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Do Diversity Groups In Organizations Even Matter?

By Sharelle M. Burt As diversity continues to be an important workplace subject, leaders are now dealing with diversity fatigue. We find out more about the problem and how companies can combat it.

photo courtesy of Jon Rawlinson [FLICKR]

For decades, Supplier Diversity has been a key value on the scale of success when it comes to minority-owned businesses. Formed in the late 1960s in conjunction with the Civil Rights Movement, executive orders and federal legislation were put in place so minority-owned firms were included in opportunities to bid on government projects and those of major corporations supplying the government. Outside certification of minority status was needed to help with incidents of fraud and misrepresentations of the minority status of a business, birthing the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) during the 1970s to certify businesses as Minority Business Enterprises (MBE).

Over the summer, Bloomberg released an intriguing article regarding financial advisory giant Deloitte’s efforts to limit the diversity and inclusion activities and groups throughout the organization stating, Deloitte is beginning to shift away from traditional approaches built around gender, race, or sexual orientation and instead working to get a broader buy-in, particularly from white males.” WIN, the company’s women’s initiative, will end after 24 years. So, what is the new name for this shift in supplier diversity? NMSDC calls it Diversity Fatigue.

Eric Watson, president of Carolina-Virginia Minority Supplier Development Council

Diversity Fatigue has really changed the presence of indifference and has made business more complex,” said Eric Watson, president of Carolina-Virginia Minority Supplier Development Council. “Not only business but in people’s lives.”

NMSDC, which has 23 affiliate regional councils nationwide, something like a fraternity or sorority of minority-owned businesses, believes that diversity fatigue is causing more and more diversity initiatives to move away, using a “shame on you” posture on emphasizing what companies can gain from diverse and inclusive workplaces and communities. When it comes to revenue and a place in society, Watson thinks that companies with this type of mentality should really think twice.

If employees start rolling their eyes when topics of diversity and inclusion come up in the workplace, chances are diversity fatigue have already settled in. 

‘If there ever was a time to have diversity strategies, now is the time,” Watson said. “Not that people do things intentionally wrong, that’s always a factor, but more importantly, how well we understand the needs of others.”

The mission of the National Minority Supplier Development Council is to build MBE capacity and capabilities through programs and other education offerings as well as and to facilitate MBE-to-MBE partnerships, meeting the needs of corporate members. With thousands of businesses starting each year, large organizations used to jump at the opportunity to work with minority owned businesses to reach their diversity spend but now, not so much. “There isn’t the same energy or engagement surrounding diversity anymore,” said Watson. “However, I think there is still opportunity on both parts.”

To date, the Council’s regional chapters certifies and matches more than 12,000 minority-owned businesses with member corporations that want to purchase their products, services and solutions. Although being certified may not be as popular as it once was, the need for it hasn’t gone away entirely. “The market is not needed as much as before but it still needs to be approached, just in a different way,” Watson said.

“Employee Resource groups have evolved and will continue to do so,” said Watson. “Considering their purpose when they initially formed, it was out of a lack of affinity or the ability to express it. Actually, some organizations still need it, while some that are just beginning their Diversity and Inclusion journey may not skip over this phase.”

So how do organizations keep their staff from having diversity fatigue? Dr. David Livermore provided these tips to the Cultural Intelligence Center:

  1. Move diversity in your company from being a cost center to being a highly profitable investment to drive innovation.
  2. Use diversity as an emphasis on building skills.
  3. Diversity initiatives need to move away from a punitive, shame on you posture to emphasizing what we all gain from more diverse and inclusive workplaces and communities.

For a complete list and more of Livermore’s thoughts on how your organization can improve, click here.

About the author

Sharelle M. Burt

Sharelle M. Burt is a Marketing Specialist/Freelance Writer out of Charlotte, NC. A self-proclaimed 'beautiful dreamer,' she spends a lot of her time recording her podcast, "Headwraps & Lipsticks," spending time with family and her dog, Patrick. She also the Director of Young Adults in Christian Ministry at her church.

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