I have always been proud to run my own agency — MMK are my initials, after all. I am also proud to be an independent, successful woman, and love being able to support the professional and personal growth of women and men on the MMK team. I have certainly never shied away from being who I am. I think it’s a source of strength for myself, and for my company.
But I would never expect to win business just because I am a woman. I expect to succeed because of my agency’s creativity and smarts, as demonstrated by the performance of our clients’ programs. I would like to think that my leadership, experience and ability to form successful relationships helps to achieve our goals. Being the woman I am is an inseparable part of all that, but for my clients, the fact than I am a woman ought to be besides the point.
But is it?
Certifying the Obvious
When a Procurement manager at one of our long-time clients suggested I certify MMK Marketing as a woman-owned business, I wasn’t sure what to think. Why should I have to get some seal of approval for what is patently obvious? Yep, I’m a woman (check) and I own this business (check). It seemed like a paternalistic pat on the head. Is it really all that remarkable in this day and age that a woman can own a business?
Then I stepped back and thought about it from my client’s perspective. As a multi-national corporation, it relies on detailed procurement processes, and for good reason. It needs to manage suppliers and vendors around the world in a way that adheres to good governance, fair dealing and complies with corporate programs that encourage diversity across gender, races, religions and sexual orientations.
As a consumer and ethical businessperson, I strongly support those initiatives, so why wouldn’t I take part as one of their suppliers?
The reality is that a healthy majority of business leadership roles are still held by men. As much as it would nice to think the best ideas should always win, relationships play a role, and humans naturally form relationships more easily with similar folk who share interests, cultural references and histories.
Barriers do exist in the corporate world, and programs should exist to break through.
So while I would never want my agency to be judged by anything except the quality of our ideas and the success of our programs, if this helps my client ensure it is meeting its commitment to diversity and equality, well, where do I sign up?
Making It Official
My client directed us to WEConnect International, an independent non-profit organization based in Washington D.C. committed to connecting women-owned businesses to qualified buyers around the world.
The designation process was no rubber stamp. In addition to a paying a fee, I filled out quite a lot of paperwork, sat for a long in-person interview, and my application went through several rounds of review.
But after several months, it’s now official: MMK now bears the Seal of Certification designating my business a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) — and proudly so.
The process prompted me to reflect upon what it means to own a business as a woman today, and how it can add unique value to our clients. As I am in so many ways, I am grateful to our client for the opportunity, and hope it contributes in some small way to supporting more women’s success in business.