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Supplier Diversity Initiatives in Procurement: Two Truths and a Lie

The following article will provide a glimpse into one of the most engaging panel discussions at the recent Procurement Foundry FORGE event on supplier diversity. 

Supplier diversity initiatives or the quest for diversity is nothing new. History reports that the first diversity initiatives came about as a result of the 1968 race riots in Detroit. Not long after this seminal event, General Motors launched one of the first supplier diversity programs. The rest of the auto industry soon followed.

Nineteen sixty-eight was the first window of opportunity to create a level playing field for minority-owned businesses. Unfortunately, progress in the introduction of supplier diversity initiatives has gained little traction since then—at least not enough to warrant claims of sustainable success.

Perhaps this is the reason why—despite his company’s pledge to spend $1 billion with diverse suppliers, of which $100 million will be directed towards black-owned businesses—is not quite enough, according to Facebook’s Director, Global Supplier Diversity Jason Trimiew

According to Trimiew, who, along with Apple’s Manager of Supplier Diversity Scott Vowels, was part of a panel discussion moderated by Cecil Plummer, we must capitalize on this new window of opportunity created by the George Floyd tragedy. What he means by “capitalizing” is the need to push or lean in to push for the change to broaden diversity initiatives that are “going to be long-lasting.” 


Embedding the Right Mindset for Supplier Diversity Initiatives 

Trimiew makes an excellent point about “leaning in” for sustainable change. After all, once the furor of the 1968 riots passed, there did not seem to be a bonafide plan to ensure steady and long-term engagement of minority-owned suppliers. In other words, once the crisis was over, the world (and companies—including procurement) fell back into familiar patterns of thinking and behaving.

Are we at risk of the same thing happening today? 

Trimiew believes that it is a distinct possibility unless we “embed the necessary systems.” In short, we cannot rely on people doing what is necessary without making it a core part of the way they do business and leveraging the right internal systems. In other words, good intentions will fade over time unless they become an intrinsic part of the processes and systems we use to buy goods and services.

Of course, when it comes to mindsets, a change is needed to transform diversity from being the right thing to do to be the smart thing to do. 


Two Truths and a Lie

When asked to tell two truths and a lie about diversity, Apple’s Vowels’ answers provide some interesting insights. 

The lie, according to Vowels, is that “you have to sacrifice something to engage diverse suppliers” from a “quality, time, or price” standpoint.

Regarding the two truths, he stressed that while diverse suppliers are just as capable and qualified as any other supplier, they can also be as bad as any other supplier. 

Think about these points for a moment, and you will see why supply diversity initiatives have never gained the expected and warranted traction.

The point of diversity initiatives, according to Trimiew, is not to create an advantage for diverse suppliers but a level playing field. That is the critical mindset that has been missing for so long.


An Opportunity to Get in the Game

To provide added context, Trimiew asks what basketball would have been like had Michael Jordan not had the fair opportunity to play. We could ask similar questions regarding Tiger Woods and golf or Venus and Serena William or Arthur Ashe in tennis.

When it comes to sustaining diversity initiatives, what is more important than good intentions and pledging to spend dollars? 

We have to create an enduring opportunity for diverse businesses to get in the game and have a level playing field to win or lose on merit alone. It is all about fair and consistent access!


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