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Supplier Diversity and Why it Matters - The History of MBE, WBE and DBE Programs

Updated: Jan 16, 2023

In April 2022, ATHENA highlighted several diverse suppliers through LinkedIn that we have had the privilege of working with since our inception. If you are unfamiliar with the term “diverse supplier,” you might think it refers to a business or employer focusing on hiring and cultivating a diverse workforce. While that may be an important component of a diverse supplier’s vision, a group of diverse employees does not quite define the term. A diverse supplier is a business owned and run by someone, or a group of people, that is/are part of an underserved or underrepresented group. In the U.S., following the major gains achieved during the mid-20th century civil rights movement, minority business owners fought to increase economic opportunity in their communities with equitable access to government and corporate contracts. Following the death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., across the country, many urban, majority-minority communities faced civil unrest following economically motivated race riots. Moving beyond education and transportation, the civil rights movement capitalized to shift the focus to equality in the economy and workforce, challenging the pervasive discrimination diverse business leaders and customers faced. With declining community relations and potential negative impact to profits, by the 1970s, many corporations, federal, and public sector entities created minority “set aside” and business affirmative action programs. Simultaneously, the dawn of the global feminist movement sparked massive consciousness-raising of the discrimination and unequal conditions women experience, from education to legal and economic protections. With major legal and social developments such as Title IX in sports, women began to be recognized as an underrepresented, protected class, and included in business diversity programs. The modern “Supplier Diversity” movement was born from these seismic shifts, paving the way for millions of companies like ATHENA to compete and win equal opportunities, sparking economic and social change in the lives of each employee and stakeholder touched.

As a diverse supplier ourselves, we uphold our commitment to supporting diverse suppliers 365 days of the year. ATHENA’s foundation is built upon being a diverse supplier aiming to encourage and work alongside other diverse suppliers. ATHENA was founded in 2020 by 100% sole owner, Adrienne Ostroff, FSA, EA, CERA, FCA, MAAA with the intention of scaling from a one-person shop to a small employer focused on growing a diverse workforce, beginning with recognizing our diverse supplier makeup.

What makes ATHENA a diverse supplier? We are 100% owned, controlled, and operated by women. We hold the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) and Women Business Enterprise (WBE) Certifications in our home state of Minnesota and for various states across the U.S. We also hold the Women Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) Certification, which is a national certification recognized by many commercial and governmental organizations. Though ATHENA does not hold it, the Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) Certification is also worth recognizing. At first glance the DBE, WBE, and MBE Certifications might all sound very similar, but each one has its own unique differentiator for which certain businesses can qualify. What do the Certifications mean for someone who might be unfamiliar with the DBE, WBE, MBE acronyms?

The Women Business Enterprise (WBE) Certification is unique in that it is solely available to women-owned businesses. To receive a WBE Certification, a business must be 51% or more owned, controlled, operated, and managed by a woman or women. ATHENA emphasizes empowering women in a historically male-dominated field by bringing a different perspective to our clients, encouraging inclusivity and a more well-rounded approach to conducting business.

The Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Certification can be received by any business that is owned, controlled, and operated by government recognized disadvantaged groups. The DBE Certification is particularly unique in that a business receives Certification in its home state through a nationwide program. Once received, that business can then send in an affidavit to other states for Certification. To receive Certification, the owner must send in a letter to prove that he or she is a member of any disadvantaged group.

The Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) Certification is available to any for-profit and independent business owned 51% or more by a US citizen or legal permanent resident who is either Black American, Hispanic American, Native American, Asian-Pacific American, or Subcontinent Asian American. Since ATHENA is not owned by someone who is part of a minority group, we are not eligible for this Certification, but we have supported numerous MBE certified businesses through partnerships and collaborations.

Supplier diversity can look different for each business whether small or large. Here at ATHENA, we choose to lean into our differences by championing other diverse suppliers charging alongside us to make waves in the industry. Our uniqueness is an opportunity. We choose to believe our diverse supplier status propels us forward to our daily intentional, inclusive atmosphere for our employees, and our well-rounded, effective client work. If you are seeking a WBE with capabilities in actuarial services or workforce analytics, schedule time with ATHENA.

Are you an aspiring diverse or underrepresented entrepreneur seeking government and corporate opportunities? Do you need help bringing your vision to life? Pursuing formal supplier diversity certification can be a powerful business development tool and open opportunities for mentorship, grants, and infrastructure support that can change your company’s trajectory. Whether you have been in business for a few years or are just getting started, contact our partner (and fellow diverse business), Vivian & Virginia Ventures (V3) for support to grow and scale your business at


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