Shelia Hill Morgan, president and CEO of the Chicago Minority Development Supplier Council, says her organization helps level the playing field. “The council brings the buyers and the sellers together and bridges that gap,” she says. Photo by Jason Reblando.

In the competitive business world, Joyce Johnson, president and CEO of Anchor Staffing, has been on the brink of business deals many times. Yet, she has often missed out on the opportunities for being an African-American woman, she says.

“I don’t think people recognize minority businesses and take us seriously sometimes. I don’t think they think we are as qualified,” Johnson says.

But as a six-year member of the Chicago Minority Development Supplier Council, Johnson has been able to rise above such discrimination and land contracts with large corporations.

By providing networking opportunities, business fairs and education classes for both corporations and minority business contractors like Johnson’s, the council facilitates business partnerships between more than 13,000 certified minority businesses and more than 250 corporate partners—many of them Fortune 500 companies.

Shelia Hill Morgan, president of the council, said minority-owned businesses traditionally have not had equal access to the corporate world, so the council has stepped in to help level the playing field.

“The council brings the buyers and the sellers together and bridges that gap,” she said.

Created out of the Chicago race riot in 1968, the council began as a business opportunity fair, where local leaders wanted to empower minorities to take control of their own businesses. From that point, it grew to become the founding member of a national network of 37 affiliated minority development councils.

While the council’s inception came out of social unrest, Morgan said major corporations today see the diversification of their contractors as a sound business strategy. She feels this diversification may also help the economy of the whole country.

“The work that we do really does make a positive impact on both sides of the equation,” she said. “It’s necessary, if our country is going to recover, that minorities have access and opportunity.”

The council also certifies businesses as minority-owned—defined as at least 51 percent owned and operated by a person of color—in what Morgan calls the “gold-standard of certification” that is recognized by the state and other corporations.

Because the council is nationally recognized, Morgan said many minority contractors and corporate businesses seek out membership in the council. It also reaches out to businesses and hopes to continually increase its member base.

Janice Hopkins-Williams, program manager for supplier diversity for the U.S. Post Office, said the post office sought out membership in the affiliated national councils and the Chicago council in particular because of its extensive database of minority suppliers and rigorous minority certification process. In fact, Hopkins-Williams said that the structure and contacts in the Chicago council provided a basis for the post office’s own corporate supplier diversity program.

Though the selection of suppliers is still subject to a competitive process, Hopkins-Williams said that when businesses are in the council, that assures the post office that they’re qualified.

The council “helps dispel some of the myths around doing business with minority businesses,” she said. 

Johnson, who also serves as the vice-chair of the minority business enterprise input committee, said the council has given her business the chance to participate in one-on-one meetings and gain contracts she may not have otherwise received.

While Johnson acknowledged that she still faces some discrimination, she said the “vote of confidence” instilled in her company by the council helps her business gain more weight in the business world.

“I’ve actually had companies reach out to me as being part of the council and being recognized,” she said.

And with the continued success of her business and the growth of the council, Johnson said she believes both groups are paving the way for minority-owned businesses nationwide.

“We are hiring people, we are making strides and we are proving that we are businesses that can work with major corporations and partner with them and be successful,” she said.