I want to talk with you about business bias: what today means for the future of your business. This is not going to be one of those “today is the first day of the rest of your life” discourses. It's going to have a little more impact. I'm going to ask you to check yourself.
Now, you may not know, I was born in the 60s in Alabama, so I’m among the first of Dr. King’s children - arguably second generation, most likely first generation since he was assassinated shortly after I was born. Thus, I tend to have a slightly different view of racism during that time. For me, racism meant you couldn't go to an all-white school. My brother and I, along with another person, were the first three black kids to integrate the all-white school where I grew up in Alabama. All black people lived on the other side of the railroad tracks. My grandfather and I actually used to step off the sidewalk to let white women pass. I actually did sit in the back of the bus. I have a whole host of experiences around overt, institutionalized racism where there were policies in place based on the color of your skin. I've seen the “whites only” drinking fountains, and I've gone in the back doors of restaurants because black people weren't allowed to go through the front door, and yes, I've even had what we called scraps - which were the leftovers of all the actual good food that the restaurants would then sell to black people.
I'm talking about well over 50 years ago, and for a lot of us the 60’s and the 70’s were reasonably undifferentiated. A lot of that discrimination, especially in the South, carried over into the eighties, so when you start talking about doing business with large corporations and you look back 30 years ago, you can say that the primary reason why a lot of us didn't get business was because we were black, because we were Hispanic, because we were Asian American, because we were not white males.
Interestingly, in other parts of the world, it was just as true. Imagine being a Chinese or Japanese woman trying to get a contract in those countries 30 years ago. We all know that the sixties, seventies, 80s were bad. We also know that some of that still exists today - and that's actually the conversation. A lot of us have had real experiences with systemic racism. It colors and shapes the world as we see it, and a lot of us hold on to it. Some days I hold onto it, but most days I let it go because I realize for me, especially being in business, I don't have the luxury of assuming yesterday is today and today is tomorrow. If I do, I'm going to go out of business quickly and let me tell you why.
The vast majority of opportunities that I have gotten came from people that don't look like me. If you ask me if I believe people are racist? Yes. If you ask me if I believe that a racist has helped me, I would probably say “yeah, maybe” - but if you ask me do I personally know a racist that specifically had it out for me and did things to totally sabotage me, I would say I don't really recall a lot of that happening. I'm sure it did, but what I recall are people who looked at me and saw what I offered: my talents, my capabilities, and my skills. They saw that the system was unfair and they helped me to break through.
This is true for a lot of people that I know. They can point to specific white people who, when they were in a crunch, helped them generically. People of different colors, different genders have been more helpful than not. That's kind of the situation we find ourselves in right now. We find that there are people out there looking to help us, but we've got to meet them more than halfway. We can't assume that whoever is offering to help isn't genuine - that their help isn't authentic. Even if it is just their job, they're being measured on their performance. If they are paid to help us get in for the benefit of the company, then that is what they will do even though they may exhibit a bad attitude. They're honoring their paycheck - they're doing it to the best of their ability - and we have to understand that that's the olive branch that's been handed to us and we have to take it.
While working with minority business owners in 2018 and 2019 as a buyer and as a seller - and now as a trainer, coach, facilitator, and small business owner - I have heard so many people say “they're not really serious about doing business with us” in referencing other larger companies, or they'll say “they're just paying lip service. We're not going to get the big opportunities”. At this point, if you believe that, then that's probably true. If you really and truly believe that - it's probably true.
I want you to quit making excuses. There is a company in St Louis that has, at this point, about five point $7 billion in sales. There is a black owned company in Los Angeles with about one point $3 billion in sales. The one in Los Angeles is woman-owned as well as black-owned. There are billion-dollar companies that are run by people who look like us: diverse, non-white males and females.If you are thinking “Yeah, that's just one”, that really isn't the point because it turns out these are just the ones we know about. A lot of us want to get ahead and succeed, not because of how we look, but because of what we can do, in which case we don't want to bring attention to the fact that we are Hispanic, Asian-American, Indian-American, Black-American, African-American, a woman. We just want to be able to compete based on our ability to make a difference.
If you go to the Women in Business Enterprise Networking Council's annual conference, you'll see five-to-7,000 different women business owners. They have some 13,000 members. If You go to the National Minority Supplier Development Council's annual meeting you will see once again three-to-5,000 suppliers there, and they have over 12,000 members. There are 25,000 members in these two groups alone, so that's 25,000 companies that are actually pursuing corporate contracting just in the US. We're not talking Australia and the UK and any place else. There are diverse, minority-owned companies day in, day out that are actually succeeding in corporate contracting. I need you to overcome whatever bias you have internalized from what other people have told you, what you've read in the press, even to some extent your own personal experiences because bad things happened. Let that go. You really and truly have to adopt the attitude that you are going to assume the best intentions. You are going to be the best supplier you possibly can be.
You will still call out nonsense when it occurs because you have a responsibility to do that, but you are not going to assume that that nonsense, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, or any other bias was the reason why your business didn't get the contract. Excuses such as “they play golf together; their kids play soccer together; they go to church together; they go to meetings” are no longer plausible. The practical reality is a lot of people that are making the decisions right now grew up with our children. Their parents are in retirement. That old way of thinking is dying a slow death. A lot of the people that did what they used to do 30 years ago aren't even in place anymore. Quite frankly, the generation coming behind them includes many people that are like you and me.
and inclusion are big issues in most organizations right now, and not just because
they are trying to meet a goal. The business reason for diversion and inclusion
now is because they want people who think differently. If they keep going to
people whom they've always gone to, they're going to keep getting what they’ve
always gotten. When they start bringing in people who have different life
experiences, they get different input, they get different solutions, they come
up with things that resonate with an even larger customer share because they're
appealing to a new market - a new audience in most cases.
This is a market and audience that looks like you and me and has been overlooked for the longest. That also extends to the supply base. Corporations have to extend diversity and inclusion all the way to the supply base if they are committed to getting the innovation and the solutions that their company needs to continue to grow and meet and exceed shareholder value. It's just that simple. Sears is about done. Circuit city is done. We're watching Walmart try to reinvent itself as a result of what Amazon and Whole Foods have done. We've seen Microsoft reinvent itself after Microsoft took out IBM. Look at what Tesla is doing to Ford GM and of course who can say Chrysler, it's Fiat Chrysler - now with the emphasis on Fiat. There are tens, if not hundreds of thousands of diverse companies around the globe that are successfully selling into this market. Therefore, I cannot say with any accuracy or truthfulness or validity that the vast majority of the reasons that you might not be getting a contract, or I am getting a contract, is because we're diverse. That's just no longer true for the most part. Don't sleep though - it still occurs. As long as we have people we're going to have racism, sexism, Islamophobia, etc. I don't care how many generations we get from now.
An interesting thing that I went through when I had diversity training back in the 80s was that, at that time, they talked about 14 different dimensions of prejudice. It can come from whether you are bald or have hair; it can come from height; it can come from weight; it can come from education; it can come from race; it can come from religion; it can come from eye color. There are so many different ways in which people can discriminate against one another and actually hold them back. I thought, “I just can't keep up. I really can't - because if it's not my skin color, then maybe it's the fact that I'm bald. Maybe it’s because I'm brown-instead-of blue eyed; maybe it's because my degree is not from whatever the major state university is in whatever state I'm operating in”.
I can't keep up. What I can keep up with though is does my company offer the best possible solution out there for my target customer base that is within my control. This enables me to easily get in front of an open-minded customer, understand the challenges in their organization and help them to see how the solution I offer can help them accomplish their goals. I can do that day in, day out and I have enough organizational awareness and sophistication to help them help me because corporate relationships are never about the one person you're talking to. It's about the organization. Later on we're going to have a conversation about large account management and we're really going to draw open the curtain on what large account management means for corporate contracting, and why that is a skill your company but must have.
If you are relying on one single person for the life of your contract with a corporation, you're putting your business at risk. Very few things hinge on one individual, which is why another topic we'll talk about is the illusion of the decision maker. But what I want you to take away from this today is that if you still operate in the paradigm that a lot of what you experienced yesterday still dominates what's going on today, and then it affects your expectation around tomorrow, it's time to let it go. Today is a new day. We've got different people at the table. Decisions are being made in different ways. There is more opportunity for diverse businesses in 2020 than there has ever been. There is going to be more in 2021. There is going to be even more in 2022, and there is going to be even more in 2023, 2025 and 2030.
If we, if you, if I, if we don't change our mindset around how to take advantage of this, we will be left behind. I'm not going to let you be left behind. It's not going to happen – not while you're listening to blueprint pros podcast. You're going to understand what's going on in the business world; what opportunity looks like; what you need to do to craft the right solution to get to where you want to be; and how to reinvent your business every single year so that you're riding the crest of the wave and not taken under by the wave.