Guest Post by Michael Lawings, Regional Director Global Workplace Services Americas, Microsoft

Corporate real estate is in a unique position to make a tangible difference in the communities where we do business. These positive contributions take the form of what I have been calling Igniting the Soul of Real Estate.

Recently, my team accepted the mission to increase the representation of minority owned businesses among our suppliers.

Investing in the success of minority-owned businesses can reap tremendous rewards for all involved. Our real estate team is determined to give these businesses an equal footing in every aspect of our procurement process. The question is how do we get past “what we’ve always done” and transform our current supplier programs for the greater good? For our real estate team, the solution was to launch a Global Supplier Diversity Program where we make an intentional effort to broaden our business with small and diverse partners.

Although we’re still in the early stages, the program will help hundreds of minority-owned suppliers around the world expand their opportunities. The first step is identifying diverse suppliers, then providing awareness of opportunities, and preparing them to work with large corporations.

In this way we’re building a pipeline that will permanently change how we do business while helping transform communities where we have a significant presence. By extending economic opportunity to a more diverse pool of suppliers, we’re helping them grow, create jobs, and support local businesses, especially important during a time of economic recovery. We also hope our actions inspire the CRE industry to follow and consider more minority-owned suppliers in their procurement mix.

We’re committed to doubling our diverse supplier base in the next few years, but we can’t do it alone. We’re reaching out to partners, existing suppliers, and local organizations to connect with minority-owned businesses.

A great example of this outreach is Leapley Construction, the woman-owned general contractor already working on the interior buildout at the new Microsoft Atlantic Yards campus in Atlanta. Leapley exceeded our supplier diversity participation goals for the project itself and launched Crafting Futures Together, a six-month business development practicum designed to accelerate the growth of the community’s diverse small businesses.

The practicum helps diverse business owners improve their existing operations. Through the coursework on leadership, marketing, and operational excellence, participants gain the expertise to compete for work at large companies like Microsoft. We graduated the first class in September, and we’re excited to expand this practicum to the Puget Sound area.

For younger companies, our program offers a business accelerator curriculum led by Monica McCoy, founder of Monica Motivates, and Pitch University. The course helps women and underrepresented minority founders gain valuable skills on how to build a business, sell capabilities, brand, and plan financially. Two groups have already taken place.

These programs are just the beginning. As corporate real estate professionals, we have both the opportunity and obligation to act as stewards of the communities where we operate. It’s another example of how we can Ignite the Soul of Real Estate and together make lasting impacts that will benefit generations to come.

Editor’s Note: Microsoft’s Global Supplier Diversity Program was featured at the recent CoreNet Global Summit in Seattle. To learn more, visit the CoreNet Global Knowledge Center.

Michael Lawings is Regional Director Global Workplace Services Americas, Microsoft