Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Big Blue Wants You: IBM Looks to Make an Eightfold Boost in the Number of Gay Businesses It Buys Supplies From

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Big Blue Wants You: IBM Looks to Make an Eightfold Boost in the Number of Gay Businesses It Buys Supplies From

Article excerpt

Alongtime leader when it comes to diversity, IBM is now making another bold move. The Armonk, N.Y.-based computer giant has announced that it is actively seeking gay-, lesbian-, bisexual-, and transgender-owned businesses as part of its effort to diversify the companies it purchases from. It currently uses 30 GLBT-owned businesses as vendors and says it hopes to increase that number to 250 by the end of the year.

Generally speaking, supplier diversity programs are good-faith efforts on the part of large corporations to ensure that they actively support minority groups not only by selling to their consumers but by buying goods and services from minority-owned businesses.

"We believe the financial opportunity to these businesses is tremendous," says Irwin Drucker, director for IBM's GLBT supplier diversity program. "Part of our program is to help these businesses grow, offer advice on how to expand, and find other [GLBT] customers for the goods and services they are selling."

The significance of this move by one of the world's largest and most powerful companies--IBM had revenues of $81 billion in 2002 and ranks eighth in the Fortune 500--cannot be underestimated, as contracts with large companies allow gay- and lesbian-owned businesses to grow and ultimately empower the community, observers say.

"This is really the next, big frontier for GLBT rights and equality," says Howard Buford, chief executive officer and founder of the New York-based advertising firm Prime Access and a longtime pioneer in creating gay-targeted advertising campaigns for Fortune 500 companies. "You need your own strong institutions in your own communities. If you only focus on getting jobs in large corporations, then you are totally dependent on them for your livelihood."

Chip Green, whose Voluntown, Conn.-based multimedia company, Green Ink Communications, is one of IBM's GLBT suppliers, agrees. "Having IBM instantly accept me and my lifestyle means I am far more comfortable working with them," he says. "And I am proud to serve a company that would and does support minorities of all kinds."

Numbers show that minority-owned companies have found great success through the contracts they've struck with both the private and public sectors. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, the federal government awarded contracts worth $6.3 billion to nearly 7,000 certified minority or socially disadvantaged small-business owners in 2001, the last year for which the agency has numbers.

Additionally, the National Minority Supplier Development Council, an independent certifying organization based in New York City, says that in 2001, $63 billion worth of contracts from private companies went to the 15,000 minority-owned companies that it certified.

Lucrative as these contracts have been, gay- and lesbian-owned businesses are not eligible for them because gay people are not considered a minority by either agency. Both provide "minority" certification to companies that are owned by African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, women, or, in the case of the SBA, are owned by people who can prove they belong to some other socially or economically disadvantaged group.

"The NMSDC was started 30 years ago, and this criteria was set in place 30 years ago," says one source at the agency who asked not to be identified. …

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