Tips From The Staff/Board

Are Husband/Wife Businesses WBENC Eligible?

It’s a question we get so very often.

“If my husband works in my business, can I get certified?”

“I’m a 100% women-owned business. How is it fair to allow husband/wife teams to be certified?”

Let’s break down the eligiblity criteria to get a true understanding of why some businesses are eligible and why some aren’t… and how we keep things unbiased and equitable for women.


So are husband/wife (or sister/brother, father/daughter) teams eligible for WBENC certificiation? The short answer is… it depends.

The unfortunate reality is that there are male business owners who will put the extra 1% in the hands of a woman (wife or otherwise) just to be able to claim that they are a women-owned business. Not only is that fraudulent, but it undermines the foundation of what the certification stands for- to create economic equity for women entrepreneurs and equal access to contract opportunities.

The goal is not to give women-owned businesses an advantage over male-owned businesses, but to help put them on an equal footing. After all, it wasn’t until 1988 that women were legally allowed to obtain a business loan without a male co-signer.

Many women-owned businesses rely on this certification to provide equal access, and it’s WBENC’s job to ensure we uphold the standards so only businesses that are truly women-owned AND women-run are certified.

That’s right, the certificate is not just about ownership (a very common misconception).


So if you work with your husband, or son, or grandfather, or male best friend, here are the questions you need to truly ask yourself before you apply:

Is this MY business?

Do I have the final say on all decisions? Do staff and clients defer to me as the head of the business and final decision maker? Am I actively exercising decision making power on a daily basis? Do my legal documents (bylaws or operating agreement) protect me as the final decision maker? If I have another job or am retired, am I a passive decision maker or truly overseeing and driving the daily operations?

Is this my industry?

Am I the one who has the foundational industry knowledge? Can I adequately evaluate the work that my staff and male partner do daily? If my male partner were to leave the business immediately, would I be able to easily take on and delegate his responsibilities? If I disagree with a technical decision that my male partner makes, do I have the expertise to back up my opinion, and will my male partner defer to me?

Am I reliant on any resources from my male partner?

Does my male partner hold a license, have specific contacts, or own/operate a piece of equipment that’s necessary to fulfill my projects? Am I able to get my own clients and contracts, or do they primarily come through him?

Is my business intertwined with another family business?

Does my male partner own or work in another business in a similar industry? If so, do we share employees, clients, or equipment? Would I be able to run my business if this other business and its assets immediately ceased to exist at this very moment?

Can I fire my male partner?

(Yes, we said it.) Family dynamics aside, do I have the power to fire him, and the confidence to immediately run the company successfully without him?

What’s my geniune motivation for pursuing this certificate?

Am I being honest with myself about the questions above? (It’s an unfortunate reality that we have to ask)


Ultimately, we will eventually get a clear picture of your business, whether through our face to face conversation with you, or through the dozens of pieces of documentation that we review. WBENC is the gold standard certification because of this rigorous review, and it’s why so many corporations and government agencies accept it.

And for those doubters who scoff when they see a man out doing a sales pitch on behalf of his wife’s business, ask yourself: if the roles were reversed and you saw a wife pitching her husband’s business, would you react the same?

So yes, while we have some certified businesses that are husband/wife, mother/son, or father/daughter co-owners, when we certify someone, we are confidently saying that this business is independently run by a woman at the helm with the expertise to do so.

Up next: 7 Things All Business Owners Need to Know About Supplier Diversity

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