Tips From The Staff/Board

WBE Certification Denials and Appeals: Now What?

Getting a denial notice when you’ve spent many weeks in the certification application process can be shocking and disappointing. Why weren’t you approved? What are your options now?

Read on to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes of a denial, and what you can do next.

Your denial is only an initial decision.

The appeals process exists to give you a second fair review if you believe you truly meet the criteria.

1. Re-read the full eligibility criteria

Eligible businesses must be owned, run, AND controlled by a woman or women.

If a single one of the eligibility criteria is not met, the application will be denied, regardless of whether all of the other criteria are met. Your denial letter will outline the exact clause(s) you did not meet, along with the specific findings.

The criteria cover on a high level the following questions:

  • • Do women own 51% or more of all aggregate ownership?
  • • Does a woman have the highest legal title?
  • • Do her governing documents give her total control of the business (ex: operating agreement, bylaws, trusts, service agreements, investor agreements, etc.)
  • • Does a woman have the highest decision-making authority?
  • • Does a woman have the industry background and expertise in her own right?
  • • Is a woman in charge of running the day-to-day operations?
  • • Does a woman rely on a man for a necessary piece of equipment, license, funding, expertise, etc. such that she could not operate the business without him? Learn more about husband/wife or father/daughter teams
  • • Is the business operating independently and not relying on another business for completion of projects, acquisition of clients, or core technical or administrative operations?

You can view the full eligibility in the official WBENC Standards and Procedures starting on page 9.

2. Understand the application decision-making process

Each application goes through at least 3 different reviews to ensure a fair process: (1) by a staff member, (2) by the anonymous volunteer certification committee, and (3) by the face-to-face site visit interviewer.

Denials are taken extremely seriously. The committee will review the application in depth as a group, and will often request additional information, documentation and clarification so that they are making the most informed decision. This is why the WBENC certification is considered the gold standard of supplier diversity certificates.

No assumptions are ever made. Decisions are made solely based on the facts you have submitted. Denials are never made based on a gut feeling, only on concrete evidence from your written application, supporting documents, and verbal site visit answers.

It is also important to note that your staff officer is NOT the decision maker. They are simply the shepherd of your application process- ensuring you have submitted all of the necessary documents, relaying questions from the committee, and clarifying any questions you have about the process.

3. Decide whether to appeal

An appeal allows you to submit additional information to clarify or refute the denial clauses.

First, take a look at your denial letter. It will outline the exact clauses that you were denied upon, along with the supporting evidence and findings.

If needed, the certification staff are happy to meet with you to discuss the denial clauses so you are 100% clear on what you need to submit. Remember, staff are NOT the decision makers, just the shepherds of the process. They want every truly eligible business to have a successful, smooth application. They’re in your corner, so please be kind despite the frustrating situation.


  • You truly don’t meet the requirements but plan to ask the committee to reconsider and waive some of the criteria. They cannot and will not do that. They will go exactly by the same standards as apply to all applicants across the entire nation.
  • You need to make changes to your ownership, governing documents, title, service agreement, or other business operations in order to be eligible. Appeals will not disregard anything submitted in the original application. Only new, previously uncovered evidence can be submitted.

Whether or not you choose to appeal, you may reapply 6 months from the denial date. Your new application will be reviewed as a clean slate, which means you can submit updated governing documents, agreements, stocks, etc.

4. Begin the appeals process

If you still believe you meet all of the criteria, you can submit an appeal within 30 days of the denial. This should include:

  • A letter signed by the woman owner detailing why the business does in fact meet the eligibility clauses outlined in the denial.
  • Any additional supporting evidence to substantiate your claim. This could include additional vendor or client contracts, licenses, statements of work, equipment leases, etc. that directly relate to the denial clauses. Again, keep in mind that you cannot submit any changes to documents, only new, previously uncovered information.

After you submit your appeal, a new committee will be convened to review your application. Only committee members who were not previously involved in your initial review will be called upon so that you receive a fresh, unbiased second opinion. This new committee has 60 days to render a decision.

5. Receive the appeal decision

If your appeal is successful, congratulations! You will immediately receive your approval letter and certificate. We encourage you to take advantage of everything that comes with the network.

If your appeal is unsuccessful, your last step if you so choose is to appeal to the National Certification Committee. The NCC meets generally 2-3 times per year, and as with the local appeal committee, they will follow the criteria and evidence exactly as presented.

After an unsuccessful appeal, you may reapply 6 months from the original denial date. Your new application will be reviewed as a clean slate, which means you can submit updated governing documents, agreements, stocks, etc.

6. Try not to take it to heart

A denial does not mean you’re not a woman business owner. It just means your business operations do not meet one or more of the WBENC criteria. That’s it.

It does not pass judgement on you as a woman entrepreneur. It does not pass judgement on the success of your business.

Additionally, many of WBEC-East’s business start-up and training workshops are open to all businesses, regardless of whether you’re certified or not. In fact, we encourage new, uncertified businesses to take advantage of our business launch classes and consulting!

Remember, every single clause must be met for certification to be issued. Even if you own and run your company, if a single clause isn’t met (ex: your control is compromised in some way by governing documents or your operations are reliant on a family-owned company for project completion) your application will not be approved.

The staff and committee WANT applications to be approved and meet the criteria. There are a ton of resources out there to help you evaluate whether your company is eligible for the certificate. Ask questions. Clarify requirements. Attend the “how to get certified” webinar. Please be kind to your certification officer- they will bend over backwards to help you understand and navigate the process. But ultimately you are responsible for thoroughly reading the eligibility and determining whether you should apply.