When Danielle Thomé was a teenager, she asked her father for a job. That’s not unusual, especially since her father was the founder of Projex Engenharia, a successful business in Brazil. But the business focused on civil and industrial construction, an industry where a 15-year-old girl didn’t fit the typical job description, despite her passion for civil engineering. Although Thomé would eventually take over her father’s business, her road to success was paved with many challenges.
“One of the biggest challenges I faced was the age-old problem of gender discrimination,” Thomé recalled years later. She is one of many women driven to lead businesses that reflect their life passions.
Like other entrepreneurial women, she needed support. But where are the networks to help women turn their passions into successful businesses? Thomé found her network in an SAP customer. WEConnect International connects women-owned businesses to qualified buyers around the world. As a result of becoming WEConnect International certified – and a lot of hard work by Thomé and her team – Projex Engenharia’s revenue grew by a staggering 200% in just two years.
Many Challenges, Huge Potential Impact
Women who start and lead businesses face unique challenges. Cultural and social norms, or simply being underestimated by investors, can impede their entrepreneurial efforts. Harvard Business Review observes that “women are massively under-represented among both venture-backed entrepreneurs and VC investors.” It adds that companies founded solely by women receive less than 3% of all venture capital investments.
Also, the pandemic exacerbated the imbalance in unpaid care work – managing the household or caring for children and aging parents – which disproportionally affects women in business.
Women must also deal with the challenges other businesses face, including access to markets, information technology gaps, and the red tape involved with government programs designed to help new businesses.
Yet despite these challenges, women-owned and women-led businesses offer the potential to make a significant impact on the global economy. The World Economic Forum (WEF) observed that “societies with greater gender equality not only offer better socioeconomic opportunities for women, but also tend to grow faster and more equitably.”
The WEF also reports that advancing women’s employment could add US$12 trillion to global GDP and boost some countries’ economic output by as much as 35%.
Yet despite a clear business case, the WEF sees global progress stagnating.
Who Has the Power to Drive Change? All of Us.
Traditionally, the procurement function within larger organizations has held the power to fill supply chain gaps and build networks of suppliers. Yet today, other voices are making themselves heard. Consumers are expressing preferences to buy from women and other diverse businesses. Around the world – for example in the United States, Australia, and Canada – government regulations are requiring increased diversity and inclusion.
Additionally, the C-suite is reframing corporate policy to reflect more sophisticated approaches to selecting suppliers. In my role as customer officer, SAP Intelligent Spend & Business Network, I see business leaders prioritizing inclusive sourcing metrics within their procurement strategies to help ensure they have access to all the world’s best suppliers, not just the ones they always buy from.
Concerned about supply chain risks, procurement leaders are increasingly adopting localization strategies. While seeking new local suppliers, they also focus on inclusive sourcing. Of course, finding diverse suppliers is not easy – even local ones. Many women-owned businesses are small entities, not well-known in the business community. They often lack access to communication technology that would help them create greater visibility for the business.
How can we make it easier to connect enterprise buyers and women-owned businesses?
Creating Connections with SAP Technology
As president, CEO, and co-founder of WEConnect International, Elizabeth Vazquez is a leader in women’s economic empowerment and global supplier diversity and inclusion. Through WEConnect International, she helps women around the world grow their businesses to create wealth, hire more people, and contribute to the prosperity of their communities.
Last week, she participated in panel discussions during the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland. The discussions focused on opportunities to direct more corporate spend to women-owned businesses, not only to do good but to close supply chain gaps.
“Women-owned businesses are a valuable and under-utilized resource,” she said. “The women who run these businesses understand what their communities need most, and they are in a unique position to help solve them. In the process, they are creating entirely new industries.”
WEConnect International recognizes that to compete in the global marketplace, women-owned businesses must be visible to potential customers. It developed the WECommunity platform, a global register of women-owned businesses that makes it easier for buyers to find women-owned suppliers.
Unfortunately, the initial version of WECommunity relied on technology that delivered a poor user experience, making searching the register cumbersome. WEConnect International needed a scalable, global solution that offered smooth user experiences in multiple languages for buyers and suppliers.
The SAP Ariba Supplier Lifecycle and Performance solution and SAP Business Network more than met these criteria. As an added advantage, many of the WECommunity member buyers were already transacting on SAP Business Network. SAP partner Premikati Inc., a women-owned business, was engaged to help deploy the SAP solutions.
In its first year, the improved functionality of WECommunity produced dramatic outcomes:
- Buyer membership increased by 91%, a $2 trillion increase in purchasing power.
- Over 6,000 women-owned businesses experienced revenue growth, creating 24,000 new jobs.
- Over 7,800 new registered women-owned businesses joined the database, a 95% growth.
“By making it easier for women to register their businesses and for large buyers to find them, our online portal based on the SAP Ariba Supplier Lifecycle and Performance solution, SAP Business Network, and SAP Business Technology Platform helps women compete in a global marketplace,” Vazquez explained.
Breaking Through the Barriers
Remember Thomé, the teenage girl who wanted to work in her father’s construction business? Today, she is owner-director of Projex Engenharia, the business her father founded.
As a noted in a recent profile, Projex Engenharia earned the WEConnect International Women’s Business Enterprise Certification. Thomé leveraged the global network of women suppliers and large buyers to become a more confident and assertive leader.
The relationship has also helped produce significant benefits for her business. In just six years, Projex Engenharia landed six large corporations as clients. This enabled the company to hire more people, ensure their safety and well-being, and support social, health, and environmental campaigns.
SAP is committed to helping all customers achieve their diversity and equity goals. And it is gratifying to know that our technology has become a valuable tool in making this happen.
Megan O’Connor is customer officer for SAP Intelligent Spend & Business Network.