2014 Heroes In Diversity

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by Rita Palmisano

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Marilyn Stowers, Maritz Holdings

 After working in several roles in purchasing and finally as a senior buyer at Maritz Holdings, Marilyn Stowers was given the opportunity to assume the responsibilities of managing supplier diversity. She readily took on the duties and even continued with her role in managing the firm’s supplier diversity when she became the manager of corporate procurement. Part of Stowers’ role includes leading Maritz in its civic progress as a corporate member of the St. Louis Minority Business Council. “Being the Maritz representative came naturally,” she says. “I’m in a position to connect minority and women business owners with the appropriate people at the council as well as corporations.”

In addition to her work with Maritz, Stowers is pastor at a church in Hazelwood and the chairman of the St. Louis Area Minister’s Association. “Being in ministry allows me to see the immediate need of the community and to actively serve to support it if possible,” she says.

One challenge Stowers sees regularly when it comes to growth for minority- or women-owned businesses is in finances and exposure. “My affiliation with the St. Louis Minority Business Council allows me to point diverse business owners in their direction,” she says. “I’m able to tell them about the business and industry seminars, as well as the mentorship programs they offer. They provide consulting services that help diverse businesses grow their business.”

While Stowers, Maritz and the Council are still working on growing minority businesses in terms of financing and exposure, she has also witnessed the growth of several businesses through the initiatives offered by the council. “The growth and development of these businesses causes a snowball effect,” she says. “The diverse business community is strengthened economically, which ultimately contributes to overall economic growth.”

Her advice to minority-business owners is to understand where you fit in the market and target business within that space. “Once you’ve outgrown that space or desire to expand, do not be afraid to partner with other diverse companies to gain larger pieces of business,” she says.

Michelle Martin, Thompson Coburn LLP

Considering herself blessed to work with some of the best attorneys in the legal profession as the head of professional development and diversity at Thompson Coburn LLP, when Michelle Martin recognized that her 25 years of experience could be used to better the community, she did something about it. “In order to make a difference you have to be that difference,” Martin says. “You can’t wait on someone else to do it or fix it.”

For this reason, along with the joy Martin finds while being active in the community, her list of organizations to which she gives her time is long and includes the St. Louis Minority Development Council, the St. Louis Diversity Job Fair, the National Association of African American Human Resources, Mentor St. Louis, Read Across America and was recently appointed to Governor Nixon’s Missouri Foster and Adoption Board. This is just to name a few of the ways in which Martin gives her time, supporting women, minorities and the underprivileged. “Volunteering is one of the best ways to get involved at a grass roots level to assist underrepresented minority and women-owned businesses,” she says.

Through Martin’s years of volunteering and working in professional development, she has seen more relationships being built to foster diversity in the business community. She believes getting in the door is still a challenge to minority and women business owners though. Networking, making connections and building long-lasting relationships are Martin’s steps to overcoming this obstacle. “Relationships, relationships, relationships,” she says. “Build them, nurture them, and maintain them.”

Motivated to help others achieve their goals, Martin plans to continue giving her time to community improvement. “I enjoy helping move forward a vision, goal or dream,” she says. “We have to support each other and be united to be everything that God created us to be.”

Monica Bailey, McCarthy Building Companies

Since the beginning of her career over 30 years ago, Monica Bailey saw that her employer, McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., was focused on working closely to support diverse businesses in the community.

Ten years ago, McCarthy began to take it even more seriously by establishing a formal inclusion program, and Bailey was immediately on board. “At that time, I was offered the opportunity to help implement the diversity program, and we got the ball rolling from there,” says Bailey. “Today, I participate in our business development pursuits as well as run our day-to-day diversity program, which includes monitoring our jobsite efforts, meeting regularly with MBE (minority business enterprise) subcontractors/vendors and providing assistance during our preconstruction efforts procuring M/WBE subcontractors and vendors.”

In addition to her inclusion efforts with McCarthy, Bailey volunteers with a wide variety of organizations to support the development of minority- and women-owned businesses including: Mentor St. Louis, McCarthy’s Heart Hat and various task forces for inclusion in the construction industry.

“I have always been an advocate for inclusion in our community,” says Bailey. “When it comes down to it, I want the diverse businesses in our community to be able to have the opportunity to do work with large contractors like McCarthy and others. We all have to work and live in this community together, and I personally want to see everyone succeed at their dream of having a successful, thriving business.”

While supporting minority business owners in reaching their goals, Bailey often sees inexperience in the back office and cash flow issues impede their efforts. “Minority- and women-owned businesses need more consistent work to succeed over the long-haul,” she says. “To support this result, McCarthy provides supportive services through formal and informal mentoring and has an internal inclusion goal we strive to achieve on every project, whether there is an owner requirement or not.”

Bailey stays motivated with the belief that when everyone succeeds, it makes the overall community a better place to live and work. “It’s really as simple as that,” she says.