Financial Post: LGBT Small Businesses Say Their Diversity Is a Money-Maker

Originally posted by the Financial Post.

Mary Teresa Bitti

Entrepreneurs urged to use networking, workshops, their own diversity to boost their businesses.

The founder and CEO of Oakville, Ont.-based Freshco, a full-service retail maintenance provider to Fortune 500 companies, Mandy Rennehan has set her business apart in the male-dominated construction space by dint of her own self-confidence and her diverse workforce. “A lot of people like to talk about data and numbers. That’s not how I’ve made my millions. I’ve made them through people and understanding that each of us ticks differently. My focus is on finding people with ambition, a willingness to learn and personality.”

Personality and authenticity will be the focus of Rennehan’s keynote address at fifth annual LGBT Summit of the Americas on June 14, in Toronto. Hosted by The Canadian Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (CGLCC), the three-day event will feature panel discussions, networking opportunities as well as practical information to help LGBT entrepreneurs learn about the current global environment for trade and how they can use their own diversity to gain entry into coveted corporate supply chains to grow their businesses.

… to fan the flames of diversity and encourage it not just within our own company but from partners and vendors, too

“Fifteen corporate partners will host tables — like speed dating — where suppliers have an opportunity to sit with supply diversity and procurement managers to find out how they might do business,” says Darrell Schuurman, co-founder and CEO of the CGLCC.

A national not-for-profit, the CGLCC was launched in 2003 about a year after its counterpart in the U.S., the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. “Our core mission is to contribute to a thriving and inclusive Canadian economy by promoting the economic growth and prosperity of LGBT-owned businesses,” says Schuurman. In order to do that, both bodies decided to focus on increasing access to corporate procurement opportunities. “Historically, there have been under-represented groups within the supply chain because corporations tend to contract with existing suppliers and don’t look beyond that tight group.”

The LGBT population in Canada is estimated at 2.3 million, with an annual buying power of more than $90 billion. There are about 140,000 LGBT‐owned businesses in Canada. The CGLCC currently has about 1,500 LGBT member businesses.

“We’re at a point now where employers want employees to bring their ‘whole selves’ to work. The same should be true for entrepreneurs. They should not have to worry their sexuality or gender identity will impact their ability to grow their business. The CGLCC and the Summit help break down some of those barriers,” says Schuurman.

While implementing supplier diversity is still in its infancy in Canada, more corporations are now asking if their suppliers are representative of their consumer base and workforce, says Schuurman. “They see the value.”

According to research from McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity outperform national industry medians in financial returns. McKinsey also posits that diversity is likely a competitive differentiator and will help companies achieve better market share going forward. Beyond the numbers, non-homogenous teams are proving to be smarter, asking more questions and making fewer mistakes.

The CGLCC’s supplier diversity program certifies and matches LGBT Business Enterprises (businesses 51% owned, operated and controlled by individuals who identify as LGBT) to corporate partners they might not otherwise have access to. In 2017, it seems, there are business advantages to acknowledging this aspect of diversity.

It’s been a long time coming. “Tolerance for the LGBTQ community 17 years ago was not what it is today,” says Jeff Fettes, founder of Winnipeg-based global contact centre/business process outsourcing firm 24-7 InTouch, which has more than 10,000 employees at 15 locations around the world. Fettes and his husband, Chris Wallace, will be celebrating 20 years together this August. “We chose to found the business in Canada because Chris is American and we didn’t have the ability to stay together there. They didn’t have gay marriage, or same-sex sponsorship,” says Fettes, who will be part of a panel discussion at the summit on how Canadian companies build large international presence.

Fettes acknowledges it has been a challenge to build a diverse supplier network. “When we were just starting, I used to say we wanted to hire the most talented people and that would avoid racism, sexism, etc. What I didn’t understand was that the average (boss) looks to hire themselves over and over again. We have to be aware of our subconscious biases. As we got more mature as an organization, we realized you have to fan the flames of diversity and encourage it not just within our own company but from partners and vendors, too.”

The CGLCC is looking to spread that message not just to Corporate Canada but to LGBT entrepreneurs. “Our challenge is to make LGBT businesses aware of supplier diversity and the opportunities for them to grow by highlighting their diversity. Corporate Canada is looking,” says Schuurman. “While it wasn’t an objective when we started, we are realizing that the Chamber is also helping to create role models for other LGBT entrepreneurs.”

Original post can be found here.