It’s officially summer! The WBENC Conference wrapped up a little over a week ago. It was wonderful to see everyone and as you’d expect after a moratorium on conferences for two years, there were some distinct shifts not only in the programming but in the energy of the conversations and connections.
As I’ve talked about before, summer brings with it the start of supplier diversity conference season, which encompasses these conferences:
WBENC 25th Anniversary and National Conference – June 6-9, Atlanta GA
Disability:IN National Conference – July 18-21, Dallas TX
NGLCC 20th Anniversary and National Conference – August 2-5, Las Vegas, NV
NMSDC 50th Anniversary and Conference – October 31- November 3, New Orleans, LA
Several people who weren’t able to attend have asked me about my takeaways so I thought I’d summarize them here for anyone who’s wondering if they should attend the next conference.
I saw Esther Poulsen and we got to spend some time with a shark at the Georgia Aquarium and a new friend, Mary. I bought a book my kids now love about creativity from my multi-hyphenate friend Monica Kang (you can see Casey from GSK photobombing us). I got to spend time with my WBE forum friends and brainstorming with my client friends. I also got to see Camille Burns and Kirsten Wynn from the Women Presidents’ Organization, where I am now a Chapter Chair of three chapters. And I touched base with a lot of corporate representatives as well, many of whom had moved to new positions.
Making new friends
I always tell my clients that sometimes the best connections you make, despite the preparation and homework, are the people you meet in line for the bathroom. It’s important to prepare and also prepare for down time to connect with new people. This year, I met Mary Parham from Arkansas who actually sat down next to me in the hotel before a reception and ended up joining me and Esther in the shark tank for a lovely evening. We would never have met without the conference and now I have a new WBE friend and colleague.
I have been a judge for the WBENC Collegiate Pitch Competition before but this year I was tapped to be a mentor along with Bristol Myers Squibb for Dal’Nesha Steverson of The Pink Briefcase. It was wonderful to work with Dal’Nesha who has a great passion for her business and for helping entrepreneurs. I was also blown away by the Collegiate Accelerator ventures. We will be hearing more from them!
Takeaways from the WBENC Conference
The focus on DEI, including supplier diversity is still strong.
In the opening session, Pam Eason, WBENC’s CEO mentioned that they had 200 new members in the past two years. That’s 200 more major purchasing organizations that are interesting in buying from women business owners. More broadly, it’s 200 companies that see the value in supplier diversity programs to track their spend and diversify their supply chains. That means additional opportunities for diverse suppliers to compete.
Virtual is a great addition, but can’t replace in person meetings.
This is not news but it’s also not meant to be fodder for the “we must return to an in person workplace crowd.” Making space for virtual work and in person meetings, depending on the kind of work we’re doing, is the key. For example, my clients are all over the country. I’ve met them at virtual events and for many of us, meeting at this conference was the first time we’ve seen each other in person. Our work together didn’t suffer from being remote.
At the same time, I encouraged those clients to come to the conference because making or deepening connections with people they don’t know yet just happens so much faster in person. They were able to jump start relationships or get real time feedback on ideas that isn’t realistic via emails or even zooms (if you can even get on one). Takeaway #1 may have played a part in this but the conference did prove its value for me and my clients.
Big wins look different for everyone.
My number one goal at these conferences is for my clients to be happy. When people asked me over the last week how the conference was for me, I said exactly that, “My clients are happy; I’m happy.” As I am constantly telling people, the win is not to walk away with a big contract – not because that wouldn’t be great but because it’s simply not realistic. The conference is all about making meaningful connections that last so that you’re positioned for that next big opportunity.
Of course, the next step there is follow up – which is where the conference truly proves its value but where most people fall down. Next month, I’ll write a follow up post about…follow up.
The last takeaway is the date of the next WBENC Conference – March 20-23rd in Nashville, TN. Save the date!