26 Aug 2023
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Navigating Corporate Obstacles as Minority Suppliers

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By Tyrone Showers
Co-Founder Taliferro


Growing up with dreams of being a television cameraman, specifically to operate a TV camera during a Cubs game, I embarked on a journey full of twists and turns. From attending Columbia College in Chicago to getting a glimpse of the corporate ladder at CBS, my youthful ambition was challenged by the realization of what it would take to get there - a 20-year wait for a "maybe."

So I chose a different path, one that led me to Data Processing after a calculated analysis of the job market. My journey continued with an accelerated program at DeVry Institute of Technology and a parallel aspiration of becoming a musician. Eventually, Data Processing won, and I settled into a career marked by ups and downs, reorganizations, and encounters with racism that I often failed to recognize at the time.

But the struggles and disillusionments I faced in my career mirrored a larger issue, one that extends to the very fabric of corporate America and its relationship with minority entrepreneurs. Many companies claim to have minority supplier programs, designed to level the playing field. Yet, like my experience of trying to climb the corporate ladder, these programs often turn out to be a facade, a series of never-ending hoops that minority suppliers are made to jump through.

These so-called minority supplier programs keep promising opportunities for minority entrepreneurs but deliver little more than broken links and dead ends.

Most minority suppliers to these companies are not really minority suppliers. The system is rigged, making it nearly impossible to do business. It's a metaphor for the challenges and injustices I've faced in my career and a stark reminder of how dreams can be derailed by systems designed to maintain the status quo.

I'm really poor at picking out racism, and I've learned to navigate a world that doesn't always play fair. That leads me to this story, a story of dreams, perseverance, and the harsh realities of how the game is often played. This is my experience embarking on the journey of becoming a minority supplier, highlighting the challenges I encountered.

Embracing Opportunity

When a persuasive friend encouraged me to explore minority supplier programs, I was initially hesitant. My partner and I were wary of being labeled as "disadvantaged" or having our achievements undermined. However, our friend pointed out the potential financial gains we missed. Intrigued, we decided to take the plunge and registered with the Washington State Office of Minority and Women's Business Enterprise (MWBE), a step we anticipated with mixed feelings.

The Hilarious Paradox

Our first step towards becoming a recognized minority supplier involved registering with the Washington State Office of Minority and Women's Business Enterprise. The process, however, held an unexpected element of amusement. To assert our minority status, we found ourselves in the ironic position of paying a fee and submitting various documents to a predominantly white organization. The situation's absurdity did not escape us, but we persevered and completed the necessary paperwork, eagerly awaiting the certification outcome.

Despite the amusing nature of the process, we recognized the importance of certification. It serves as a means to supposedly access various opportunities and benefits available to minority and women-owned businesses. By pursuing certification, we aimed to establish our presence and credibility within the business landscape while positioning ourselves for future collaborations and growth.

With the paperwork submitted, we now find ourselves in a waiting game, anticipating the "certified" status to validate our position as a minority supplier further. Ideally, this crucial recognition should enhance our professional profile and enable us to tap into a network of like-minded businesses and establish connections that foster mutual success.

By participating in programs like the Washington State Office of Minority and Women's Business Enterprise, we actively promote diversity, equity, and inclusivity within the business community.

We've been waiting for certification for over a month now, which might seem humorous to those not in the know, especially considering the relatively small Black population in the state of Washington. The idea of a waiting queue for certification in this context almost seems absurd.

Adding to the confusion, I've heard that most of the minority supplier certifications actually go to white women. This begs the question: Wasn't this program intended to level the playing field for Black people specifically? Though I might be mistaken, I recently came across information suggesting that less than 1% of the businesses certified are Black-owned, a statistic that is likely even more dire for Black-owned tech companies.

I won't dwell on this point, but it's one of those revelations that boggles the mind, leaving you wondering what on earth is happening with the system that's supposed to be providing support and equality.

The Quest for Opportunities

Filled with optimism and enthusiasm, we conducted an extensive Google search to find companies embracing minority supplier programs. The abundance of organizations supposedly committed to diversity and inclusion filled us with excitement and potential for growth and collaboration. We eagerly submitted applications, viewing them as gateways to meaningful partnerships. Each application submission represented our determination to seize opportunities and make a mark in business.

Unveiling the Intricacies

Among the companies we approached, American Express presented an intriguing process. Their application required disclosure of participation in the byblack program, a qualification we did not possess at the time. Intrigued by the program's unique approach, we enrolled, only to discover that the registration process resembled an interview to assess our eligibility. Hours were spent meticulously crafting video responses, a daunting task for small businesses with limited resources.

Although we understood the need for thorough evaluations, we couldn't help but feel frustrated by the lack of consideration for applicants' time and resources. As small business owners, we struggled to find the two hours required to complete an application. User-friendliness was not prioritized in the design of the registration process, leading to hurdles for entrepreneurs like ourselves. We now find ourselves eagerly awaiting approval, hoping that our efforts will be recognized.

The ByBlack program is beginning to feel like another endless cycle, a hamster wheel of waiting and uncertainty. We've been waiting for over a month now for approval, despite having made our status clear through a video. I've reached out through emails and messages, yet have received not a single response. The discrepancy between the effort required from the applicant and the level of communication from the program is glaringly disproportionate. Entrepreneurs like us don't have time to spare, and being subjected to such an extensive interview process without any communication is not only frustrating but downright absurd.

Another interesting process was the mighty Chase Bank. Hold your breath for this plot twist - after receiving ten approvals from various companies, our beloved Chase gave us a good old rejection. Can you believe it? The bank we trust with our hard-earned money, the one we waltz into regularly, and the same folks with all our banking records decided we don't fit the bill as a minority supplier. The irony! They must have momentarily forgotten our faces.

As we eagerly awaited responses to our applications, the thrill of becoming certified minority suppliers was accompanied by a curious challenge. We realized that companies did not proactively notify us of our status. Instead, it was up to us to log in and discover our fate.

Our first application was to KPMG, a consulting company that seemed like an ideal match for our specific skillset. Furthermore, T-Mobile personnel had expressed a keen interest in working with us, recognizing the value of our security knowledge. However, after two weeks without a response, I contacted KPMG directly, seeking clarification on the next steps now that we had been approved as a minority supplier.

To my surprise, the email I received in response provided little clarity. It simply stated that they would reach out when a suitable project became available. This left me perplexed since I had explicitly mentioned a suitable project involving T-Mobile in my initial application. It seemed like the connection had not been established, and I wondered if my message had been overlooked or misunderstood.

While we were elated to receive approvals, the lack of guidance and proactive communication from companies left us uncertain about the next course of action. We had hoped that our initial application, clearly outlining potential projects, would lead to more targeted and specific conversations. It did not!

Navigating Uncertainty and Limited Opportunities within Minority Supplier Programs

My next attempt to contact Accenture shed light on an unsettling reality - confusion seemed to prevail when it came to understanding their minority supplier program. Even their internal help system failed to provide any clarity. This raised suspicions in my mind. Were these programs truly genuine? To seek answers, I reached out to executives from Microsoft, Caterpillar, Okta, and Accenture, hoping they could shed light on the process of being considered for projects as a minority supplier.

To my dismay, even within KPMG, Accenture and EY, no one clearly understood how the program functioned. The responses I received from Microsoft and Caterpillar were the most interesting, albeit disheartening. They expressed that these programs often amounted to mere public relations gestures, lacking substantial opportunities for minority suppliers. It became apparent that whenever there was a request for proposal (RFP) or project, Accenture or McKinsey were the preferred choices, leaving little to no room for other companies to participate.

For example the person I spoke with someone who works at Microsoft - off the record but in all honesty - they said “that’s just a government check box - you’ll never get in”

And yet another person I spoke with who works in leadership at Caterpillar said in casual conversation after I asked if I could work with him “my hands are tied, I can only work with either Accenture or McKinsey and even if you get in, you’ll have to go through a 6 months to a year vetting process”

These were said to my face or over the phone - in confidence I might add - however most of the messages I got on LinkedIn start with “Here’s my off-the-record perspective”.

As I heard these discouraging accounts, my belief in the system's fairness wavered, yet I was determined to explore further.

I began engaging in email correspondence and conversations with individuals responsible for managing minority supplier programs in various companies. It became apparent that without a presence on Gartner's recommended vendor list, the chances of success as a minority supplier were zero.

To understand the process better, I asked companies where I could access a website portal or procurement email to submit proposals for the projects they needed assistance with, especially since I had already been approved as a supplier. To my disappointment, no company provided a means to submit a proposal.

This journey highlights the challenges faced by minority suppliers in gaining access to substantial opportunities within these programs. Despite being approved and certified, it became evident that the system favored established players like Accenture and McKinsey. The need for more transparency and avenues for proposal submissions created a frustrating cycle of limited prospects.

Nevertheless, my belief in the potential of humankind and the power of persistence continues to motivate me.

The Desire for Alternative Options and the Challenge for Boutique Consulting Agencies

Interestingly, in my conversations, many executives express dissatisfaction with the technology results they obtain from larger companies.

They yearn for the opportunity to engage smaller suppliers, even if just to receive a second opinion.

Just take a moment to browse through the websites of most large companies, and you'll likely notice an outdated and frustrating user experience. Believe it or not, millions are often spent on these clunky interfaces. But the shortcomings don't end with corporate websites; let's talk about Government sites.

If you've ever interacted with a Government website, you've likely been met with a design that seems frozen in the early 2000s. Broken links, "404 not found" errors, and help sections that never seem to match the actual page they're referring to create a nightmarish navigation experience.

What's even more baffling is that most executives are aware of these problems. Many would love to bring in fresh eyes to overhaul these systems, but instead, they find themselves trapped in a cycle of spending millions with big agencies. The result? The same mistakes are repeated, time and time again, leading to frustration for users and a lack of progress in improving online experiences. It's a situation that begs for innovation and change, yet somehow remains mired in outdated practices and wasted resources.

As one Executive put it “We have several minority businesses who have pitched us in this same space, and we would like to work with them, so the interest is definitely there to find a way to work with diverse suppliers.”

Having previously worked at Accenture and Wipro, I became aware that the primary focus was not necessarily to assist companies. Instead, a significant portion of the work is delegated to junior-level staff with less than two years of experience. While senior consultants contribute to the design and overall vision, the actual execution often falls into the hands of these junior consultants.

As a minority supplier, and one who has already received approval, the reality appears stark: the chances of working with a large company, especially as a boutique consulting agency, is nonexistent. This notion stems from the prevailing belief that established consulting firms, such as Accenture and McKinsey, monopolize the opportunities within these organizations. Consequently, the desire for diversity and fresh perspectives that executives yearn for remains unfulfilled.

It's natural to question how companies can boast about engaging with minority suppliers or claim significant spending with them. The reality, however, may be far from what meets the eye. What I learned is many organizations don't genuinely collaborate with minority suppliers to the extent they advertise. Instead, they often resort to deceptive tactics, such as doing business with a recently established shell company with a minority or woman figurehead, obtaining certification for these entities, and presenting them as legitimate minority-owned suppliers.

In this scenario, the individual representing the shell company receives only a small percentage of the revenue as a token for their role. On the other hand, the lion's share of the profits flows into the coffers of larger companies, such as Accenture and McKinsey. This practice raises serious concerns about the authenticity and transparency of claims regarding minority supplier engagement.

While it is challenging to determine the prevalence of such practices, I have encountered multiple instances where I was explicitly directed to engage with Accenture or McKinsey if I desired work opportunities. Even then, the process of being vetted as a genuine boutique minority supplier proved to be arduous and demanding.

This situation presents a significant challenge for boutique consulting agencies striving to break into the corporate landscape. Despite being certified and approved as a minority supplier, the barriers to entry are insurmountable. The limited avenues for engagement with large companies further restrict the ability of these agencies to showcase their expertise and provide valuable insights.

As executives continue expressing dissatisfaction with the status quo, the demand for alternative options and diversity in supplier choices may gain momentum. This presents an opportunity for minority suppliers, including boutique consulting agencies, to advocate for equal consideration and demonstrate the unique value they bring to the table.

In pursuing a more inclusive business ecosystem, executives and decision-makers must recognize the potential benefits that smaller, diverse suppliers can offer. By fostering an environment that encourages diversity, innovation, and collaboration, both large companies and minority suppliers can contribute to a more vibrant and equitable marketplace.


As we await minority supplier certification and responses from various minority supplier programs, we are left to pursue other avenues of entry into major companies because these programs often prove to be mere facades. This experience has illuminated some vital lessons and offered insight into areas that demand immediate attention.

Firstly, it's crucial for companies offering minority supplier programs to ensure that their procedures are transparent, accessible, and efficient. The prolonged waiting periods and opaque processes that we've encountered not only hinder progress but foster mistrust.

Secondly, companies should actively work to dismantle the barriers that keep genuine minority suppliers at arm's length. This means eradicating superficial quotas and genuinely committing to fostering diversity within their supplier base.

Thirdly, communication is vital. Keeping applicants informed about the status of their applications and providing clear guidelines after approval can significantly enhance the experience for minority suppliers attempting to navigate these often-complex procedures.

One valuable insight that emerged from our journey is the importance of having an internal champion within the company. After receiving approval, minority suppliers must often still navigate the complexities of the corporate structure. Matching them with a supportive internal advocate can be invaluable in this process. This champion can establish a relationship with the minority supplier, guiding and supporting them as they seek to make a meaningful contribution to the company's success.

Lastly, companies must recognize that promoting diversity goes beyond mere token gestures. It requires a committed, systematic approach that aligns with core business values and reflects a genuine desire to engage with diverse communities.

Hopefully, by engaging people in positions of power within Diversity and Inclusion programs and cultivating relationships with internal champions, we can work around these roadblocks and pave the way for growth and success as minority suppliers in the locked-down business arena. But it's time for corporations to step up and truly embrace the change that goes beyond mere compliance or public relations exercises. Real change can only come when there is a sincere commitment to rethinking these programs, based on the real experiences of those they are meant to serve. This transformation will require deliberate effort and a genuine willingness to adapt and grow.

Tyrone Showers