Following is the excerpt of the interview with Silvia Pencak, President of WBE Canada for Canadian SME Business Magazine.
How it started
WBE Canada was founded in 2009. Our certification was built on the Women Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) US model and adjusted to Canadian regulations. Since then WBE Canada has evolved into the largest certifying council for Canadian Women Business Enterprises (WBEs). We are committed to supporting and advocating on behalf of Canadian WBEs in Canada and the US and we partner with the Canadian Government to inform our WBEs about international events and opportunities.
What are some of the challenges that you deal with frequently and how do you face them?
Our biggest challenge remains low awareness of supplier diversity. While in the US supplier diversity programs started more than 50 years ago, Canada started to embrace diversity in the supply chain only about a decade ago. While more than 50% of businesses in Canada are women-owned, WBE Canada estimates that they comprise less than 5% of all domestic and international suppliers to corporations and governments. The result – women’s businesses don’t grow, big business misses out on value and innovation, and national productivity and GDP suffer.
It’s exciting to watch as more women access C-Suite and Board positions in companies, but I believe that the time has come for us to start talking about the place women businesses have as contractors to these organizations. Diversity and inclusion should be implemented in every area of business, including how companies purchase their goods and services.
This is a major change that cannot be done by WBE Canada alone. We need champions and ambassadors to help us spread the word and make supplier diversity work in Canada. We are happy to be part of the Supplier Diversity Advisory Council (SDAC) and partner with other certifying councils as we move supplier diversity to its next level. Some of our WBEs and Corporate Members are going above and beyond to join us at events and share their experiences and lessons learned in this space. We are open to collaboration with Universities, media and other influencers to help us support Canadian women-owned businesses and help them get access to opportunities.
WBE Canada is founded by corporations who are willing and eager to support Canadian WBEs. This would not be possible without their support. Our Corporate Members attend our events, meet with WBEs, develop and improve their supplier diversity programs, build awareness about the issue internally and on top of that support WBEs through their own mentorship and training programs.
We also partner with women organizations and trade associations in Canada and US. Our regional partners provide training, masterminding, event collaboration and more. As a president of WBE Canada I am grateful for these partnerships. As you can imagine, there is a lot of work involved in getting businesses ready for large supply chains. While we focus on supply chain education and networking, our partners help women-owned businesses scale up, access financing and find support directly in their region or industry.
Supplier diversity is the strategic business process of corporations reaching out to groups not traditionally included in their supply chains, including women-owned businesses that want to compete for contracts. It means implementing processes to identify, verify and match under-represented suppliers to procurement opportunities and then measuring achievements. Utilizing a supplier base that reflects the growing diversity of Canadian businesses in particular and the population, in general, makes good business sense.
It is important for Canada to mirror the growth of supplier diversity spreading through multinational corporations in the US and UK. Over 95% of Fortune 500 companies have supplier diversity programs that target historically under utilized businesses, expand buyers’ choice, and boost innovation, competitiveness and market knowledge.
With the trend towards contract bundling in the US, over 80% of multinational corporations are now requiring supplier diversity efforts from their tier one and tier two suppliers. They advertise this “spend” with diverse populations, and are taking their business practices global, setting new benchmarks for measuring and celebrating diversity in supply chain contracts they award.
Supplier diversity programs are still viewed by many organizations as social programs or unfair advantage programs for women, which is incorrect. Supplier diversity is about levelling out the playing field so that all potential suppliers can participate in and benefit from corporate and government dollars. It does not mean a guarantee of business for certified firms, it is about inviting them to a table and creating opportunities for them to participate.
This interview was published in Canadian SME Business Magazine. You can access full interview here.