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Advancing women’s economic empowerment: Time to consider becoming a certified women-owned business

An Interview with CEO and Senior Strategist at Spatial Research+Design, Elynn Lorimer. 

Across the world women-owned businesses are seeking out and receiving international certification to diversify the corporate market and take their companies to the next level.

Our client, Spatial Research+Design, a BC company led by women, is seizing the opportunity to expand their client base in the US by joining WEConnect International, a non-profit member-led global network that connects female-led businesses to buyers.

With a WEConnect International membership including more than 100 corporate buyers from PepsiCo to Facebook, and 10,000 suppliers owned and managed by women[1], the benefits are clear.

Based in Vancouver, Spatial is a research and design consultancy specializing in digital product innovation. Their creative team of researchers, designers, and strategists have been solving complex problems using deep research and human-centred design practices since 2012.

CEO and Senior Strategist at Spatial, Elynn Lorimer, says “As a woman who’s worked in technology my entire career, of course I’ve experienced the inequality that is entrenched in tech culture. However, I’ve always chosen not to fixate on the negatives, but stay focused on doing great work that demonstrates my ability and earns recognition from my male peers. This attitude has carried through as an entrepreneur and business founder.”

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Why now?

Elynn shares her initial thoughts about engaging in a certification and why they made the decision to join.

“We heard about the WEConnect program in 2019 but didn’t purse this immediately. I had some reservations about promoting the fact that we are a women-owned and led organization. I didn’t want this to define us – wanting to put focus on our capability rather than our gender. I also didn’t want to be perceived as getting an unfair advantage.

But during COVID, there were a few instances where we saw the ‘old boys club’ in action, and we were excluded from opportunities under the guise of going with a known player because there was no time to follow more equitable procurement policies. So then we thought, if the men being handed this business have no qualms about the unfair advantages they are given, shouldn’t we take every advantage we can?”.

What are the benefits to getting certified?

Spatial saw an opportunity with WEConnect International as a channel for business development.

“Especially during the pandemic, pursuing new business from US-based corporate clients has been a big challenge and we saw this as a way to get introductions and build connections with procurements departments”, Elynn adds.

“Around this time we also had a major US-based client encourage us to get certified. They said being certified couldn’t guarantee more business, but it would help to spotlight us as a vendor and hopefully encourage other departments to give us an opportunity to bid for more projects. They, like many US-based large corporates, are pro-actively trying to promote diversity and inclusion at many levels, including in procurement practices. And to this end, they are participating in programs like WEConnect that aim to match buyers with vendors that are women owned or controlled. So for us, our status as a women-owned business could lead to introductions that might eventually lead to new business”.

Supplier diversity is a proactive business practice that encourages the use of minority-owned businesses not traditionally or historically included in corporate supply chains. Whilst the notion has gained traction in Europe, the US and most recently the Asia Pacific region, the growth of supplier diversity in Canada is not as widespread.

In the fall of 2020, WBE Canada, in partnership with experts from both the University of Manitoba and University of Calgary, conducted a national survey on the status of supplier diversity in Canada. The respondents frequently commented that supplier diversity awareness is important for organizations, and identified a need for the government to take the lead through public policy and financing.[2]

How is Canada advancing women’s economic empowerment?

The Government of Canada launched Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH) in 2019 to support and advance gender equality. WEKH is a one-stop source of knowledge, data and best practices for women entrepreneurs. It plays a pivotal role in gathering information to understand the challenges women face in entrepreneurship.

Whilst there is an increasing amount of data for the initial steps of incorporation and funding, tracking down the number of women taking their business public on the Toronto Stock Exchange is problematic. At present neither Statistics Canada, the Ontario Securities Commission nor TMX Group record the gender of founders of publicly listed companies.[3] Recent analyses are solely compiled by independent sources like The Logic, where journalists scour publicly available documents and press releases in order to share historic economic shifts.

We’ve recently seen more incredible success stories emerging like that of Shahrzad Rafati, who made history in 2020 by taking Vancouver-based tech company BBTV Holdings Inc. to the Toronto Stock Exchange. She is the only founding female to still serve as CEO when the business went public on the TSX.

Post-pandemic recovery

WEConnect International found in their survey that despite 68% of women-led businesses having been impacted negatively by COVID-19 from July-September 2020, women are resilient in response to challenges and are adapting to optimize or refocus their services.[4]

This is great to see after several reports concluded that the COVID pandemic had a devastating impact on female founders. Though 2019 and 2020 was a record year for startups, the data shows that global venture funding to female-founded companies fell by 29% from the year before. [5]

Now more than ever, it is crucial that women-led businesses are given the tools and resources to bounce back post-pandemic. Through certification, companies can expect to increase their contract and investment opportunities, with the added bonus of tapping into a community of women entrepreneurs.

If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of registering, looking to incorporate a women-led business or needing assistance to go public, our lawyers would love to hear from you. Please do not hesitate to contact us at 604-629-5400 or at our offices in Vancouver (BC) or even via email at [email protected]



***The above blog post is provided for informational purposes only and has not been tailored to your specific circumstances. This blog post does not constitute legal advice or other professional advice and may not be relied upon as such.**