by Sherry Snipes

Director, Diversity & Inclusion
The American Institute of Architects

In today’s ever changing world, diversity and inclusion have become important elements of many recruitment and workplace inclusion strategic plans. While workplace diversity and recruiting remain important, think about the diversity of your organization’s clients, customers, and vendors. Put a diversity lens on all the ways they are different, as business entities, but also as individuals. Race and gender are typically the first characteristics that come to mind; however, there are many other elements that make them different. For example, disability, socio-economics, national origin, geography, education, height, weight, culture, sexual orientation, age—the list can be endless. If all of your clients look the same, you probably have an opportunity to diversify your customer base.

Organizations, regardless of size, should focus on diversity from a marketplace perspective. Clients and customers are demanding, requiring, or requesting that potential business partners have diverse teams. They may not be vocal about it, but when you attend a business meeting with— hmmm…three middle-aged white men—that client just might not call you back and you will never know why. If the client does business with the government or government contractors, they often have diversity requirements embedded in the selection process and are required to ensure that you have equal employment practices. Additionally, they want you to understand their business needs and cultural nuances. For example, if you are doing business in the Hispanic community, it may behoove you to understand, at minimum, rudimentary Spanish.

A sole practitioner from Iowa recently told me that there is no diversity in Iowa. I asked her if she had honestly looked at her marketplace recently? Consider this: there is age diversity in Iowa. there is gender diversity in Iowa. there is disability diversity in Iowa. By taking a closer look at the market and potential clients, she found that there were overlooked business opportunities. You may think your market is not diverse, but after taking a deeper look, you will be surprised by what you find. Here are a few facts:

    • Demographic shifts are happening domestically and globally;
    • According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of business start-ups (brick & mortar and other) by minorities and women outpaces start-ups by the majority population;
    • According to a recent study by Socio-Economic Trends, in heterosexual households, females make 43% of financial decisions vs. 31% of joint decisions;
    • The LGBT community has significant buying power ($712 billion in 2007);
    • According the U.S. Census Bureau, 1 in 5 Americans is considered disabled, and the number of disabled Americans will increase with the aging population.

What do these statistics tell you? Essentially, that there are opportunities to gain new business when organizations understand and leverage the diversity of their marketplace by looking beyond the usual suspects (a.k.a. your usual clients). Let’s assume you are convinced that marketplace diversity should be embedded in your overall business strategy. Start this process by learning and understanding the diversity of your marketplace. Identify gaps, and develop a plan to overcome deficiencies. Don’t forget to embed cultural competency and community alignment into your strategy. Good luck!