “I don’t like quotas, but I like what they do”.

The government wants small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to gain 25 percent of Whitehall spending and ‘at least’ 50 percent of spending on new government IT suppliers will be SMEs.

“With more complete data on procurement, the government could introduce a similar aspiration to procure from a representative percentage of women-led enterprises and other under-represented groups.”

Insufficient engagement with women amongst local business support groups

Burt recommended that Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) should be required to collect data too. LEPs are localised, government-funded bodies that provide grants to businesses within a certain catchment area. 

The report found that LEPs’, “current levels of engagement with diversity appear to range from inconsistent to insufficient.”

 When Burt wrote to all 39 UK LEPs to ask about engagement with women entrepreneurs, just seven replied.

Of that seven, neither had more than one female director for every three males, nor a strategy to promote women in enterprise.

“Just as company boards need a spectrum of board members who can relate to their customers, so do LEPs. Greater Birmingham & Solihull LEP has made the very welcome commitment to ‘ensure that it is representative of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull area – reflecting the diversity of the population and key business interests.”

Technology firms like Accenture also assisted in the report, alongside the EEF – a manufacturing body – and the British Banking Association.

The government has shown a commitment to women’s entrepreneurship by appointing an ambassador and adding a dedicated page on the Great Business website. Tax-free childcare, employment allowance, shared parental leave have eased the burden for mothers in business.  

However, the latest figures quoted in the report show that only a fifth of firms are owned by women.

“Women’s entrepreneurship is a huge potential growth area which will benefit from increased government attention”, Burt added.

Image credit: iStock/Neustockimages

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