First, the bad news: A new report from the Commerce Department says that the odds of women-owned businesses’ being awarded federal contracts are about 21 percent lower than for otherwise similar companies, according to The New York Times. And efforts to improve the odds have had little impact.

The Times said:

Businesses owned by women generally are “smaller and younger than other businesses,” the report said. Yet that accounts “for only part of the disparity in the likelihood of winning contracts,” it added. “Even when controlling for firm characteristics, including firm size and age, women-owned businesses are less likely to win contracts than otherwise similar businesses not owned by women.”

Now, the good news: Rule changes have made women-owned small businesses eligible for no-bid contracts with the federal government, according to the Small Business Administration.

No-bid contracts allow businesses to gain experience as federal contractors, and the theory is that the experience will increase a business’s chances of winning a federal contract that is put up for competitive bids.

In 2014, the percentage of federal contract money that went to companies owned by women was 4.7 percent, compared with 4 percent in 2011. Yet 30 percent of American companies have at least 51 percent ownership by one woman or more.

Perhaps this new opportunity will change those numbers.

Related: White House Unveils New Efforts on Pay Equity

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