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In the wake of George Floyd's killing in May 2020, Americans poured into the streets and marched across the country to show their support for the Black community and call for change.

The movement helped to also shine a light on the impact that corporate support and actions will play in advancing equity in American life.

The focus on racial justice that emerged from 2020 should encourage businesses to revisit their diversity and inclusion efforts in 2021—and beyond.

Jennifer Nickerson, corporate citizenship manager for City National Bank, says authentic outreach is an important first step. There are also important questions everyone must ask themselves moving forward.

“How can I use my position, my expertise to effect change?” says Nickerson, who oversees corporate giving and volunteerism for the bank. “How do I personally and professionally take action that's intentional to make a difference? For example, if I'm an IT professional, can I volunteer with an organization that brings coding classes to girls or BIPOC clients? What's authentic to me and helps move the needle?”

Disparity in Black communities

More change is needed in all facets of life—from the workplace to health care, small businesses to large corporations.

For instance, a McKinsey Global Institute study found 39 percent of all jobs held by Black Americans—compared with 34 percent held by white Americans—are threatened by reductions in hours or pay, temporary furloughs or permanent layoffs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition, the virus has disproportionately impacted minority groups.

According to the CDC, Black Americans are 3.7 times more likely than white Americans to be hospitalized due to Covid-19, and Hispanics are 4.1 times more likely to be hospitalized. Death rates for both groups are 2.8 times higher than for the Caucasian race.

When it comes to entrepreneurship, research also shows Black entrepreneurs are three times as likely as white entrepreneurs to identify ”lack of access to capital” as a major detriment to business profitability. Research also shows, however, that targeted support efforts, which include mentorship, investing in minority community groups and developing supplier diversity programs, can benefit everyone.

In 2017, when City National Bank opened a branch in the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles, a historically Black community with a mix of affluent and low-to-moderate income households, its commitment was to serve everyone and not just its wealthier residents.

“As a business, you must be intentional with diversity efforts,” said Karen A. Clark, multicultural strategy manager for City National Bank. “In Crenshaw, we had a plan, and we committed to the people there. No matter who came into the bank, we wouldn't turn them away. If we couldn't lend to someone right away, we'd show them the steps they could with a business development center that could help them. And we support those organizations with real money, too.”

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Connecting local people to resources—such as microloans and financial literacy programs—is just one part of the bank's successful strategy in the community that can be replicated by other firms.

Here are some important steps you can take to help make a difference.

Corporate leaders: Prioritize supplier diversity

One way for business leaders to take concrete action is through their supplier diversity programs.

Some companies, for instance, mandate that at least one of the five or so suppliers they consider must be from a diverse supplier when they have a procurement need, although the final decision is based on merit.

The result is not only an increase in a company's own diversity but also a positive change in other suppliers' diversity as they're encouraged to look at their own inclusionary policies.

While many companies see the value in supplier diversity and would like to offer more opportunities to minority-owned suppliers, one challenge that many businesses face is that they have long-term relationships with legacy suppliers that can be hard to break.

We've learned one way to overcome this challenge is to talk with those long-term suppliers and ask them about their own supplier diversity and inclusionary initiatives,” says Sal Mendoza, manager of City National Bank's community reinvestment program.

“The key is to be intentional across the board and to bring together the different groups that can address what people really need,” said Mendoza.

Small business owners: Make yourself visible

“There are responsibilities on both sides to increase diversity in the business world,” says Clark.

One place to start is by reading corporate responsibility reports to determine which companies have active supplier diversity programs, explains Robin Billups, founder of The Billups Group consulting firm in Los Angeles.

“If you're a supplier who wants to work with a specific company, you can start by following their press releases and sending them a congratulatory note when you see they've acquired another company,” suggests Billups. “This also provides an opportunity to ask for a 15-minute meeting to gain insight on working together.”

Government agencies have established relationships with diverse suppliers. Corporations that do business with the government typically need to meet established supplier diversity targets, so that can be a good place for entrepreneurs to start making connections.

”You can also get certified as a small and/or diverse business, which can help those companies with an active focus on diversity find you,” Billups explains.

Getting certified as a minority-owned business is a vastly varied process that depends on a wide range of requirements that companies need to meet, Billups says.

While states and cities have their own certification organizations, you can accomplish the process through the Small Business Administration (SBA) and organizations, such as the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) or the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), Billups suggests.

Wanda Brackins, global head of diversity for RBC Wealth Management-U.S., agrees that certification and understanding the process of working with larger corporations can increase inclusion.

“We focus on training suppliers on how to work with organizations like ours because we understand how many small businesses don't know how to get through the red tape to be considered for an RFP from a larger business,” says Brackins. “We're affiliated with many groups that work to educate business owners and make sure they get the third-party certification needed to qualify for some RFPs.”

Everybody: Embrace best practices

Brackins and Clark also suggest go-to practices for business owners who want to engage with minority-owned businesses, including:

  • Researching multiple minority-owned businesses to include as potential suppliers.
  • Expanding your network to include minority-owned business owners who can share ideas and best practices.
  • Implementing inclusive recruitment practices.
  • Mandating effective online diversity training for your employees to help strengthen interactions with minority business owners and your community.
  • Expanding your customer base to include minority consumers.

Whether you're a business owner with the goal of increasing racial equity, or part of a larger corporation that wants to expand its diversity efforts, training and intentional outreach can benefit both sides.

Inclusion leads to profitability for everyone,” says Jackson. But remember the timing is important, too.

“Now is the time to strike and join a bigger conversation around diversity,” adds Clark. There are countless ways to successfully design diversity programs that reflect your brand, your business strategy and the communities you aim to serve.”

This article was originally published by City National Bank.

City National Bank is an RBC company. This report is for general information and education only and was compiled from data and sources believed to be reliable. City National Bank does not warrant that it is accurate or complete, nor does City National Bank represent that the information provided, if followed, will provide a complete safeguard of your information. City National Bank maintains security procedures designed to help prevent unauthorized access to your accounts and your information.