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You aren't different from me, you are different like me. That is how Ernest Hicks, diversity manager at Xerox, says companies should approach diversity.
For Xerox, diversity seems like second nature. The company has a long history of embracing and recruiting minorities, dating back to the 1960s during the height of the civil rights movement.
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While the motivation for some companies is simply federal compliance with affirmative action policies and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations, embracing diversity can also help an organization grow its business. By gaining firsthand knowledge of a particular ethnicity or culture, VARs can target untapped markets. What's more, they can leverage programs that both the federal government and vendors have around diversity.
"We see diversity in the broadest sense," said Marilyn Nagel, chief diversity officer at Cisco Systems. "We talk about engaging the full breadth because that difference is what each person brings to the table. We don't want to subjugate but rather celebrate and leverage it for the good of the company," said Nagel.
Cisco believes that leveraging those differences can offer a tangible business value to the organization and to the bottom line. "[Because of diversity], we are able to attract talent, provide a greater opportunity around innovation and promote global collaboration," said Nagel.
Hicks agrees. "We ask employee groups to help us recruit from their social networks, and we have found over the years you decrease turnover and have a more stable employee base providing a greater return. It is a win-win."
At Cisco, its 12 unique employee resource groups are required to drive business, said Nagel. For instance, Cisco's Latino affinity group helped to drive business to its U.S. Web site.
Large vendors also have diversity programs around their global suppliers, an area that VARs can tap. Today many large customers require companies to demonstrate that they have diversity in their supply chain. For instance, many public bids for the 2012 Olympics require supplier diversity.
Supplier diversity is also mandatory when fulfilling contracts with U.S. governments and with most U.S. states and municipalities. Specific certifications--including MBE (minority business enterprise), WBE (women business enterprise) and DBE (disabled business enterprise) 8(a)--allow VARs to become eligible for these contracts. Beyond these government delineations, last year Hewlett-Packard broadened its definition of minority businesses to support LBGT (lesbian, gay and transgender)-owned business through its sponsorship of and collaboration with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, said Brian Tippens, director of global supplier diversity at HP.
According to HP, more than $10 billion in revenue came from customers requiring HP to demonstrate diversity in the supply chain in 2009. As a way to bolster its efforts, HP has hosted and participated in events with local business councils that introduce diverse suppliers to potential customers. Furthermore, through its HP PartnerOne Diversity Network, HP provides marketing and sales support for minority-owned VARs. Likewise, Cisco offers its own internal tools and frameworks to its VARs so they can attract diverse talents, said Nagel.
"If we can help our partners understand the value of diversity and how to support it, the more successful they will be."