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Supplier Diversity Champion: Barbara Orser

Barbara Orser

Last week we introduced you to Catherine Grosz, WBE Canada’s 2018 Supplier Diversity Leader of the Year. This week we want to introduce another champion of supplier diversity in Canada, a long-term friend of WBE Canada, Barbara Orser.

Barbara J. Orser, M.B.A., Ph.D. is a Full Professor and Deloitte Professor in the Management of Growth Enterprises at Telfer School of Management, University of Ottawa where she is involved in research, teaching and advocacy focus on entrepreneurial feminism (Orser & Elliott, 2015), enterprise growth and women’s economic empowerment. She is currently a member of UNWomen WE Empower Advisory Group Canada, Women’s Enterprise Policy Group (30-country consortia), Canadian delegate to the T20, board member of Women’s Economic Imperative, and advisor to many other organizations.

WBE Canada: How did you become involved with WBE Canada and/or supporting women through supply chain?

Barbara Orser: In 2009, I co-authored the white paper that ushered in women-focused supplier diversity to Canada. Funded by Status of Women Canada, it was the first report to examine the challenges and opportunities to support Canadian women business owners through supplier diversity. More recently, I reviewed the US Women-Owned Business Program, and have collaborated with colleagues at Public Services and Procurement Canada (the agency responsible for federal contracts) to undertake several large-scale studies on gender, innovation and federal SME procurement. To learn about these projects, click here.

WBE Canada: In your opinion, why is supplier diversity important in Canada?  

Barbara Orser: Supplier diversity is a means to support diverse, growth-oriented women business owners.  Supplier diversity organizations, such as WBE, provide critically important networking and capacity building opportunities. Driving revenue and customer engagement are key to enterprise growth.  Industry has sought such support for over a decade!

As described in my best selling book, ‘Feminine Capital. Unlocking the Power of Women Entrepreneurs’ (2015): “While the Canadian government nominally mandates suppliers to report on equity, today it makes no such provision on federal purchasing. Supplier diversity is a means to stimulate economic growth and address challenges that confront small-firm suppliers. Benefits are reflected in increased managerial capacity, revenue growth, skills development, and transfer among sellers. Supplier diversity also addresses concerns among business owners about doing business with government, including lack of transparency, complicated bidding, jargon, expectation creep, and specifications that are not commensurate with requested products or services.  

WBE Canada: Share your favourite story or achievement you personally experienced or witnessed in the supplier diversity space.

Barbara Orser: The most memorable take-aways for me is witnessing the volume of B2B networking and collaboration that takes place during the annual WBE conference. Women supporting other women… doing business with other women… driving change through their respective enterprises is absolutely inspiring.  It is this energy and goodwill that keeps me focused on supporting women entrepreneurs through my research and industry outreach.

Barbara Orser WBE Conference
Barbara Orser presenting at WBE Canada’s 2018 Annual Conference in Toronto

WBE Canada: Supplier diversity is still fairly unknown in Canada. What is your recommendation to other leaders who want to learn more or support women through their organization’s procurement?

Barbara Orser: It is time for The Government of Canada to engage in supplier diversity. Federal SME contracting programs will send an important signal to large corporations that are considering supplier diversity.  A second recommendation is for women entrepreneurs to reach out to their local, provincial and federal government representative and to ask what they are doing to support women-owned enterprises. For more strategies to enhance diversity within the federal government, click here.

WBE Canada: What women inspire you and why?

Barbara Orser: Shereen Benzy Miller, former ADM, Small Business & Tourism, ISED – currently, Deputy Chair, Refugee Protection Division, Immigration and Refugee Board Canada (and baking entrepreneur). Shereen inspires many through her commitment to justice and equity, and ability to get things done!      

WBE Canada: What message would you like to share with Canadian women-owned businesses?

Barbara Orser: In 2018, the federal government introduced the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy. I encourage you to read about the strategy, and then ask your local ISED office how it is helping you to grow your enterprise.  If you are not happy with the response, talk to your MP and MPP about your business development needs, and how the government can support the growth of your enterprise through business development support.

Read about another Supplier Diversity Champion: Julie Kaye

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