So we’re all entrepreneurs here, right? SDMWVLGBTBE (Small Disadvantaged or Disabled, Minority, Women, Veteran, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered Business Enterprise) owner(s), certified or on the path to certification or interested in the topic. We write and talk about supplier diversity professionals and certifying organizations, but it occurs to us that we haven’t talked much about the analysts and certifier staff members. As entrepreneurs we often get to make up our own organizational policies, processes and procedures as and when we wish … and then, the people who work in our businesses have to follow them. Sometimes, because we are used to having so much control, we forget that others simply don’t. Patience is a key skill we’ll need to practice when seeking diversity certification, because it is a complicated process with mandated compliance requirements. The mandates may differ slightly between certifiers, but the similarities far outweigh those differences.
Another major similarity is that certifiers are not-for-profit organizations. Unlike we business owners, who must be organized as for profit for virtually every diversity certification, certifiers are either government agencies or non-profits. And, most of these certifiers are backlogged with hundreds of pending applications and annual updates.
We know the effort that goes into preparing just one application, our own business is certified by 26 states, two cities and two non-profit agencies and has helped many companies on their own paths to certification. The actual application is 8 or 9 pages of questions about the owner, the business, its history including references, banking relationships, employees, equipment, etc. If a disadvantaged (DBE) certification is being sought, there’s three more pages of personal net worth data to be collected. Finally, a stack of supporting documents and an affidavit complete the application. Conservatively, that’s likely to be about 200 pages for the certification analyst to review. For a 36 year old company like ours, its about a ream of paper (500 pages).
As time consuming as the process is for the SDMWVLGBTBE company, the information you’re providing isn’t new to you. Patience is required now, there is no reason to expect a fast turnaround. You know your business. The certification analyst doesn’t. S/he starts at the equivalent of page one with the name of the business and reads the entire application, cross-referencing with the documents to ensure that the business is truly owned, controlled and governed by its SDMWVLGBT owner(s). During this review, the analyst may have a question or two. You’ll be notified of the question and given a specific period of time to respond. And, the certifier expects that SDMWVLGBT owner(s) will comply, if not cheerfully at least politely.
Once all the questions have been answered, the documents accounted for and reviewed, the site visit will be scheduled. If the certification sought is DBE (disadvantaged business enterprise) through a state government — Department of Transportation (DOT) or Unified Certification Program (UCP), etc. — the visit will likely be conducted by a government employee. And, s/he likely has a backlog of applications and visits. If you are pursuing a third party certificate there may be volunteers involved serving on committees or other steps in the process, possibly even the site visit. No matter which certifier you have chosen, it may take several months between the time your application is submitted and the initial site visit.
As entrepreneurs, most of us are accustomed to demanding clients who expect immediate results and we jump through hoops to deliver quick, efficient and effective goods or services. It is easy for us to become frustrated with the certification process. Some so frustrated that they don’t finish the application: many overwhelmed by the sheer amount of historical documents requested; others feel the need for personal financial information is too intrusive; or, view the time commitment as excessive. It seems natural that we expect the certifiers to jump through hoops in evaluating and approving our applications. But, in the real world, these non-profit or government certifiers are also overwhelmed. As supplier diversity has become a driving force in corporate and government procurement, more businesses apply for certification and the certifiers, too, become backlogged by the inundation of applications and hundreds of documents to review. Certifiers are faced with incomplete applications, missing materials or questions about language in governing documents all of which require extensive communications to resolve before they can schedule the site visit. Oh, and don’t forget these certifiers are also having to review annual affidavits from previously certified companies. Also complicating and delaying the process is site visit scheduling. So it’s really no wonder that the wheels of certification can seem to grind very slowly. Our recommendation … buckle up buttercup and be patient, nothing worth having comes easily.