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LGBT business event focuses on supplier diversity
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2016-09-28

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Law firm Baker & McKenzie hosted a Sept. 22 City Wide Pride event alongside the LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Illinois.

Four panelists addressed a standing-room only audience made up of representatives ranging from growing local businesses to worldwide industry titans on the topic of "Squaring the Supplier Diversity Circle."

Baker & McKenzie Senior Manager of Global Business Development Jeff Kessler was moderator for panelists including LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Illinois Board Chair Billy Stevenson, Grainger Senior Channel Development Manager Michael Gooding, British Petroleum ( BP ) HSSE Reporting and Investigations Lead Robin Hicks and National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President Jonathan D. Lovitz.

The question at issue was the inclusion of LGBT-owned businesses in supplier diversity efforts ( targeted programming and policies designed to boost or intentionally include the use of socially or economically disadvantaged groups, minority-owned and small businesses in business procurement practices ) as the next frontier for the LGBT community to make further advancements in the wider business world and global marketplace.

"Former Congressman Barney Frank said something that sums up what supplier diversity is all about," Lovitz said. "'If you're not at the table, you're on the menu.' Without supplier diversity, we're not at the table. We don't have our foot in the door. It's a chance for an LGBT or other diverse-owned business to win a contract on merit—because you're a really good business and you just happen to be diverse. What these programs help you do is cut through the old, white, straight male boys club of the CFO's golfing partner always getting a contract because they go way back. It's not supposed to work like that. Everyone's supposed to have an equal shot."

"The LGBT community's 'pink dollar' is $917 billion," Lovitz added. "But what does that mean if we don't put it to use helping each other? It's as simple as making sure that every dollar that every ERG [employee resource group] spends or that every one of us chooses to do with our own money thinks 'could I make a choice that actively supports my own community?' We've got big municipalities saying that it's time that LGBT be included alongside everybody else because it's not just the right thing to do, it's really good business-sense."

Gooding made the distinction between the use of an ERG and a business resource group ( BRG ).

"An employee resource group is typically more of a networking function," he said. "So there is not a business imperative that they're designed to solve. A business resource group is supposed to align to some pillar or some function that the company is saying 'we need you to do this because there's a problem.'"

Hicks described her company's BRG in evolutionary phases.

"We started as an affinity group and then it became an ERG and then it became a BRG," she said. "Just as it's a journey to become a BRG, it's a journey to engage in supplier diversity, too."

She admitted that it was difficult to keep people engaged in a BRG.

"Everybody's got a different hot button," she said. "What's important to them today, might be different tomorrow."

Lovitz dramatically illustrated why the journey towards supplier diversity is, in some cases, a life-or death issue.

"LGBT economic empowerment means something different in places where our rights are not the same," Lovitz said. "Lest we forget that, in 80 countries around the world, it is still illegal to say that you're gay. Eight where you can be put to death right now. One of the best ways to fight back against that is to arm our community with money. It's a lot harder to oppress a community when they've got skin in the game in a local GDP [gross domestic product]."

Gooding noted that, in the United States, federal contractors are required to "Submit a subcontracting plan every year to the federal government to say 'of the amount of business that I'm going to buy stuff for, I'm going to try and meet these socio-economic goals.' You negotiate with the government on what those goals are going to look like."

Lovitz quoted federal government estimates of 1.4 million LGBT business owners in America. However, he acknowledged those figures did not take a lot of people into account.

"It's great to say that the whole country is wonderful but we know that there are pockets that are not LGBT-inclusive yet, so let's make Chicago the best place to do business," he said. "So that it spills over to the next state."

For more information about the LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Illinois, visit lgbtcc.com .


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