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Rethinking Supplier Diversity

Rethinking Supplier Diversity

Editor’s Note: The following is an abridged Q&A with Kris Oswold, Director of Supplier Diversity at UPS, which was originally featured in Business Equality Pride (BEQPride) magazine. The Business Equality Network (BEQ) is a group of strategic media, consulting, research and business accelerators committed to reaching and empowering LGBTQ, women, minority and other underrepresented, underserved and underutilized business communities.

BEQ Pride: Let’s talk about your vision for supplier diversity in the future, the supplier ecosystem, not necessarily at UPS but looking at the broader space. What trends are you seeing and saying “This is where we need to be in 2025 or 2030”?

Oswold: While I wish I could see the future, I do think there are some significant areas we need to get on top of to drive supplier diversity – areas where I think we can be more effective and make bigger changes. I’ll start with the big thing: broadening the conversation.

I think if I were to point to one thing, it’s that we need to broaden the group of people we talk to – the group of people we engage and the group of people that understand the value the diverse businesses bring to our organizations.

You know, one of the things I recognized very early on in coming into this role is that I’d go to events and see the same people everywhere. We’re all committed to this, that’s why we go to these events, but I think what’s more important than talking to the same people is broadening the conversation to new people both internally and externally. It’s got to get beyond the CEO, and the procurement department; it’s got to penetrate the middle of the organization so all stakeholders understand the business value and the changes needed. We also have to reach a broader and wider audience of suppliers and look at industries and events differently so we’re engaging new people every time we reach out.

The big question for me is, how do we do that?

BEQ Pride: So are you saying in five years’ time, we need to see supplier diversity be more prevalent throughout the enterprise?

Oswold: Oh, without a doubt! I will tell you, we’ve had some great responses internally and we’re on a journey like everybody else. We’re not at the end of our journey but the reactions I’ve had internally, recently, I’ve been really pleased with and those reactions help me see even more opportunities and even more that we can do.

It’s also about broadening externally. It’s growing this network — the network of suppliers, the network of corporations. There are some really impressive companies that have been the bedrock for supplier diversity, and they are fantastic. We need them and I have learned from them. The challenge is that there’s a whole suite of corporations that aren’t at the table yet. How do we identify them? How do we bring them in? One way is through more robust Tier Two programs, but I think it will take more than that to broaden the network.

Thirdly, it’s broadening the group of suppliers. When it comes to certified diverse suppliers, there are many more businesses out there that we don’t have visibility to yet through our network and we have to be thinking about how to grow that network as well.

BEQ Pride: If you could change one thing about how corporations manage their supplier diversity programs, what would it be?

Oswold: Accountability needs to increase. Throughout corporations, more people need to understand the value of supplier diversity. More people need to be held accountable for the results and have better visibility into their spend and impact. We have to treat supply diversity like any other organizational corporate function. It must be aligned to the corporate strategy, go through rigorous business planning and goal setting, and experience the same standards we would hold any other function to.

I think, historically, I can see that it can be easy for some organizations to see this as something you do for good, but if you don’t quite reach your goal, do you react with the same level of intensity as if you didn’t hit your revenue goals? If the answer is no, you have to ask why. If supplier diversity doesn’t meet its goal and nobody is upset, where will the momentum for change come from?

BEQ Pride: What do you think supplier diversity professionals need to do to prepare for the next five or ten years? What skills do they need to hone?

Oswold: When we look at the supplier diversity profession, it’s helpful to think of it differently than what I see many corporations doing, even historically at UPS. We tend to put people in these roles who are very passionate about diversity & inclusion, often they are diverse themselves in some respect, and they will be in these roles for long periods of time: five, ten, fifteen years.

They’ll move from company to company in these same roles. They’ve got this great knowledge of this network — I’ve learned so much from those folks, it has helped me tremendously that I can sit down with some of these people who have been doing this job for a long time and quickly get caught up on some key issues that I’m interested in — but I do think that to change, it’s healthy to have outside perspectives and look at the resources that we put into these types of roles differently.

If I was trying to design the role of supplier diversity professionals for the future, I would want someone who is very well-connected and credible throughout their organization. Someone who can sit down and have a conversation with people at any level of leadership and have that business credibility so when we talk about the value of diverse suppliers, people get it. You need people who are operationally savvy and understand how the enterprise functions, how it goes to market and the strategic vision for where the organization is headed to truly understand its needs – then actively seek out and cultivate diverse suppliers that fit the need.

Passion for D&I, you certainly need to have that, but that cannot be the driving force. That alone doesn’t bring the weight to the conversation you need to drive change. We’ve got to move beyond passion and knowledge about supplier diversity alone being how we fill these positions in organizations.

If we do that and broaden conversations internally and externally, those things can help us move forward.

I don’t know what the future holds for supplier diversity, but I do know there is such opportunity out there and we’re not going to find it unless we do some things differently.

Click here to read the full Q&A by BEQ.

For more perspectives, check out Kris Oswold’s recent Longitudes article: “Are we doing enough? An insider’s view of business inclusion”.

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