WBENC brings energy & purpose to Las Vegas conference
Networking is key. "Let's be sure that what happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas!" urged one speaker
Another speaker quoted Madeleine Albright: "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women"
By Kate Colborn
Editor in Chief
More than 3,000 women and men gathered at the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas this June for the fourteenth annual conference of the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC, www.wbenc.org). Attendance topped last year's, as did the number of exhibitors at the day-long business opportunity fair: about 325 corporations and WBEs.
The conference was the first for WBENC's new executive director, Pamela Prince-Eason, and for Laura Taylor, new chair of the board of directors, who is VP for strategic sourcing and procurement at Pitney Bowes (Stamford, CT).
As a certified WBE, Diversity/Careers attended the conference and connected with many corporate reps and WBEs. Of course our special interest was in the WBEs whose companies are involved in the technical world.
WBEs in tech
The number of tech-focused WBEs at the conference has grown over the years. This year there were almost thirty of them among the opportunity fair exhibitors, involved in areas from IT services to steel processing. Two members of the host committee, Sandy Davis of Applied Computer Solutions (www.acsacs.com) and Diane Prince Johnson of Workway (www.workway.com), spoke with D/C editor Kate Colborn about their own companies, and about the place of women-owned companies in the technical world.
"Early on, when we were offered an opportunity it was critical to make the most of it, to prove we were more nimble than the competition," says Davis, president and CEO of Applied Computer Solutions. ACS, a full-service technology solutions supplier, was founded in 1989. "Of course," Davis notes, "the biggest challenge for any woman-owned company, tech or not, is proving you are the best choice for the job."
Workway's Johnson, attending the conference for the first time, recently created a new engineering division of her staffing company. She expects the "face to face connections with corporate buyers" made during the conference will help her promote the new division and the rest of her offerings. Building on an initial focus on the financial industry, Workway has developed expertise in a number of technical and administrative areas.
As a member of the host committee, Johnson notes, she particularly enjoyed the networking opportunities with other WBE host committee members and with corporate sponsors.
Speakers share their insights
The keynote speaker was Annie Duke, one of the few women active in the world of professional poker. Poker, she says, "is a terrific platform for becoming a good decision maker," a skill that all successful business owners must cultivate. In poker as in business, decisions must be made in situations of uncertainty, but even bad outcomes can produce good insights and valuable information for future decisions, Duke believes.
At a general session after Duke's talk, a panel of speakers emphasized the importance of using the conference to good effect, and following up on contacts made there. "Be sure that, in this case, what happens in Vegas doesn't stay in
Vegas!" one speaker urged the audience.
The connections between WBEs, another speaker noted, are just as important as connections with corporate customers. As at several past conferences, attendees heard the well-known quote from former secretary of state Madeleine Albright: "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."
Among the speakers were Mary Gordon, a VP at Altria Group, and Farryn Melton, VP of strategic sourcing for Amgen, a corporate co-chair of the conference.
Honors and awards
Awards and recognition are a big part of every WBENC conference.
Two seasoned supplier diversity pros are retiring this year, and both were honored for their years of service. Lynne Scott of Alcatel-Lucent and Johnnie Booker of Coca-Cola have both led their companies' supplier diversity efforts for years, and have been active with WBENC for most of its existence. Booker announced the exciting news that she'll be back next year as a WBE with her own consulting firm.
The William J. Alcorn award, the top individual honor at the conference, is named for the former SVP and chief purchasing officer at JCPenney who chaired WBENC's first board of directors. This year's Alcorn went to Theresa Harrison, director of supplier diversity for financial advisory firm Ernst & Young. Harrison is a member of the WBENC board of directors, and has been active in many different capacities with the organization. She also serves on the board of directors for the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
WBENC "Applause" awards recognize "exceptional accomplishments that expand opportunities for women's business enterprises." This year's recipients were Lynn Scott, executive director of supplier diversity at Alcatel-Lucent; Debra Jennings-Johnson, director of supplier diversity for BP America; Nancy Conner, supplier diversity manager at W.W. Grainger, and WBE Lynthia Romney, president of public relations firm RomneyCom.
"WBENC is very proud to have such talented women advancing our mission and supporting other women who seek to compete in the sophisticated corporate marketplace," says Pamela Prince-Eason.
Fourteen years, fourteen partners
WBENC was founded in 1997, and has fourteen regional partners. Through its regional partner organizations, WBENC provides third-party certification of businesses owned and operated by women, and supports and advocates for women-owned businesses. Activities throughout the year promote networking between WBENC's 650 corporate and government members and the 10,700 (and counting!) WBENC-certified WBEs. WBENC certification is recognized by most corporate and government supplier diversity programs.
Next year the WBENC national conference and business fair moves to Orlando, FL. It's slated for June 19-21, 2012.
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