Beyond the Accolades: Advice from WBE Canada’s 2020 Award Winners

At WBE Canada’s 2020 Annual Conference, we had the privilege of showcasing and celebrating outstanding achievements in supplier diversity amongst our certified WBE community and our corporate and government member organizations. Each finalist and award recipient is truly a champion, driving impact and demonstrating excellence and above all moving the needle on awareness of the importance of diversity, inclusion and supplier diversity in growing the Canadian economy. 2020, more than any other year, has shone a light on just how resilient and aspirational women-owned businesses have been in the face of the pandemic and how corporations have continued to show their support and continued to enact upon their goals of diversifying their supply chains in the face of disruption and ever-changing demands, including regulations and legislation.

As our Excellence Award recipients move forward in 2021, and with a lens on what they have experienced in the past year, we asked them what their key piece of advice would be, as WBEs and as corporate and government organizations, to fellow women-owned businesses and women entrepreneurs in general. Specifically, we wanted to know the role certification has played in helping women-owned businesses grow and succeed and the importance it plays as Canada’s major corporations and government organizations look to economic recovery through the diversification of their supply chains.

A single piece of advice we would give to women entrepreneurs considering certification is..don’t wait. WBE Canada not only bridges opportunities to create sales opportunities, it is also a platform to learn and grow from where you are today. Wonderkind was a brand new business when we certified in 2019. Right away we felt such encouragement and mentorship from other WBEs and corporate partners. This was invaluable to us as it strengthened our mission, built our confidence to take on new challenges during a pandemic and access to enriching resources through the WBE Canada Network”, said Tara Cochrane and Shawna Pereira, Founders + Creative Directors, Wonderkind Inc., Winner, WBE Canada’s 2020 Top Supplier.

Being WBE certified is a MUST as a woman-owned business – no need to think twice, the value far outweighs the cost and effort” shares Jennifer Ménard-Shand, Founder & CEO, Staff Shop Inc., and winner of the 2020 Rising Star award. “Positioning yourself as a diverse supplier will open doors others would not have access to, and more importantly, you’ll be giving back to a community of women who all have one thing in common: to serve and help each other grow. What you give comes back tenfold in life.

Be Fearless” says Andrea Robinson, President & CEO, Robinson Global Management Inc. and recipient of the 2020 WBE Leader award. “Being fearless means to get certified when you are not sure of its value; being curious through your participation in supplier diversity community events and activities and educating yourself for the benefit of your team, business and your own community. Be fearless through your active registration with corporate and government partners and in your preparations for first meetings. Be fearless when the small wins and big wins come your way. Don’t worry about how you are going to do something huge with less or do less with so much more to give – be creative, reach out to your community for suggestions; partner, negotiate and be spectacular. When all your hard work pans out remember that your job does not end here. The WBE community needs you as an advocate, support and service or product provider for women-owned businesses.

But it’s not just the WBE Canada Certification Badge that opens doors. It’s the long-term commitment to growing your business through learning and networking opportunities and being part of an organization that is leading the way in making sure women-owned businesses are not just considered, but winning contracts with big businesses.

Redwood Classics Apparel was the recipient of the 2020 President’s Award. Kathy Cheng, President of Redwood Classics and committed champion of women entrepreneurship and supplier diversity shares her advice: “My best piece of advice is to be engaged with this community as much as possible. Some of your greatest opportunities will be forged with people outside of large corporations and there are so many fellow WBEs that you can collaborate with to create something magical and meaningful. But also remember that when YOU have the opportunity to develop your personal and professional skills, your business thrives right alongside you. Keep investing in yourself and building your leadership acumen, and your business will continue to grow. And always pay it forward by helping the next generation of WBEs. There is room for all of us to thrive!

10 years ago, I was the first woman in Canada to certify with WBE Canada because I believe strongly in the mission to include minority owned businesses, such as women-owned, a place at the table in the hopes to secure an opportunity to earn business consideration with corporations that support Diversity & Inclusion. Sharing thoughts, ideas and collaborating with other WBEs encourage us to highlight that a rising tide lifts all ships”. Michele Bailey, President My Big Idea & Blazing Design, recipient of the 2020 WBE Leader award.

And from Marte Belisle, President, SommEvents, recipient of the 2020 WBE Leader award: “Don’t be afraid to get involved. It is my involvement with WBE Canada and the Supplier Advisory Committee that has helped me to get in front of the large corporations and has garnered me some pretty big pieces of business. As with any other membership, you will get out of it what you put in. It does mean a commitment of time, to participate in the organization, and that is the ticket to the dance, and by the way, it is also so great to spend time with some pretty fantastic people and other business women”.

As a woman business owner, I am well aware of the hurdles we face, but also of the incredible opportunities that lie before us. I believe in women and their ability to transform the world, and am convinced that solidarity, empowerment, and collaboration are the key to our collective success. I am a certified WBE and currently in the role as Chair of the Supplier Advisory Committee (SAC). I look to leveraging my expertise as a business owner to create and support exciting new programs for WBEs and corporations alike. I am dedicated to acting as a facilitator by helping our member corporations access an extraordinary and ever-growing community of women and by helping our WBEs scale their services to meet an ever-growing demand. Together, we can do amazing things.” Maryse Benhoff, President BG Communications International Inc., recipient of the 2020 WBE Leader award.

WBE Canada’s corporate and government members continue to see the incredible potential that Canada’s women-owned businesses can bring to their supply chains. By opening their doors to some of the most innovative women enterprises this country has to offer, they are not only contributing to their bottom line, but helping foster the economic recovery of the country. Here’s their advice:

Michael PacholokMike Pacholok, Chief Procurement Officer at the City of Toronto and recipient of WBE Canada’s 2020 Supplier Diversity Leader award has been directly involved in developing a policy which resulted in the City adopting its Social Procurement Program in 2016 and tirelessly championing diverse suppliers. “Becoming certified in order to stand out as a diversely owned business is a great thing to do so that you can be recognized and noticed among various organizations who are trying to build back better in their own way”.


BDC, a long time advocate of WBE Canada, and a member since 2018 was the recipient of the 2020 WBE Canada Champion Award. Laura Didyk, VP Client Diversity, shares her advice – “By working together, women entrepreneurs can go further, faster. Now, more than ever, lean into your network for advice, resources and support. There is no one size fits all solution because every business has different needs so don’t be afraid to ask for assistance and know that BDC and WBE Canada are part of your network to help you not just survive, but thrive in the new normal”.

RBC is a founding member of WBE Canada and winner of the 2020 Top Corporation in Supplier Diversity award. Natalie Marchesan, Global Head of Procurement, shares: “The last year has created opportunity for personal and professional reflection, and as we continue on both the economic recovery and advancement of women, there are some commonalities to both. We must continue to be tenacious and perseverant, whatever comes our way. As business leaders, it’s a commitment that we’ll continue to advocate for an inclusive environment, challenging the status quo and championing for what is right. To the women-owned business leaders, our voices may need to be louder to be heard, and with a direct and confident approach, we will further demonstrate the value and perspective you bring. Let’s work together to be sure you are heard and seen.”

TD Bank was recognized at this year’s Annual Conference as a Procurement Leader for having supported and partnered with WBE Canada since 2010 as well as receiving the award as WBE Canada’s 2020 Most Improved Supplier Diversity Program. Michelle Albanese, Head of Responsible Sourcing and Supplier Diversity | Strategic Sourcing Group (SSG) shared: “The world around us is continually changing. Businesses both large and small should always be adapting to meet the needs of its customers. My advice to WBEs is: Keep adapting your businesses and building your expertise. Make your ‘value-add’ so evident that it can’t be ignored”.

Accenture, one of WBE Canada’s founding corporate members was awarded the 2020 President’s Award. On behalf of Accenture, Dora Silva-Bolanos, Senior Manager, Supplier Inclusion and Sustainability shared: “We saw the importance of women-owned businesses during the pandemic. Many of the WBEs in Canada were immediately providing PPE equipment to first responders. My advice would be to continue to show your ability to be agile, resilient and change agents. One of my favourite quotes is: “The fastest way to change the world is to mobilize women” – Charles Malik.

WBE Canada’s Excellence Awards are much more than a shout-out to those WBEs and Corporate Members who have risen to the challenges and moved the needle forward on supplier diversity. Their contributions have significantly impacted not only the Canadian women-owned SME community, but also the recovery and growth of the Canadian economy.

Read more about our 2020 Excellence Awards Winners.