KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City’s business community is challenging itself to be more intentional about working with companies owned by people in minority communities.

It’s part of KC Rising’s CEO to CEO Challenge, where employers pledge to create a plan to diversify the companies they do partner with through the normal course of doing business.

The goal is to make sure that businesses that might not otherwise have a seat at the table with some of the area’s biggest companies get a chance to earn their business.

“It became obvious primarily during the pandemic, when there were so many small and micro-businesses that didn’t have the types of connections that so many other businesses might have had,” said KC Rising Co-Chair Neal Sharma.

“Success is not only in getting the contract, but being visible,” said Connectus Worldwide Founder Mary Shannon.

Shannon stands to benefit from the CEO to CEO Challenges pledges from companies looking to work with her consulting firm, to help achieve their diversity and inclusion goals.

But her time working around corporate diversity programs before starting her own business means she’s experienced these types of relationships from both sides of the table.

“If you don’t have diversity at the table, what you have is groupthink,” said Shannon.

Research has proven repeatedly that teams made up of people with different life experiences and from different backgrounds are better at problem solving and often make their companies more profitable.

That makes the CEO to CEO Challenge not only equitable, but good business for organizations like the architecture and design firm BNIM, where director of design Steve McDowell signed on to the challenge after working for decades to make his company more diverse.

“The needle hasn’t moved that much in our profession, and we like to think that we’re doing a great job, but we know there’s always more we can do,” said McDowell.

They’re not only seeking out minority-owned design firms to partner on projects with, but they’re also bringing that approach to the company’s technology and food service needs.

Those are the relationships that Sharma says can help chip away at the income and wealth disparity gaps that often exist between the white community and communities of color, or males and their female counterparts.

Success, he says, is, “Prosperity that includes everyone. So that is to say economic growth, but economic growth that doesn’t leave one segment or one population behind.”

Shannon points out that it ends up being good business because supporting small businesses means supporting its employees too.

“When you think about it, if you’re a corporation, these small businesses and their employees are consumers with lots of buying power,” said Shannon.

“There are so many things that make Kansas City unique and special and those are the things we want to accentuate,” said Sharma.

“There are so many things that are like the rest of America and those things, especially those failures, that we want to learn from.”

The program launched with a pilot program of 12 companies. The goal is to have 100 CEO’s and their companies be part of the project over the next few weeks and months.

You can find more information about it here: Horizon 2021 – KC Rising

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