A leading entrepreneur and frequent speaker on women-in-business issues, Anne Whelan firmly believes that increasing supplier diversity is an important building block to supporting female entrepreneurs.
“As a woman-owned business, it’s not easy getting your foot through the doors of potential client companies,” remarks Anne Whelan.
Whelan herself has fought hard to get ahead in the corporate world. Determination, guts, and a willingness to fail as much as to succeed has served her well. In less than a decade, Whelan has taken a single-industry business and built it into Seafair Capital Inc., a multi-million dollar, multi-sector group of companies that employs more than 700 people.
Since its very beginnings, Seafair Capital has boasted a strong female employee component. Today, 65 percent of its workforce are women and two of the company’s top four executives are female. Additionally, the ratio of female-to-male employees at Seafair Capital’s corporate office is 1.5 to 1, and for its senior-level management teams, 1.3 to 1.
Building a diverse supplier base was a natural inclination for this woman-owned business. “There was no special program instituted or anything like that,” explains Whelan. “Our diversity of suppliers came about because it’s a part of who we are as a company. We don’t just ‘support’ diversity; we see it as a fundamental element to building a successful business.”
Seafair Capital and its partner companies were some of the first businesses to get onboard Supplier Diversity NL, a proactive program spearheaded by NLOWE that connects companies with women business owners. Whelan sees Supplier Diversity NL as a positive step towards helping to facilitate those connections between larger companies and women-owned businesses, and to shedding some light on the conversation.
In the long term, she hopes to see larger companies commit to making the conscious effort to do business with a diverse pool of suppliers. “Businesses need to be truly committed. It’s not enough to establish policies and programs. You have to act on those policies and programs, monitor your results, and look for ways to improve. We plan to track and report our spend with women-owned businesses and we hope others do the same.
“Our purpose at Seafair Capital is to unlock potential in our companies, communities and people. To unlock potential, we must create opportunities for that to happen. Supplier diversity is one such opportunity.”
To highlight how supplier diversity helps unlock potential, Whelan references a recent online article published in the Harvard Business Review by Todd Pittinsky, professor of Technology & Society at Stony Brook University and senior lecturer at Harvard University. In it, Pittinksy argues that diversity adds to greater social cohesion and to instilling positive feelings in employees. He purports that such a change in organizational culture could produce significant results over time for a company’s productivity, profitability, and innovation.
Explains Whelan, “When you create a happier, more inclusive corporate culture where employees are empowered to “bring their all” to work, that has a lasting impact.
“Now take that notion and extrapolate it onto the business sector. Imagine the possibilities that supplier diversity could have on the health and wealth of our businesses if every business embraced the idea. Just imagine that.”