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Empire State Development must institute an immediate moratorium on decertifying —  either through rejection or denial —  Women-owned Business Enterprises (WBEs) while it evaluates the process for reviewing WBE certification and recertification applications.

Compared to a decade ago, the number of women in leadership roles in the New York construction industry today is significantly higher.  It is easy to imagine a not-so-distant future where construction loses the title of a “male dominated industry”. However, ESD’S misguided WBE review process works against this trend. Many of these decertifications are applied to WBE’s that have been legitimately operating and following the rules for years. And many of these women are not only leaders of their companies, but industry leaders, who give back to help others and serve as role models for those who are following in their footsteps.

One reason often given by the state for decertification is the presence of a male relative and/or male professional working for the company, whom ESD assumes is  actually running the business. Ironically, a program meant to prevent discrimination is relying on the assumption that the man must be in charge if female and male family members, or female and male professionals work together. Multiple family members working for a construction company is common in the building trades and should not be held against women business owners.

The current ESD application of assumptions – many of which are arbitrary and based on a lack of understanding of the complexity of owning, operating and scaling a construction company – must be updated and corrected. Both certification as well as recertification procedures should include a comprehensive review of the ownership, operation and control of these businesses, free from reliance on discriminatory and outdated standards. Instead the ESD review process should focus more on evaluating the skills and expertise of female business owners as well as requiring an interview with the owner. 

Too much emphasis is placed on direct supervision of workers in the field and not enough on other tasks essential to the operation of a successful construction company, such as business development, securing bonding and insurance, negotiating work, estimating and bidding, reviewing contracts, hiring employees, ordering materials and equipment, managing finances, setting schedules, planning the company’s future, and perhaps most important, assuming business risk. It is not practical or typical for the owner to perform all of these functions and manage field operations directly,  and that is why field supervisors like superintendents and foreman are hired.

Correcting misperceptions that impact the certification and recertification process for WBEs in the construction industry will  require focused effort and education about the complex operations of a construction company.  To enable  Empire State Development to work to clarify their understanding of the new unique nature of construction contracting requirements from business, financial and operations perspectives, we respectfully request that ESD  institute an immediate moratorium on further WBE decertifications while they evaluate their processes.

The current ESD process of reviewing applications for certification and recertifications are not aligned with the requirements to control and operate a construction company. The wholesale  decertifications of WBEs impede the growing trend of female ownership of building trade businesses and impact the construction industry’s ability to become more diverse. This must be corrected immediately so these businesses can take advantage of the increasing construction project opportunities that are occurring throughout New York State.


[1] Non-Traditional Occupations (NTO) are careers in which less than 25 percent of the workforce is made up of one gender. For example, men in cosmetology and nursing, and women in construction,  IT, criminal justice, and automotive.