DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti recently interviewed Pamela Eason, president and CEO of the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), and a former Pfizer executive. Here's her agenda for this important organization, which works with corporations to increase supplier diversity and helps women-owned businesses succeed.
Luke Visconti: WBENC held its National Conference & Business Fair in June. Can you tell us about the event?
Pamela Eason: The event featured a plethora of speakers who were really focused on benefitting the WBEs. It was very engaging, with workshops that addressed WBE skills, WBE needs, as well as corporate and government requirements for doing business. We had about 2,200 women, and total attendance was right about 4,000, so we were very excited.
Visconti: What does your organization help women to do in their business lives?
Eason: Overall as an organization, we have a CORE value that we provide: C is for the certification, O is for the opportunities that we provide, R is around the resources and E is engagement. However, for our event specifically, the opportunity aspect is very rich. If women do their research correctly for the great businesses that are coming to our event, they can spend all their time prospecting at this event and not have to spend a lot of money to go around and prospect all year long. That's a great value.
For our corporate members, being active in our event and meeting these women-owned businesses frees up the number of times they need to have individual meetings.
Visconti: Why should a supplier-diversity chief or other supplier-diversity executive go to this event next year? What experience and knowledge would they gain?
Eason: The supplier-diversity professionals, in particular, will find a plethora of WBEs that are anxious to do business with them. The good news is we've been teaching them to target, so they are going after the corporations that they are probably the best solution for and can meet those needs. Marketing individuals would find that the power of women and the buying power of women are a great business-case tie to what that corporation does. A lot of procurement professionals attend because they can learn a lot about how that benefits their company as well as the actual categories in which they're looking to buy things.
Stop Making Excuses
Visconti: When talking to companies that have procurement that might not be centralized, they tell me that they have difficulty getting MBE and WBE spend through the different divisions. You ran procurement at Pfizer. Why is that an excuse?
Eason: In many cases, it is an excuse. If you think about it, those same companies and the divisions and the people who are saying that they can't do it, they also have employees in those same areas. Those payroll systems are just as different as those procurement systems, but they're getting everybody paid and they're making sure that everything happens like it should.
Is it costly to make sure everything is integrated? Is it difficult to say this is a priority and make sure that that priority occurs? Absolutely. But if you make it a priority and you follow through on it, it will happen.
Visconti: If you're giving advice to a supplier-diversity person who is telling you, "I just can't get this done," what do they need to ask their CEO for? What do they need to ask their vice president of procurement? What kind of authority or accountability is needed?
Eason: If I'm a supplier-diversity professional and I felt like I just couldn't get it done, I would think that it probably wasn't being reinforced at the closest levels. I'm a total believer in top-level support for diversity and inclusion, whether it be on the supplier side or the colleague side, but that needs to exist as a basic premise of what happens at a company.
It's those managers closest to the work who are really key to the success. If I'm being held accountable for certain things occurring, then I'm going to make sure that those occur.
If you address more of what people are concerned about—whether they believe there's no supplier out there, or they believe the suppliers are not capable, or they believe funding is not available, whatever that is—as you address it, you're able to show that that in fact is not the case. Or if it is the case, you go and you develop that capability, then it pulls through and it is successful.
The Importance of MWBE Certification
Visconti: I've run into both MBE and WBE owners who are not certified, and they don't think of it as being important. Why is it important?
Eason: It's important for two very different reasons. The government is making some real efforts to try to ensure that they do more business with women. They seem to be taking it seriously. They want to verify that this business is in fact woman-owned, -operated and -controlled, and not a shell of any sort.
On the private-sector side, with corporations, if you are doing business as a government contractor, then you have some flow-down requirements, and some of those are for diverse and women-owned businesses. So again, if you're doing business with a certified business, you know they are owned, operated and controlled by a woman.
Visconti: What advice would you give women who are thinking about starting their own business?
Eason: Do your research first. Know what to expect. I had my own business for eight years, a consulting business that dealt with business processes in the area of procurement and finance. What you have to realize is what the sales cycle is like, how you have to behave in your client's situation, what you are expected to deliver and how that's different than just going to work from 8 to 5 or anything else that has to be done in a normal, day-to-day job. As an entrepreneur, you've got to jump up and be in charge of everything. Be aware of that and plan your time accordingly.