Have we changed as a nation? I ask myself that question several times daily as I reflect on the examples of racial injustice with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Christian Cooper and countless other similar victims. More importantly than that question is, what can we do to enact even greater changes? For us to have a significant change, there must be a collaboration among community leaders and activists, multiple generations, government at all levels, national and local politicians, and corporations.
Having an understanding and total support of those constituents is a key component of a sustainable approach towards solving a systemic problem of racism that is as old as this country. Before the Industrial Revolution, America was built utilizing slave labor. Even after slavery was abolished, Jim Crow Laws (laws enforcing segregation in the south until the Civil Rights Act of 1964) created covert racism that made it more difficult to prove by its victims. A key method for how blacks were able to obtain some level of independence was through entrepreneurship. Establishing businesses allowed the black entrepreneurs to create jobs within underserved communities while providing generational wealth. Government needed to play a significant part to create a sustained process for black businesses to establish an ecosystem for generational wealth.
President Richard Nixon issued Executive Order 11458 on March 5, 1969, which established the Office of Minority Business Enterprise, a federal agency dedicated exclusively to minority business enterprise, and the Advisory Council for Minority Business Enterprise. Regardless of his impetus, President Nixon recognized the value and impact of minority businesses on the nation’s economy and on the general welfare of the country. Subsequently, organizations were established to support the specific needs of companies owned by women, veterans, LGBTs, disabled and specific ethnic classifications. These actions created an initiative for which we call supplier diversity.
Corporations established supplier diversity programs to primarily purchase products and services from those various diverse businesses. Supplier diversity professionals were hired to oversee this very important initiative within corporations and government entities. While those professionals have evolved as far as their business acumen, they will now be pressured to further develop as highly valued leaders of corporations because of the global awareness of racial injustice and impact on employers. Supplier diversity as a profession will be counted on by employers to bridge gaps between communities and supply chain and will be used in recruitment of Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) as employees. Generation Z, more than any previous generation, seek employers that support causes important to them with a great emphasis on healthcare, civil rights and the price of education, which could all be positively influenced by supplier diversity. Once this generation understands the purpose of supplier diversity, they will be the ones driving the initiative beyond where it is today.
Covert racism and biases have historically created barriers that prevent diverse candidates from achieving their ultimate levels of success. While this continues to exist, some corporations have praised themselves recently by issuing statements speaking against racial injustice while advertising boards and senior executives bereft of any diverse leaders. Employers must establish a foundation of diversity that supports diverse communities for which they reside in or impact through the sale of its products and services. When established with value and supported among senior leaders, supplier diversity becomes a greater pathway to support the economies of local communities because of its impact, which includes the following:
• Economic support of small disadvantaged businesses
• Increase of jobs to underutilized communities
• Challenges created with employers’ competitors to match efforts
• Connection of employee resource groups to supply chain diversity
• Increase of internal awareness and sensitivities of diversity and inclusion
• Connection of socio-economic needs of Generation Z to supply chain diversity
When employers purchase products and services from diverse businesses they are providing a greater voice and platform for diverse business owners to verbally support the anti-racial injustice movements. This effort also influences more from diverse groups to become entrepreneurs. As stated earlier, if successful, supplier diversity creates and enhances an ecosystem within diverse communities which could lead to an increase in jobs as diverse suppliers typically are the ones employing individuals from underserved communities. An increase in jobs should lead to improvements in those communities such as increases in purchase of property, less crime, improved property value, increased access to capital for future growth, greater recirculation of the dollar within the neighborhood and improved education.
The business case for building supplier diversity programs is well beyond the “right thing to do stage”. Supplier diversity initiatives will become more integrated with internal departments while serving as their own business units. These units will add the value desired to build underserved communities while increasing internal and external awareness of the business case for supplier diversity and even generating revenues for employers. With the support of Generation Z, supplier diversity will become a professional destination for future supplier diversity executives or firms supporting the establishment of these initiatives. We will then change this nation through the integration of diverse ecosystems that will influence collaborations to seek racial and economic equality.