Businesses Empowering Women

As co-CEO and chairwoman of Accel Inc., a packaging company, Tara Abraham takes pride in hiring and training diverse teams while promoting supplier diversity through purchasing 58 percent of the company’s goods and services from female- and minority-owned businesses.

In addition, she serves as a board member and as the chairman of the Women’s Leadership Forum, which provides resources and support to women pursuing a career in business. In 2011, Abraham was appointed to the National Women’s Business Council to serve a three-year term representing female business professionals in the federal advisory council, which serves as an independent resource of advice and policy recommendations to the president, Congress and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Below are excerpts from an interview Abraham did recently with Diversity Executive:

Why do you advocate for diversity in the workplace?
I have long believed that a diverse workforce contributes to innovation and a rich employee experience. It is also key to helping us to meet our goal to provide opportunities for prosperity and economic growth for the families in our region.

We were early movers in employing a diverse workforce starting with when I founded the company in 1995. Located in the heart of Ohio, we employ people representing 18 different languages. We respect religious and cultural rites and holidays, and have won numerous awards for our employee and workplace diversity practices.

What role do professional organizations play in advancing women in business?
I believe that professional organizations are crucial to three key pillars in a business woman’s success: her professional development, her access to decision-makers as clients or conduits to business, and the inspiration, support and motivation that she gets from other business women.

My involvement with the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, or WBENC, has exposed me to thought leaders and business development strategies and ideas that have helped me to stay fresh and innovative. We have had access to amazing corporations and other women’s business enterprises as customers and business partners. Yet I cannot overstate the positive impact of an expansive network of brilliant, imaginative and reliable women friends and colleagues. They are the people whose advice and encouragement can get you through life’s “clutch” moments so you can move onto the next phase of growth.??

What challenges do women face in the entrepreneurship field?
I believe that women are particularly skilled at entrepreneurship. We perceive gaps in the marketplace and jump in to provide the needed goods and services — just as I did in founding Accel. We are strong relationship builders and communicators, which is key to business development and growth. And there is no question that women are motivated to improve the resources available to their families and their communities. This purpose comes full circle by helping to create a stronger, more prosperous source of customers and employees.

What are some challenges women in business continue to face?
Access to capital is still a big one. We at Accel have been blessed to have the private-public partnerships that have supported our move to the New Albany Business Park East when we broke ground there in 2010. Yet many female entrepreneurs still need the capital to help them acquire the capacity to serve the major corporations. ??

How can companies accommodate some of these challenges?
We can look to the WBENC corporate members who are leading the way in women’s business development for successful strategies. They drive women’s business development from the top of the house, and implement organization-wide programs to ensure that women’s businesses have a seat at the table and can compete for the business. It is not a coincidence that many of these companies have prominent female executives in senior roles, encouraging further diversity of thought and approach.

These set measurable goals for themselves — and also among their suppliers for diversity, known as Tier II diversity. I believe that there is enormous opportunity for women’s businesses to partner with each other and subcontract to each other.

What advice would you give women pursuing a business career?
I am extremely excited about the prospects for women in business. We have definitely reached a tipping point for women’s influence in business strategy, direction and growth.

Women tend to work hard and be well-prepared for the known, and that is essential. But I think we can do even more by being willing to take calculated risks. Some of my company’s greatest successes have been when we have taken the leap toward a new business strategy or product.

So my advice is to do your research and build on what you know. But don’t be afraid to embrace the new — and believe in yourself.

Jessica DuBois-Maahs is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.