Making a World of Difference

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.

"There never was a required business case for it. The leadership just thought it was the right thing to do. Every CEO has had that leadership and forethought," said Hicks, whose full title is manager of the Xerox Corporate Diversity Office. And if you look at Xerox's top executives today, more than 25 percent are minorities, with Ursula Burns, the first female African-American to lead a Fortune 500 company, at the helm.

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.

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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."

Understanding Certification: The Basics

Small businesses looking to expand might investigate specific certifications that can help them level the playing field and become eligible for certain government contracts that otherwise may be beyond their reach. Those certifications include the MBE (minority business enterprise), WBE (women business enterprise), DBE (disabled business enterprise) 8(a) and SBE (small business enterprise). The process can be confusing and time-consuming. However, it can pay off for those companies with the tenacity to see it through.

"The SBA has done an incredible amount of work to help small, disadvantaged businesses gain entry into the government market," said Min Cho, CEO of Nova Datacom, a minority woman-owned 8(a) provider of information assurance and security services. "Small businesses still need to prove their mettle, but the SBA certification program helps open those government doors that had previously been tough to crack." With revenue of $35 million, Nova Datacom ranked No. 416 on our 2010 VAR500 list.

The following is a breakdown of some popular certifications and what each entails. In every case, the company must be 50 percent owned by a member or members of a certain classification who is/are U.S. citizens.

Minority Business Enterprise

Companies can receive local, state or national certification and can apply to multiple states or cities for certification. Companies with federal certification may find it easier to receive state or local credentials. The National Minority Supplier Development Council provides a widely recognized, rigorous certification process through its local affiliates. Interested companies can find a regional group at

Eligible groups for MBE certification include: African-American; Latin American; Native American; and Asian, Asian Indian and Pacific Islander American. The fees for MBE certification are based on the revenue of the applicant.

Woman [-owned] Business Enterprise (WBE)

The Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) is the nation's leading third-party certifier of women's business enterprises. In partnership with women's business organizations throughout the U.S., WBENC provides access to a national standard of certification and provides information on certified women's businesses to purchasing managers through its Internet database, WBENCLink. WBENC certification is recognized and accepted by a majority of major U.S. corporations.

According to the WBENC, a business submits an application, along with the necessary supporting documentation and nonrefundable processing fee.' Once the applicant's file is complete, it goes to a committee for review. Required documentation includes P&L statements and balance sheets. The entire process takes roughly 90 days.

In addition, the SBA has 110 outreach centers specifically for women-owned enterprises and provides information at

SBA 8(a)

This program is run by the Small Business Administration and offers assistance to firms that are owned and controlled at least 51 percent by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. It is different from the above certifications because it is a business development program and has a required mentoring program. It is separate from the Small Disadvantaged Business certification, which does not require the mentoring component. Note that solution providers that obtain 8(a) certification are automatically granted SDB certification and can bid on federal contracts for Small Disadvantaged Businesses.

The U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) provides 8(a) information at

The goal of the 8(a) program is to instruct eligible companies on how to compete in the federal-contracting arena through public-private partnerships.

The Upshot

Regardless of whether your solution provider business qualifies as an MBE, WBE or 8(a) firm, the SBA has 900 Small Business Development Centers, offering free services to any small business, including providing help with writing a formal business plan, locating sources of funding, and finding opportunities to sell products or services to the government.

For many, certification has opened doors that otherwise would be closed. Take TechnoDyne: It is certified as a WBE by several state and local agencies and also by several large private corporations. Those agencies have certain projects specifically set aside for WBE-certified companies.

"This helps companies like TechnoDyne compete for IT services projects in open bidding along with the large competitors. We have been fortunate in recent years and have been awarded some good projects based on our past performance, qualifications and the WBE certification" said Padma Allen, president and CFO of TechnoDyne, who is also featured in a recent women-executive-centered group on our community site (go to

Allen is a member of the Women Presidents' Organization, a group that supports women-owned businesses, and which recently ranked TechnoDyne as one of the 50 fastest growing women-owned/led companies in the U.S.

"[Certification] certainly provides the motivation and fosters an environment for women to start their own businesses in areas typically dominated by men," Allen said.