I've had the application to be certified as a women-owned business on my desk for six years. Here's why I just can't mail it in.
Although March is women’s history month, believe me when I say that this article has nothing to do with recognizing women for being outstanding women. In fact, I have had the completed application to become an MWBE (Minority- and Women- Owned Business Enterprise) in a folder on my desk for the past six years. No joke. I originally looked into it because the vice-president of my company asked me to do so, thinking it might open doors for us. So why is it still sitting on my desk? My company seems to qualify, but I have never sent it in.
Was I afraid a site visit from the certification squad would disqualify us because we don’t have Kleenex on every staff member’s desk for those emotional moments that are an inevitable part of being a woman-owned enterprise? Or was it because we might be rejected for aspiring to actually grow as a business, rather than remaining a micro-business? Or was it because I was antisocial and did not want to make lots of new “best friends” at gatherings of myriad women’s business groups? You know the ones—where you can learn how to manage up (because you are clearly not in charge) or where you can get a great support network that “speaks your language?” No. I have not submitted my company for MWBE certification because I have been working hard to get my company recognized—for all the right reasons.
I don’t like the idea of women business owners being labeled as such, because it’s as reductive and demeaning to women as it is to men. When male business owners are evaluated, they are evaluated on their skills as business owners. I have never read a study that tried to group male-owned businesses together based on their gender, but there are plenty that lump women together in that way.
I wanted suppliers to recognize us as a good company to work with because our reputation for being a fair partner preceded us. We have achieved that. Today, our suppliers know that we are intransigent when it comes to quality and on-time delivery, but they know that our prices respect their work and the fact they also need to stay in business.
I wanted competitors to respect us for our innovations and the way we do business. Today, they recognize the creativity evident in every product we make, and they respect us for our efforts to help move our industry forward and for the fierce customer loyalty from which we benefit.
Most importantly, I wanted customers to recognize my company as one they could trust—the one with which they choose to spend their money over and over again, because of how we take care of them. The best certification for that comes in the countless emails we receive from customers who tell us how well they were treated by my staff, and how much they love my company.
So I guess, when it comes right down to it, I never submitted that MBWE application because I was too busy running my business. I never wanted to be recognized as a woman entrepreneur, but rather as the owner of a great business. I put all my efforts into making that a reality, not in getting a stamp of approval that might allow people to pigeonhole my company, or to pretend we owed our success to the fact that we might look politically correct on someone’s balance sheet.
The fact that I am a woman has never been an obstacle to my business and the way I run it, nor has it been a handicap. It’s simply the way it is. I feel as comfortable in combat boots as I do in heels, and I can go head to head with anyone who crosses our path with as much conviction and balls as the next guy. Playing gender games in business is as useless as playing price wars. It is the weakest attribute to argue on, and at the end of the day, it has little to do with the value of your product.
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Vanessa Merit Nornberg: In 2004, Vanessa opened Metal Mafia, a wholesale body and costume jewelry company that sells to more than 5,000 specialty shops and retail chains in 23 countries. Metal Mafia was an Inc. 500 company in 2009. @vanessanornberg