Editor’s note: This is the fifth post in an 5-part series on Shared Prosperity: Our Corporate Responsibility in a Time of Consternation.

In my position paper, Shared Prosperity: Our Corporate Responsibility in a Time of Consternation, I talk about what we, as business and civic leaders can do to pave the way for greater diversity and inclusion. I believe deeply that is the only way forward for our communities, our region and, in fact, our country to thrive. I am the first to recognize that change is not easy, that it takes time and patience and some of it takes real guts to step outside our comfort zones to invite others to our decision-making tables.

But it is not just a matter of who is on your team, it’s also a matter of who’s on your teams’ team. A commitment to supplier diversity and minority business development matters.

Do you have an intentional supplier diversity program in place? Ensure fidelity to this commitment by having the executive team review the metrics and progress at least quarterly. Help build an ecosystem that gives a reasonable shot at success for Black and Brown businesses. Set stretch goals for yourself and do everything you can to help introduce those successful suppliers to others within your network to position them for additional business. Don’t pigeonhole Black and Brown business to simply a small share of the “diversity spend”.

Supplier diversity and minority business development programs were first signed into law by Richard Nixon in 1965 to provide Blacks and other people of color a piece of the economic pie to help quell the civil unrest in urban areas.5  Although women and racial minorities are often considered under the same umbrella of stigmatized groups, the fact of the matter is that in the U.S., white women generally receive significantly more supplier contracts and they often comprise close to 40% of all employees in professional settings, whereas Black women and men, by contrast, rarely comprise more than 5% of employees in these same settings.6 Typical supplier diversity programs are not focused on truly building capacity and sustainability of Black and Brown businesses. They are focused on hitting a spend target. In other words, the system is mostly set up to determine how much is going generally in the direction of diverse businesses, and minimal systems are in place to authenticate whether Black and Brown businesses are winning an equitable share of the whole pie. When there is no real focus on helping these businesses who are generally starved of capital and financial acumen scale, supplier programs are prone to shell company fraud.

In addition to giving existing Black and diverse businesses a shot at serving you or a part of your business, I think corporations need to demand that their law firms, accountants, construction firms, food and logistics, banking and all other key vendors have someone Black and other diverse professionals serve on the project.  This will help move us from a token one or two diverse individuals in an industry to firms viewing their diversity and inclusion activities as an advantage. Furthermore, these individuals will grow, strengthen and expand to establish their own firms, creating a reinforcing loop of wealth creation.

Through my position paper and this series of videos and blog posts, I am calling in business and civic leaders to redefine business as usual. The dual crises of the pandemic and the peoples’ protests have opened our eyes to the many systemic issues that are at the root of inequities in education, in health care, in social justice and in economic prosperity. We are clearly at a watershed moment. But I believe, as a region, we have the resolve to tackle the thorny issues that are in front of us.  I am energized by the fact that we as corporate leaders and as everyday citizens can ensure that we don’t waste this crisis, that we seize it to make meaningful change. The vitality or our region depends on Shared Prosperity, where, as we say at Midwest BankCentre, we can all rise together.  Thank you for coming along with me on this journey. It will take all us.

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