TORONTO – Business connections are crucial in the automotive industry, but they’re sometimes difficult to make. In Canada, companies that are at least 51 per cent owned, operated and controlled by women can make those connections through Women’s Business Enterprises Canada.
“We’re a certification council for corporations that practice supplier diversity,” says Mary Anderson, president of WBE Canada. “The goal is increasing opportunities for businesses that are less visible in the corporate supply chain.”
While diversity suppliers can also include minorities, First Nations, and LGBT, WBE Canada is the only Canadian owned and operated certifier for women-owned companies.
It began in 2009, using a template from Women’s Business Enterprise Council (WBEC) in the United States. It supports all types of businesses, but Anderson estimates that about 20 per cent of its 250 certified members are involved in automotive. These include direct suppliers, such as those making components, as well as those with indirect products, such as marketing, training, logistics, and legal services. Eligible companies are audited to determine their qualification, and pay $750 in annual membership fees.
The organization estimates that 97 per cent of Fortune 500 companies have supplier diversity programs, reaching out to diversified companies or dedicating a portion of contract spending to them.
“Most of the supplier-diversity programs started in the U.S., so in many instances, our certified businesses have to go across borders,” Anderson said. “We have the ability to introduce our women-owned businesses to those connections.”
WBE Canada hosts events focusing on the automotive supply chain. “We’ve been doing something called Breakfast With Brands,” Anderson said. “We have corporate members that support us, including GM, Toyota and FCA, as well as Tier 1 suppliers to them.”
The meeting brings together managers from these companies, typically in the procurement or diversity departments, with the WBE-certified businesses. “It’s like speed-dating around a table,” Anderson said. “Each of the certified businesses present their capabilities, who they are, what they do, their value proposition, and often they try to identify something they can do specifically for that company.”
In addition to the connections, WBE Canada provides training in professional development, mostly through webinars.
“We’ve covered how to write an RFP [request for proposal], how to leverage financial services and the support that’s available, how to present capability to corporations,” Anderson said.
Valerie Ritchie, of Stratford, Ont., is president of Racks Unlimited, which makes automotive shipping racks as a Tier 1 and Tier 2 supplier. She began the business in 1996, and joined WBE Canada in 2015 after she attended a women’s business conference a few years earlier and learned about certification for suppliers.
‘ON THE LIST’
“There are many people who have agreed to spend X number of dollars in diversity, and it gets you on the list for quoting the jobs,” she said. “I would say I’ve seen anywhere from a 25 to 45 per cent increase [n my business] because of diversity. I’m in the steel industry, which is a very male-dominated industry. The fact that I’m WBE-certified puts me on a more level playing field.”
Her certification is primarily important when quoting to companies with diversity spending.
“If I’m neck-and-neck with another [supplier] price-wise, and we both have the same product, that’s where I would come in. If they have a mandate for diverse suppliers, I would get it.”
Even so, the certification only goes so far, Ritchie says.
“The product speaks for itself. The dollar is the bottom line for everyone, and they want the best pricing and service. You don’t get [the contract] automatically. You have to work it, you have to connect, you have to do your due diligence. WBE offers you every platform possible to do so.”