Supplier Diversity Will Be a Key to Corporate Success

Paul Hubbard

By Paul Hubbard
Guest Column

Supplier diversity is an effort by large corporations to be more inclusive in their supply chains. Affirmative action has been applied to increasing diversity in higher education and employment. The recent Supreme Court decision that holds that the affirmative action admissions programs at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) illegal, while not addressing supplier diversity directly, represents an attack on Black and Brown communities and their businesses, says economist Frederick W. Mckinney, PhD, managing director of Minority Business Programs at the Tuck School of Business.

The same forces that were successful in overturning Harvard’s and UNC’s programs are the same forces that would see value in overturning the benefits of corporate supplier diversity. But more than that, McKinney says, these attacks share a legal philosophy and, more important, a vision of American society that is ahistorical and fundamentally a reflection of white supremacy beliefs and attitudes.

And that is why supplier diversity professionals and corporate leaders cannot and should not assume we can continue with business as usual. In the future they are coming for supplier diversity, I believe.  The Supreme Court vote was six to three with majority ruling that the University of North Carolina’s and Harvard’s admission policies violate the rights of white and Asian Students.

The legal history of the U.S. Supreme Court and its own reasoning in this case illustrates the direct connection between affirmation in higher education and supplier diversity says my Sigma Pi Phi Boule brother Fred McKinney.

It did not take long for the forces against compensatory minority business programs to attack. In City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co. in 1989, Croson, a white-owned contracting company, sued the city of Richmond for creating a set-aside program that requires 30 percent of contracts to be let with Black-owned and operated companies.

The US Supreme Court ruled in favor of Croson, and racial set asides on public non-federal contracts became illegal without proving a compelling state interest and specific harm.  Justice Thurgood Marshall made explicit reference for the need of affirmative action in his dissent.

In 1995, in Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena, Adarand, a white-owned contracting company, sued the federal government, which had established racial preference for federal contracts. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Adarand, held that racial classifications must be analyzed under a standard of “strict Scrutiny” (narrowly tailored to further compelling governmental interests) and federal race-based set asides became otherwise illegal.

However, no one has been prosecuted for the mob attacking Black Wall Street in Tulsa Oklahoma that killed 300 Black Residents, burned 1,000 homes and destroyed a vibrant Black business Community.

Economist Fred W. McKinney says we need to educate corporations to anticipate an attack on supplier diversity programs. Have the corporations start putting together a strategy that makes supplier diversity a legal need for their corporation. The corporations can also start working with HBCUs and urban school districts to start developing future suppliers’ networks that are Black and Brown that will compete with white suppliers.

Corporations need to start developing multigenerational strategic plans for their corporations to adopt. The auto industry in Detroit has been successful with all of the above diversity strategies.

Paul L. Hubbard MSW,