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OPINION 31 Current Debates owned businesses – from traditional manufacturing production to service based activities – contribute nearly £70 billion a year to the UK’s economy. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many female entrepreneurs feel there is a lack of readily available, relevant and up–to–date information and advice on procurement. In fact, qualitative data point to a confused picture over what help mainstream business support organisations offer; for instance, there is a perception among some female entrepreneurs that these organisations focus largely on supporting start–up companies and that helping to enter and exploit supply chains is not part of their remit. Unsurprisingly, only a third of women–owned businesses use mainstream business support organisations. So how can we better maximise and integrate female entrepreneurship into the business of procurement? Firstly, it is important to restate the argument that diversifying supply chains and having a range of businesses can be good for large corporate and public sector concerns. The focus here is on the demand–side and highlighting (educating?) the potential opportunities and ideas that a diverse supplier base can provide. But a second point focuses on women–owned businesses themselves. That is, to emphasise that there are many types of contracts opportunities out there. A cursory glance at the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU), for instance, shows tenders for a diverse range of goods and services – from IT database construction to hair–dressing services. Therefore, there is no reason why a women–owned business cannot bid for any of this work (assuming they are able to deliver). Importantly, the common criticism that such opportunities are not easily accessible is increasingly less–founded; in fact, over the last few years there has been a proliferation of initiatives to make available such opportunities with supply2.gov [www.supply.2.gov.co.uk] being the latest example. Activity, therefore, needs to happen on both the supply–and demand–sides of the procurement process. But what about business support? Whether there is a need for women–only procurement support activities is debateable as there are contrasting views on the need for dedicated services. Interestingly, and mirroring the debate surrounding BME businesses, there is a growing consensus that gender specific services are not necessary; instead there is a need for tailoring and sensitivity of mainstream business support to the strengths of women in business. Mindful of this, there are a number of important implications for how procurement and supply chain support (or even enterprise policy generally) should be made and applied. At the level of individual actions there is a need to continue policies to encourage and help individual women develop and improve their entrepreneurial capabilities, and to facilitate learning among groups of women. Wider measures are needed to address other forms of networking and learning exploiting the role of non–traditional stakeholders in business and procurement support, such as learning and skills providers, since no one group of stakeholders has a monopoly on helping businesses win work. The original title is perhaps contentious. It seeks to emphasise that much of the procurement and supply chain debate misses a point; namely that the opportunities and links around female entrepreneurship and procurement are not being maximised. What is clear, then, is the need 15% Businesses in the UK Owned by Women 30% Businesses in the USA Owned by Women to simplify the language of ‘procurement’, ‘supply chains’ and ‘supplier diversity’ to ‘buying’, ‘selling’ and ‘value for money’. Above all, women and business are too important to be left alone. Thus a degree of public policy interest and concern is required, both to prevent stagnation and to encourage development. In a general sense, then, re–casting the language of procurement and supply chains should facilitate greater inclusion by diverse businesses to all aspects of th e enterprise economy. Dr Kemal Ahson is the Managing Consultant of Lifeworld Ltd. For further information about economic development, supplier diversity and procurement he can be contacted on kemal@lifeworld.info 29% Businesses in the UK Owned by Black Women 21% Businesses in the UK Owned by White Women ISSUE TWO 2006 engage