Inclusion must remain an essential business strategy

October 19, 2009
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It has been widely reported that the hard-recruited millennial generation is one to look at the "quality of life" aspects of a region in which they may choose to work, and those aspects include diversity in a community's population. So it is another concern in the metropolitan area that the number of minority-owned businesses is shrinking and that few women are being advanced to the "C suite" jobs at Michigan companies.

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce will spotlight this community's minority-owned businesses with an awards dinner Oct. 26, intended to continue to help identify area minority businesses and provide for their inclusion in the usual course of business.

Michigan voter passage of Proposition 2, a constitutional amendment that bans the use of race and gender preferences in university admissions and government hiring and contracting, certainly has created greater difficulty in identifying such businesses or opportunities. Its "ripple effect" is thought to have increased the unique difficulties faced by minority businesses in an economic climate that has closed any number of long-time, non-minority local businesses.

The Business Journal last week focused on minority businesses and reported a shrinking number of minority business members, and the impact of the financial crisis on these companies. This week, Inforum Center for Leadership released its biennial Women's Leadership Index, showing what can be considered as negligible progress in the number of women advancing to corporate leadership roles or onto corporate boards of directors.

The Inforum study, conducted by the Eastern Michigan University College of Business, showed that 83 women hold one of the 866 board seats available at Michigan Index 100 companies — a rate unchanged since 2003. In the entire state, 41 women are now in the top five of the most-highly compensated executives at their companies.

In little better news, three companies in the Top 100 index were led by women CEOs. In 2007, there were none. Green Energy Live Inc., a biofuel company in Wyoming, was among Inforum's Most Valuable Players for 2009, led by president and CEO Karen Clark.

EMU Associate Professor of Management Megan Endres noted that "women corporate leaders are a key resource that remains dormant" in Michigan.

Erhardt Construction will be among the businesses honored next week by the chamber for its role as a minority business advocate. Modern Fire & Security Systems Inc. cited Erhardt's commitment to work with minority businesses as one reason it has succeeded, not just as a minority subcontractor but as a prime contractor.

With the loss of the city of Grand Rapids' minority contractor lists, there is no "easy" method for businesses to connect and create continued diversification of the economy. It therefore must be a calculated and purposeful standard operating procedure, as a part of company recruitment, customer outreach or vendor list additions. This extends to the women who are hitting glass ceilings or who are not given thought for corporate board seats.

Inclusion enhances this community and is important for its economic vitality.

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