Your DEI Program’s Missing Link - Supplier Diversity
A great company can hold an entire conversation about its DEI program without supplier and vendor diversity even getting a mention. Of course the usual topics are recruiting and hiring, training and talent development, employee resource groups or even heritage month celebrations. The reality is that even in the heady summer of 2020 when so many US companies held DEI retreats to re-focus their efforts at racial justice and inclusion, many did not even touch the topic of where they spend their money.
In fact, supplier and vendor diversity belongs in the DEI strategy and not just as a technical adjustment to procurement. Supplier and vendor diversity done right offers a great opportunity to expand and deepen your workplace DEI work and create value for your organization, your employees and a wide array of your stakeholders.
Supplier Diversity as a recruitment and Retention strategy
A commercial real estate company we worked with set ambitious and laudable diversity goals for its management ranks, seeking to reach truly representative figures in key roles. At the same time, we helped the company adopt a supplier and vendor diversity program, and trained managers who had purchasing power on the rationale and the opportunity at hand. What resulted was not only success with building a deep roster of diverse vendors; the company also saw a whole new energy to their talk track in interviews with potential hires. Candidates wanted to hear about diversity at the company and reported they were blown away by the sincerity and depth of the commitment to diverse purchasing that they heard about from interviewers. It was no accident that those doing interviews were well informed about the program. And the positive results in recruiting and hiring owed something significant to the purchasing effort.
Supplier diversity DEI programs can have this effect because they show you putting your money where your message is. Fortune reports that “[n]early four in 10 respondents said they have rejected work assignments due to ethical concerns. More than a third have turned down employers that they feel aren’t doing enough on matters such as the environment, DEI, or mental health. And less than half believe the impact of business on society is generally positive.”
Gen Z and millennials are shopping for roles within companies that care and supplier diversity can enhance an organization’s ability to recruit and retain talent creating a more dynamic workplace.
Additionally, when you take the time to form and build relationships with business owners and operators, suppliers and vendors can be an avenue for referrals. Diverse suppliers and vendors can often refer diverse talent to you, helping to build a more robust candidate pool.
Supplier diversity as a means for employee engagement and cultural competency
Employees from underrepresented groups within your organization may have insights and recommendations for engaging diverse suppliers. Their perspectives and experiences can inform supplier diversity efforts and contribute to the inclusion of diverse suppliers in your supply chain.
This can be complicated, however. Keep in mind that you should not assign this work to employees simply because they are people of color, women or otherwise fit your definition of “diverse” for your workplace. A better approach is to encourage employees to share their recommendations AND offer an incentive. Helping develop a diverse vendor program should not feel like additional work but instead should feel like an opportunity to be involved in something valuable to the company.
Supplier diversity can have a profound impact on overall workforce diversity and it is not far-fetched to say that building relationships between your people and the teams at your diverse supplier and vendor companies can contribute in a positive way to your team’s cultural competence.
A bank we work with ordered lunch from a local Latino restaurant for 600 employees to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. That is a meaningful order for a small business. At the same time, however, the bank invited the owners of the restaurant and catering company to join a group of its lending officers for a conversation about business. What resulted was an unforgettable learning experience which undoubtedly benefited the bank. And all this came out of the desire to be intentional about workplace culture and vendor diversity.
By actively engaging with diverse suppliers and valuing their contributions, your company creates a virtuous cycle that positively influences your workforce and your effectiveness as professionals, leading to a more dynamic, innovative, and successful organization.
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