WBENC: Helping Women-Owned Businesses Connect, Grow

Nearly 2,800 corporate supplier-diversity leaders, federal-agency heads and owners of women business enterprises (WBEs*) were drawn to Baltimore this week to make valuable business connections at WBENC‘s 11th Annual Women in Business National Conference and Business Fair.


Aptly called “The Business Connection,” the three-day event (June 22 24) offered matchmaking events, networking, educational workshops and an opportunity for WBEs to directly showcase their products and services to potential buyers. The event’s goals: to encourage contracting opportunities between WBEs and supplier-diversity leaders in industries ranging from healthcare and logistics to transportation and telecommunications to create much-needed jobs.

Although women own between 25 percent and 33 percent of private business globally, of which one-quarter are owned by Black, Latina or Asian women, WEConnect International reports that combined they receive less than 1 percent of contracting opportunities, a barrier to their growth.

“Access to major corporate and government markets is key to landing the contracts that fuel revenue growth and job creation,” said WBENC’s President and CEO Linda J. Denny. Speaking directly to procurement leaders at the event’s kickoff luncheon, she said, “We’re rolling up our sleeves to help you findexcellent solutions to problems. This event is a crossroads of commerce.”

Thanks to WBENC’s 14 regional partner organizations, the third-party women business certifier hit a major milestone this week: It certified its 10,000th WBE. WBENC also released “The Roadmap to 2020: Fueling the Growth of Women’s Business Enterprise Development,” a collaborative collection of best practices to enable the creation of at least 6 million new jobs over the next 10 years through women business growth.

“Roadmap to 2020 is leading a transformation by connecting women in business around the world and providing best practices and solutions for them,” said IBM’s Vice President of Market Development Marilyn Johnson. IBM, the lead corporate sponsor, is No. 7 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversitylist.

Among the roadmap’s 32 recommendations:

  • Identifying the barriers to growth for post-start-up women-owned businesses
  • Getting all women’s business associations, policymakers and others involved in the “women’s ecosystem” aligned around the issue of growth
  • Providing greater access to capital. Male-owned businesses, said Denny, “usually have more capital”
  • Expanding the role of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership beyond oversight of the Women’s Business Center (WBC) program to include access to capital and markets
  • Encouraging multi-million dollar businesses to expand through peer mentoring, globalizing and increased market access
  • Increasing the engagement of girls and women within the STEM fields to restore the nation’s global competitiveness

The Mother of Invention

Today, what largely drives corporate supplier-diversity programs beyond government mandates is the ability to tap into innovative entrepreneurial ideas. One company that’s looking for new ideas from WBEs is New Brunswick, N.J.-based Johnson & Johnson (No. 6). Since 1893, women have been key to the company’s product development, when several suggested the use of Johnson & Johnson’s adhesive powder as a remedy for diaper rash, creating the Johnson’s Baby Powder brand. Today, the long-time WBENC supporter continues to stand behind its diverse suppliers by sponsoring full scholarships to Kellogg & Tuck Business Executive programs as well as certification training for dozens of business owners each year.

“Providing opportunities to our suppliers is part of our credo,” said Beverly Williamson, Johnson & Johnson’s vice president of process excellence, consumer products worldwide, and WBENC’s 2010 conference co-chair. She is also on WBENC’s board of directors. To create opportunities with new WBEs, Johnson & Johnson held a matchmaker meeting at the event that included representatives from its business, pharmaceutical, medical devices and consumer lines.

Mark Guinan, Johnson & Johnson’s chief procurement officer and an event keynote speaker, said: “Our credo is not just a document on the wall; it’s something the company lives by.” With 250 operating companies in 60 countries, “we could fulfill our obligation without women-owned businesses,” he told a roomful of WBEs, “but you play an integral role at J&J. Our support of WBE stems from our responsibility to help build economic capacity through wealth building and jobs.”

Other notable speakers included:

  • Pamela Prince-Eason, president and CEO of WBENC and former vice president of worldwide procurement at Pfizer (one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies), noted the importance of women making 80 percent of all purchasing decisions. “As corporations, it’s our responsibility to show that we value women and WBEs. And together, we can grow this economy to the next level,” she said.
  • Armando Ojeda, retired director of supplier diversity development at Ford Motor Co. (No. 47 in the DiversityInc Top 50), also acknowledged the bond between business support and consumer spending. Having hit its $1.2 billion spending goal with WBEs in 2007, he said, “When you support us, we support you.”
  • Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake highlighted the economic value of WBE growth. “The thing that makes me proud of WBEs is that you are going to help this country get out of this recessionand you are going to do it with style,” she said. “If every woman-owned business hired just one person, unemployment would be eliminated.”
  • Sheila C. Johnson, CEO of the luxury property company Salamander Hospitality and president and managing partner of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, provided entrepreneurial inspiration. Johnson is also the first Black woman to have a stake in three pro sports teams that include the Washington Wizards (NBA) and the Washington Capitals (NHL). “All through my life, I opened every door of opportunity and walked through it,” she said. “Was I scared Yesand I encourage you to walk through it too.”
  • Dr. Marsha Firestone, president and founder of Women Presidents’ Educational Organization, the event host and a WBENC regional partner that provides certification to women in New York, Northern New Jersey, Southern Connecticut, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, said: “We’re proud of the ‘three As’increasing awareness of women-owned business, helping with the approval process and increasing access to capital and markets.”

*Companies that are at least 51 percent owned, operated and controlled by women.

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