As we exit from our economic recession, small business is the driving force of the U.S. and Illinois economy — employing more people, creating more new jobs, starting businesses at a faster rate than others and responsible for nearly half of all sales.
Small businesses’ power is enhanced by private and public sector’s commitment to and implementation of diversity and economic opportunity contracting programs.
The news is not bleak. While pundits and politicians wring their hands about the decline in the economy and its slow recovery, forward thinking corporations and government agencies including the city of Chicago, Cook County, the state of Illinois and the federal government are indeed seeking ways to increase business opportunities for minority and women business owners.
Affirmative action was introduced by enlightened lawmakers in the 1960s to ensure an integrated society in which all segments of the population have an equal opportunity to share in jobs, education and other rights taken for granted by the majority population. In federal government contracting, affirmative action was the wedge that finally opened the door, mandating today that 24 percent is the goal for purchasing from small business, and, finally, in 2010, 5 percent from women business enterprises.
What we’ve always wanted is a level playing field, parity, equal opportunity, confident that once we had the chance to tout our expertise and products or services, we’d have a healthy shot at jobs, promotions and lucrative government and private sector contracts. And why should diversity programs and affirmative action programs for women and minority programs continue? We do not plead our case because it is the right thing to do, though it is. No, it’s because our economic recovery is dependent on those programs and that commitment. And the business case for affirmative action is strong.
Those of us who have dedicated our lives and careers to supporting and encouraging diversity and parity believe that women and people of color want and need an honest chance to compete, a chance to operate in a fair marketplace. If we are truly concerned about our country’s economy, we must strengthen our commitment to diversity and economic opportunity for all of us.
There’s much we can do. We can support efforts to strengthen supplier diversity and vendor development initiatives. We should let our candidates and elected officials know where we stand on the issue of diversity and affirmative action. We can encourage and commend, and buy from corporations that have diversity in employment and M/WBE purchasing plans in place; and let these companies know we recognize and appreciate their fair-minded practices.
Our country’s economic strength depends upon all of us. The health and vitality of our businesses and their families, their communities, and our country will surely suffer if we don’t embrace diversity.