5 ways businesses can support BIPOC-owned companies in the COVID age
While it’s no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit small and midsize businesses hard all across the country, it’s been particularly difficult for businesses owned by Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC).
Research shows that 40 percent of Black small and midsize businesses stopped operating in April after businesses shuttered nationwide, a downfall that Vistage member Darren James watched as Chairman of the Board of the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce.
In response, James helped dozens of local businesses either pivot into manufacturing medical equipment or develop relationships with local banks so they could receive PPP funding. James estimates his member companies received nearly $4.5 million in federal aid this spring, a win considering only 12% of Black and Latino business owners who applied for loans reported receiving funding.
“We’ve corrected some policies,” says James, president of KAI Enterprises, an architectural design and construction firm. “Some of our businesses were either underbanked or didn’t have a true relationship with a bank. You’ve got to go sit down and develop a relationship with your business banker.”
The recent protests following the death of George Floyd have brought a greater focus on businesses to address the economic disparities between ethnic groups, particularly when it comes to access to revenue streams for BIPOC-owned businesses. But recent spikes in new COVID-19 cases have many business leaders fearing more shutdowns, James included.
“You’ve got people reluctant to venture back out and get engaged in the economic recovery that’s necessary,” James says. “This is a tough season to be in.”
Although things seem precarious, James offered five ways businesses can support BIPOC-owned companies while still focusing on recovery.
1. Get outside your comfort zone
While many want to help, they want to do it from the comfort of familiar environments, James says. Instead, he suggests visiting churches and community centers in other neighborhoods and talking to leaders about local businesses and their needs.
“Go and sit down with those residents and find out what’s going on, how they’re living and how they’re dealing with it,” James says. “Don’t just stay in your bubble.”
Business leaders who reach out should be mindful that “not everyone is going to want to talk and not everybody is going to want to educate you,” James says, adding that some may even find the effort disingenuous. Still, keep at it, he says. “They will cautiously accept your support to help build a better tomorrow.”
2. Find your passion point
In reaching out to organizations, consider groups focused on issues that share similar passions of yours that could use your expertise, James says.
“Regardless of what organization you’re part of in your community, there’s the same organization in another community that could use your thought leadership, your time, and your investment,” James says.
For example, if your passion is in mentoring, you can find similar programs in predominantly BIPOC communities. “Take that same passion you have for the kids you see in your neighborhood to kids in another neighborhood,” James says. “Go spend time with those organizations that are in underserved communities to break those barriers.”
3. Hire from all zip codes
James says business leaders need to recognize that qualified applicants for jobs come from all neighborhoods. By expanding your candidate pool into underserved communities, you could find highly qualified applicants eager to prove their mettle as a new hire.
“There are people from Harvard and Princeton in some of these areas that you wouldn’t expect,” James says. “Give them the opportunity to earn the same type of wage you’d give someone else.”
That last part has an added effect, James says, as many of those dollars will be spent in local business, helping to drive revenue in those communities.
“That’s a dollar in their geography, in their geographic footprint,” James says.
4. Share some of your “secret sauce”
While it sounds like competitive recklessness, James says sharing best practices, especially when it comes to operational platforms and software, can be as impactful as any resource a business leader could share.
“Everybody’s got something proprietary in their own business,” James says. “You can teach a lot to your colleagues by sharing what you’re doing without giving away your trade secret. You can say, ‘We use this software platform. We use this accounting software. This is how we’re communicating to our clients at this time.’”
By sharing those practices, business leaders can help BIPOC-owned companies cut down on inefficiencies, streamline operations and better manage their organizations. It could also lead to collaborations and possible business opportunities down the road.
“That’s going to go a long way,” James says. “That little bit you give them could be the thing that keeps the doors open and engender a stronger relationship that you guys can leverage going forward.”
5. Remember, this is a marathon
James urges patience to business leaders interested in building and maintaining these kinds of relationships with BIPOC-owned companies. These connections take time to create and longer to sustain.
If possible, document the work you’re doing and use it to remind yourself why this kind of sustained effort matters, James says.
“Make sure you remember the pain and frustration and exhaustion you’ve heard from friends and colleagues and business associates,” he says. “Remember it’s something you don’t want them to go through in the future.”
If you can, build this work into your culture so it remains sustainable long after the news stories and public discussions eventually subside, James says. But that level of involvement depends entirely on the business leader and whether or not this aligns with their goals and values.
“There’s still a segment of the population that is disenfranchised, disinvited and disconnected from the opportunities you see,” James says. “If you want to make that better, you’ve got to do it now and burn it in you so that you remember once you get to the other side.”