For minority and women supplier diversity business entrepreneurs

Ginger Conrad

The election is over and, regardless of how you voted, let me ask you this question. Did you vote for Barack Obama because he is black? Or, did you not vote for him because he is black? If your answer is yes to either question, then we have a problem. We should be voting for whomever we feel is the best person for the job.

Let's look at this in the context of what we write about in this magazine. We want to be considered for the contract because we can do the job. The affirmative action program that may have given us the opportunity to compete is not what will cinch the deal. That will only come about because we are good, we are competent, and we can compete on price, quality, and timely delivery.

Now comes the economic crisis. Corporations as well as small businesses are struggling to survive. Every line item in the budget is being scrutinized, especially those that end up on the expense register. Unfortunately, supplier diversity programs, however much they have been touted as contributing to the bottom line, are among the first items to be cut. Travel expenses are restricted, support of advocacy organizations is eliminated or placed on contingency hold, and advertising (in almost all categories) is restricted or deferred. All of these decisions have an almost immediate impact on you and me. Talk about a trickle down effect - this is more like a waterfall and some of us are drowning in debt.

Opinions on whether or not our government should provide bailout funds to the Big 3, whether yes, yes with conditions, or absolutely no, abound. Certainly the impact of the failure of the Detroit automakers translates to much more than jobs - it will affect suppliers of all sizes, and if any of those are also suppliers to U.S.-based 
foreign-owned manufacturers, those manufacturers will also feel the pinch. An excerpt from a dialogue going on in our office between a member of our staff and a minority entrepreneur bears repeating.

"When it comes to debates like this it is difficult to place blame. Who drives consumer demand? Did we create the demand for larger, more powerful vehicles or did the auto companies somehow convince us that we needed bigger, more powerful vehicles? Once the demand starts, isn't it up to us to stop it?" Again, opinions vary widely.

We received an Op Ed piece, addressed generally to minority media. It came from Chrysler Corporation, explaining the direct impact that its demise might have on many of us. It makes some valid points. "Chrysler has traditionally been one of the largest employers of African Americans in the U.S. Today, 27 percent of U.S. employees are ethnic minorities, and diversity can be found at all levels of the organization. …One in ten American jobs relies on the U.S. auto industry. …More than 25 years ago, we created the auto industry's first minority business development program. … Despite facing tough economic challenges in 2007, Chrysler spent $4.8 billion with minority suppliers - up $900 million from the year before. That represented 15.5 percent of our total purchases. Since 1983, Chrysler has sourced more than $38 billion to minority-owned suppliers."

This is no doubt representative of Ford's and GM's commitment to minority- and woman-owned suppliers, as well as that of many other corporations in every industry. Regardless of how the bailout decision comes down, we urge each and every corporation to make supplier diversity an integral part of its continued operations, whether 
restructuring or simply sharpening the pencil. It has been clearly demonstrated, over and over again, that minority and women suppliers contribute to the bottom line.

Our place in the supply chain must not be eliminated.

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MBE's Business Opportunities resource covers business-related financing, consulting, and programs available for the Supplier Diversity community and M/WBEs. Updated monthly.

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MBE's M/WBE Resource Directory is a comprehensive list of resource organizations (including links) that support the Supplier Diversity community and M/WBEs.

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