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Sustainability & Social Responsibility

Getting Supplier Diversity Going — From the Middle Up


Marilyn Thomas, C.P.M., Ph.D.

May/June 2012, eSide Supply Management Vol. 5, No. 3

These low- and no-cost ideas can help supply management professionals become grassroots change agents.

Although most organizational culture changes are difficult to implement from the middle up, supplier diversity is one exception. Supply professionals at any level can become agents of change in this arena, thanks to a number of low- and no-cost ideas. In fact, many can be undertaken with time and effort alone.

As with orchestrating any organizational effort, having senior management on board is a big plus. To this end, a statement from your CEO regarding the company's position on supplier diversity always helps; it filters down through the ranks, so success of your efforts will be easier to achieve.

Before you take a step in this direction, obtain your immediate manager's approval before venturing upward in the chain of command for approval. Talk to him or her about the idea of obtaining a statement from the CEO. (With his or her support, you can also engage the organization's public relations group.) Set up a short meeting with the CEO to discuss your idea, and have a draft statement on hand for the CEO's review. Usually, a member of the public relations personnel will obtain the CEO's statement — and, most times, even a photo.

A Few No-Cost Suggestions

To get the ball rolling in the direction of supplier diversity at your organization, a handful of no-cost ideas are available.

Volunteer to speak at supplier diversity events/training events. Get involved with local supplier diversity organizations via telephone or an introductory meeting. Offer whatever expertise you can regarding supplier diversity issues.

For example, you could speak in front of the local chapter of the National Minority Supplier Diversity Council, or NMSDC, which holds quarterly training events/meetings and annual conferences. Other options include your local chamber of commerce (Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Black Chamber of Commerce and so on), which also host such educational events, as well as a Small Business Administration (SBA) training event. Your SBA representative can advise when these gatherings are held.

Get published in the company newsletter. Submit an article for publication in your company newsletter that highlights your external efforts in the area of supplier diversity, as well as how good will is established for your company in doing so.

Additionally, give some thought to highlighting one diverse supplier each month/quarter, depending on how often the newsletter is published. Highlight the diverse supplier's ownership, products offered and awards obtained.

You can also highlight your supply chain/procurement professionals that award business to diverse suppliers. I'm sure they'd enjoy the recognition!

Create a supplier diversity brochure to be distributed throughout your company. Consult with your public relations group to help you develop a brochure that includes the CEO's photo and his or her supporting statement regarding supplier diversity. Talk about areas of opportunity within your company for which diverse suppliers can compete. Position the brochures at all entries and exits to the facility. Be sure to also place some at the front desk and in the central reception area.

Create a diversity council. In advance of quarterly meetings that focus on increasing the use of diverse suppliers, solicit the attendance of key decision-makers that impact sourcing within your organization. If necessary, enlist the help of higher-ups within your department; they can help encourage participation among their peers in management.

In my experience, supplier diversity professionals are typically at the manager or professional level, and can indeed seek support from higher-level management to establish a diversity council. After all, it's an easier initiative to enact if senior management is on board with supplier diversity goals.

As you develop the strategy, keep in mind the importance of working through the chain of command. Make sure your ideas are thoroughly thought-out, and have examples of what other, similar companies are doing.

At diversity council meetings, review quarterly results of spend with diverse suppliers. Discuss new business opportunities developing from the various internal departments, as well as ideas about how to increase spend with diverse suppliers.

Get senior management to speak at your supplier diversity training events. Set up a training event to instruct interested diverse suppliers how to do business with your company. Schedule the auditorium or largest conference room for a one-hour session.

A number of suppliers you're already aware of will likely want to attend. However, generate even more interest by advertising on local chamber of commerce websites and/or supplier diversity portals.

Supplier Diversity:Ring of diverse stick figures

Internally, be sure to advertise the training session several months in advance via the company newsletter and/or website.

Also seek the support of someone in senior management — preferably the CEO — to give the welcome address prior to training.

Once per quarter, invite diverse suppliers to showcase at your facility during lunch hours. Work with human resources to accommodate as many as three suppliers in the cafeteria or largest conference room during lunch time. Advertise their presence in the company newsletter, and/or print fliers and post them throughout the company.

Host a government training event at your facility. The Small Business Administration is usually looking for sites where it can host its training events. Secure your manager's, senior managers' — or even the CEO's — approval to host this group at your workplace. All it takes is time and coordination.

Additionally, if you can enlist your CEO to give the welcome address, you'll have an annual event that brings good will and recognition to your company.

A List of Low-Cost Ideas

A small budget will probably be required for the following suggestions.

Host a supplier diversity luncheon. You should be able to acquire a list of all the diverse suppliers your company works with, as well as a list of diverse suppliers in your area, from your local chamber of commerce.

While hosting a luncheon requires a small budget, it could be very worthwhile. You can make the event as intimate (just six or eight suppliers) or large as your budget will allow.

To keep costs minimal, it could even be a boxed-lunch event that provides information about doing business with your company, how to complete government forms or how to get certified as a diverse supplier.

Also consider inviting a speaker from the Women's' Business Council or Minority Business Council to talk about requirements for membership in their respective organizations.

Create an annual recognition event for supply chain/procurement professionals. Supply chain and procurement professionals need to be held accountable for their supplier diversity goals. Make it an attractive prospect by tracking their achievements and recognizing/rewarding them at an annual recognition event. (Only a small budget for food will be required.)

Create your own recognition program, and invite all the senior managers and the CEO. Get food catered by the cafeteria (if available). Invite all supply chain/procurement personnel. Schedule the event to take place in a space within your facility.

Sponsor a diverse supplier's attendance at a local or national training event. A number of highly credible external local and national training organizations exist — National Business Development Council, Minority Business Development Agency, the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and the Kellogg School of Management, to name a few. Each can be queried to determine if your budget would allow you to sponsor a small business owner to attend. In doing so, you create goodwill for your company as well as positive publicity.

Coordinate a quarterly raffle. Within the supply chain organization, create a quarterly raffle for small prizes — restaurant gift certificates, for example. Supply chain professionals can earn a raffle ticket each time they meet with, talk to or award business to a small business concern.

Be sure to attend this event yourself; doing so will surely provide insights into the supply chain group. You can also learn how to better create opportunities for diverse businesses within your company.

Start Anywhere — But Aim High From the Get-Go

As demonstrated by these low- and no-cost ideas, supplier diversity efforts can start anywhere in your organization. But, their promotion — and ultimate success — are greatly enhanced when these efforts have senior management's support.

Marilyn Thomas, C.P.M., Ph.D.

Marilyn Thomas, C.P.M., Ph.D. is a contract cost/price analyst at DCMA in Fort Worth, Texas. To contact this author, please send an email to

For more supplier diversity resources, visit the ISM articles database.

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