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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Supplier Networks

Just as your sphere of influence does not stop at the perimeter of your organization, neither should your efforts to be more diverse, equitable and inclusive. Along those same lines, when large-scale DEI efforts within an organization are expanded outward, the big picture can be dramatically impacted—for the better.

It all starts with the recognition that the true footprint of your organization includes the external network of vendors, partners, contractors and consultants that it takes to deliver a service or product to your consumer.

No matter what those vendors provide—whether it’s vending machines and copy paper or more along the lines of management insight and tax advice—they can take action on DEI issues too.

This month, at a two-day event in Houston, Texas, organizations that set the bar on supplier diversity will be celebrated as Women’s Business Enterprise Award recipients. This award is described as “the only national award honoring corporations for world-class supplier diversity programs that reduce barriers and drive growth for women-owned businesses.”

Sodexo, one of the honorees, partners with nearly 2,400 vendors that are led by minorities, women, service-disabled veterans, LGBTQ or people with disabilities across the U.S. As a multinational food service company with many suppliers, their emphasis on supplier diversity can inspire each one of us to consider building DEI within our networks.

Wondering how to make your way to a more diverse supplier network? There are many best practices to help get you there. The Billion Dollar Roundtable (BDR), created in 2001 and based in Mobile, Alabama, promotes and shares best practices in supply chain diversity excellence while celebrating companies that spend at least one billion dollars with woman- and minority- owned businesses. BDR recommends linking supplier diversity to the business strategy of the organization, and communicating that strategy both internally and externally. The group also encourages organizations to track and report results—and tie those results to brand positioning for maximum advantage. Another best practice from BDR: “Engage and collaborate with HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) to promote technology transfers, access to intellectual capital and research, and subcontracting opportunities.”

When selecting suppliers, ask about the demographics, and if appropriate, take it a step further and consider specifying what is meant by the term “diverse,” as award-winner UPS does. In its Supplier Diversity Guidelines posted on the UPS website, the company defines “Minority-Owned” as at least 51% controlled by minorities, both in terms of ownership and operations. The same rules apply to “Women-Owned” vendors—and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and/or Transgender Owned Business Enterprise (LGBTBE), vendors owned by veterans, and by disabled veterans, and more.

Since 1992, UPS has had an active Supplier Diversity program, with a clear-cut mission: “We believe that working with suppliers who reflect the markets we serve helps build customer loyalty, contributes to economic development of communities and provides the expertise and innovation we need to outperform the competition.”

Investing in funds that make it easier to identify eligible suppliers is another route to supporting supplier diversity. JP Morgan Chase invests in programs such as Entrepreneurs of Color and Advancing Black Leaders.

Whether it’s large-scale, or small-scale, ensure your DEI plan includes a diverse supplier network for maximum influence.

Writer Cedar Pruitt is a senior diversity consultant at IBIS, specializing in inclusive leadership and culture at organizations ranging from start-up companies to competitive universities.