Corporate America's Urgent Need: Qualified Diversity Suppliers, Designers, and Creative Services

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Why are diversity suppliers in such great demand at American corporations? What is the link between the national economy and diversity? As a result of the changing socioeconomic and cultural landscape, large and small corporations alike are beginning to see the benefit of a diverse workforce to their bottom line. Diversity suppliers generate billions of dollars for U.S. corporations, according to a 2005 Duke University study.

Hanlon Brown Design of Portland, OR, and Chandler, AZ, is a certified diversity supplier that works with several Fortune 100 companies. The company currently has clients in the high technology, sports apparel, telephony, financial, and real estate sectors. Certified as a Women Business Enterprise (WBE) by the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), Hanlon Brown Design has worked hard to develop essential management skills and innovative services that have positioned the company to meet the needs of several large corporations.

Corporations require the aforementioned certifications in order to work with Hanlon Brown Design as a woman or minority-owned company. More than 4,000 corporate participants seeking diversity suppliers attended the National Minority Supplier Development Council Conference last year, just one of dozens of conferences and job fairs offered nationwide to match diversity suppliers with corporations.

Ranked by Media Inc. as the sixth most successful graphic design firm in the Pacific Northwest in 2006 and as the third most successful by the Phoenix Business Journal in 2007, and recognized as the 21st leading technology service provider by the Portland Business Journal in 2007, Hanlon Brown Design employs 27 people. Their core services are design for print, interactive, web and catalog.

"It takes an enormous amount of ongoing effort and resources to maintain our corporate relationships," said Noma Hanlon, President of Hanlon Brown Design, "from hiring experienced, well-compensated staff, to committing to staying on the leading edge of technology resources and ongoing requests of large corporations."

Aditi Dussault is the manager of the Supplier Diversity Initiative of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), which serves as the exclusive certifying organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) -owned businesses. The organization is only three years old, yet according to Dussault, her program, which connects corporate America and GLBT-owned businesses, has experienced exponential growth. WBENC and NGLCC have similar rigorous certification processes that can take up to 90 days to complete. Certification includes a comprehensive application form, verification of legal business structure, extensive reference checks, and an actual site inspection visit.

"WBENC and NGLCC are very focused on growing certified suppliers," says Dussault. "Still, these businesses must be ready and able to do business with large corporate partners. That is why only certain business are eligible to be certified." This August, the NGLCC website ( will launch an on-line application process and information on how to become certified.

"America's changing demographics and the creative and innovate edge that diversity offers corporations is why more companies are seeking to engage diversity suppliers," says Dussault.

A growing number of corporations are realizing the economic and social advantages of diversity suppliers in their culture, and many have made substantial progress towards engaging diversity suppliers. The top ten corporations on DiversityInc.'s 2007 annual list include Bank of America, PepsiCo Pepsi Bottling Group, AT&T, The Coca-Cola Co., Ford Motor Co., Verizon Communications, Xerox Corporation, Consolidated Edison Co. of New York and JPMorgan Chase. These corporations are a miniscule percentage of national corporations seeking diversity suppliers.

Hanlon Brown Design recommends several steps. "First, diversity suppliers must have a strong and capable infrastructure to be able to take advantage of the opportunity when the call from a potential vendor comes." According to Hanlon Brown's Gail Snow, a big part of this is attracting and retaining experienced employees and creating an atmosphere in which everyone feels free to share ideas. "Creativity must be put into practice," says Snow. "Not just from the design side, but the logistic side as well."

"When it comes to satisfying a corporate client, no job is too small, boring, or beneath you-that applies whether you are just starting out or if you are a 30-year veteran," says Hanlon. "At our firm [Hanlon Brown Design], if a project has value to the client, it has value to us." Hanlon also advises that working with big business means making up-front investments in things that are essential to take on large corporate work. For example, at Hanlon Brown Design, each corporate entity has an established separate and secure server. "We take time away from billable work to make sure we are a secure, trusted, and therefore sought-after supplier," says Hanlon.

"A deep and on-going commitment, on-going education, and the willingness to work within corporate American structure are essential," says Gail Snow. Some diversity suppliers prefer to focus on mid-market and small businesses. Snow encourages all qualified businesses to pursue diversity certification. "Your business may not be a fit for a Fortune 100 corporation, but there are plenty of corporations out there looking for qualified diversity suppliers. Certifications make you that much easier to find or quicker to hire, so investing the time and resources to identify yourself as a small or diverse business makes good sense."

Diversity Fact Sheet: The Importance of Diversity to the Economy
  • The World Wide Web 02 defines diversity as the respect of racial/ethnic, gender, cultural, disability, sexual orientation, and social differences in staff, suppliers, and customers.

  • The U.S. Department of Labor reported that in 2005 diversity suppliers employed 25.8 million individuals. Diversity suppliers have generated up to 80 percent of all new jobs over the last decade.

  • DiversityInc.'s 2007 "Top 50 Companies for Diversity" presents a rapidly expanding roster of corporations that seek the competitive advantage and higher performance of diverse employees and suppliers. This list is growing quickly.

  • In 2006, The Gay Press reported that 183 Fortune 500 brands were designed to appeal to GLBT consumers, compared with 19 Fortune 500 brands in 1994. This growth could not have happened without diversity suppliers.

  • Innovation and performance have also been linked to diversity suppliers. A study recently completed by University of Michigan sociologist Cedric Herring, Ph.D., demonstrates that diverse teams outperform homogenous teams.

  • Last month, former President Bill Clinton addressed the American Council on Education, and while he stressed the need for diversity in higher education for tomorrow's leaders, he cited a lack of diversity suppliers for what he estimated was one-third of America's companies actively seeking to bring diversity into their corporate cultures.

  • The U.S. Labor Department reports that by 2014, 36 percent of the U.S. work force will be a racial or ethnic minority and 45 percent of all consumers in the population will be non-White, Hispanic/Latino, or foreign born.
About the Author

Noma Hanlon is the founder and president of Hanlon Brown Design (HB) a multidisciplinary, privately held design firm specializing in print, interactive, web and catalog. HB has offices in Oregon and Arizona and is staffed and structured to serve large corporate clients. The company is ranked as the 6th largest design firm in the Pacific Northwest and the 3rd largest in Arizona.

Noma was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. As president of HB, Noma is responsible for overseeing the company's largest account and the overall operations of the company. She received a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Oregon in 1978. Noma also completed a semester at sea on World Campus Afloat, a special educational program designed to heighten awareness of both the diversity and the commonality of the human condition around the world. Noma has been an avid mountain climber, hiker, skate skier, and world traveler fascinated by cultures and places.
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