Building a Brighter Tomorrow for Canadian WBEs – Q&A with WBE Canada’s Government Members

At its 11th Annual Conference in November 2020, Women Business Enterprises Canada Council (WBE Canada) launched its pilot Government Membership Program designed to encourage Canada’s public institutions to formally adopt supplier diversity as a way forward to grow the Canadian economy.

Canada’s public organizations have long recognized that diversity and inclusion drive growth and innovation and that entrepreneurship is key to economic prosperity. It is a fact that companies and organizations with diverse supply chains perform better and enjoy better employee retention. WBE Canada has worked closely with larger corporations since 2009 but it wasn’t until 2016 that it welcomed its first public service member – The City of Toronto.

Triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and the stark reality that women and women-owned businesses were hit harder by the pandemic than other organizations, conversations emerged around the necessity of inclusion of WBEs in supply chains across the country and especially in public service organizations. Thus, WBE Canada’s Government Membership Program was launched, reducing the cost barrier and embarking on a plan to encourage government organizations across Canada to adopt supplier diversity programming and commit to make a difference for Canadian WBEs.

WBE Canada currently has 5 Government Members: City of Toronto, City of Brampton, BDC, EDC and Public Service and Procurement Canada (PSPC) – Office of Small and Medium Enterprises (OSME). We had a conversation with each member to find out how WBE Canada is helping them develop and carry out their Supplier Diversity Programs.

City of Toronto – Mike Pacholok, Chief Procurement Officer

WBE Canada: What do you see as the key component to the City of Toronto’s Supplier Diversity Program and how has being a WBE Canada Corporate Member helped in its success?

Mike: The key component to the City’s program is providing access to small and medium sized certified diverse businesses to City opportunities up to $100,000 by inviting at least one certified diverse supplier to compete against two other suppliers. Being a corporate member of WBE Canada has helped by being able to meet and encourage women owned businesses to get certified and to bid on City work through the numerous events that WBE Canada holds to educate, encourage and celebrate women entrepreneurs.

WBE Canada: It’s been 5 years since the City implemented its Social Procurement Program, including the Supplier Diversity Component. What do you see as its greatest success?

Mike: The greatest success is how our program has shown to be a game changer in Canadian government sector, educating both internal staff who have realized the value that diverse businesses can bring, and also educating other government entities that implementing a Supplier Diversity Program is possible and necessary so that we can drive inclusive economic growth throughout Canada.

City of Brampton – Gina Rebancos, Director, Purchasing

WBE Canada: City of Brampton is the second Canadian municipality to join WBE Canada as a corporate member. What precipitated the decision to adopt a formal action plan to address diversity and inclusion in the City’s procurement practices and why WBE Canada?

Gina: Brampton is a Mosaic, and diversity and inclusion are embedded in all of our City services, including our procurement. The new Supply Chain Diversity program is an important step towards supporting more women, Indigenous, LGBTQ2S, and minority-owned entrepreneurs in doing business with the City of Brampton. Becoming a Corporate Member of the WBE Canada Community demonstrates the City’s commitment to learning and growing the ways in which we engage and support diverse businesses, which is especially important during the pandemic and road to recovery.

WBE Canada: What would be your one main advice to women-owned businesses looking to do business with the City of Brampton?

Gina: The City of Brampton is creating equitable access for small and medium businesses, including but not limited to, women, Indigenous people, visible minorities, veterans, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ2S-owned organizations and social purpose enterprises, to bid on City procurement projects and do more business in Brampton.

Eligible diverse suppliers should be certified by one or more of the non-profit Supplier Certification Organizations the City is a member of. We encourage these groups, including women-owned businesses, to participate in the City’s transparent and fair procurement process, and to learn more at

Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) – Laura Didyk, Vice President, Client Diversity

WBE Canada: BDC is wholly owned by the Government of Canada with a mandate to help create and develop Canadian businesses through financing, venture capital, growth and transition capital and consulting services. What do you see as the biggest benefit your membership with WBE Canada has provided?

Laura: As the bank for Canadian entrepreneurs, we have made it a priority to support the growth and success of women entrepreneurs (WEs) at every step of their journey – and we are here to help women-owned businesses go further. But we cannot do it alone. We need trusted partners like WBE Canada whose extraordinary job and relentless commitment is not only helping companies grow and access new markets, but also helping organizations like ours create the type of supplier diversity program that allows us to connect and engage with more WBEs and build inclusive procurement practices that create long-term value for our clients and our communities.

WBE Canada: What is your most important advice to women-owned businesses as we head towards post-pandemic recovery?

Laura: At BDC, we recognize the unique challenges when it comes to starting or growing a business, from accessing capital and resources to finding mentors and champions to support you. And while COVID-19 has tested all of us, we believe it also brought out the best in us. Creativity, innovation, and inner strength. It’s inspiring to witness the steadfast persistence and resilience of women entrepreneurs. The future for many industries has never seemed so uncertain, yet we see bold leaders remain focused on creating new opportunities for their companies, clients and employees, as they plan for the future. We know these are challenging times but know that we see you and are here for what’s ahead to help you succeed. And we’re not the only ones. So, ask for help.

Export Development Canada (EDC) – Jennifer Cooke, Manager of Inclusive Trade

WBE Canada: What are the first steps a women-owned business should take when considering expanding outside Canadian borders?

Jennifer: Taking the first steps towards exporting can be daunting, especially for women entrepreneurs. The first step is to use the mindset you had to develop your business and apply it to finding success abroad. Next is education – building the knowledge and skills to export with confidence, followed by building connections, both with organizations that can help and opportunities with organizations internationally. The final step is to seek the financial tools to make it happen.

WBE Canada: The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic especially on Canadian women-owned businesses has been profound. How is EDC helping Canadian businesses, whether they export or not, on the road to recovery?

Jennifer: EDC’s goal throughout the pandemic has been to act swiftly and effectively, helping the highest possible number of Canadian businesses operating domestically and internationally. We have been working alongside our federal partners, including the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and Canadian financial institutions, providing support to export and – following the Government of Canada’s decision to temporarily expand EDC’s mandate – non-exporting companies.

Public Service and Procurement Canada (PSPC) – Office of Small and Medium Enterprises (OSME) – Louis-Martin Parent, Regional Director

WBE Canada: PSPC’s Office of Small and Medium Enterprises became a WBE Canada corporate member in 2019. What do you see as the biggest benefit your membership has provided?

Louis-Martin: The role of the Office of Small and Medium Enterprises (OSME) is to work to make federal procurement more accessible to smaller and diverse Canadian businesses. Our membership with WBE Canada has given us valuable insight into Canadian women-owned businesses and allowed us to reach women entrepreneurs across the country with information on federal procurement. It has also helped us develop new approaches to increase their participation in procurement opportunities.

WBE Canada: Canada continues to reel from the economic devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and we know that more than 61% of women-owned businesses have lost contracts, customers and clients since March 2020. How does your office intend to move forward and support WBEs as we move toward economic recovery?

Louis-Martin: Procurement will play an important role in ensuring a quick, inclusive and full recovery of the Canadian economy from the pandemic, and increasing supplier diversity is a key part of generating economic opportunity. With the help of WBE Canada, OSME will continue to engage with women-owned businesses to enhance their understanding of how to sell their goods and services to the government, to develop initiatives to reduce barriers, and to increase their participation in federal procurement.

It is time for Canada to start buying from Canadian women-owned businesses! Being a WBE Canada “Government Member” enables participating public organizations to access the many resources like training, consulting, networking (with peers and suppliers), data services, WBE Database as well as opportunity to educate suppliers on your policies and promote your procurement opportunities across our network. For details and more information contact: Catherine Grosz, Manager, Corporate Memberships at