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Are we doing enough? An insider’s view of business inclusion

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In my decades at UPS, I’ve worn many hats and worked in many roles, running operations and designing processes from billing to shipping — and everything in between. Through the years, I’ve provided support to just about every part of our business, learning and growing professionally every step of the way.

Despite all that experience, when asked to take on the role of Director of Supplier Diversity at UPS, the first thing I had to do was learn what the job actually entailed.

I had engaged countless suppliers to develop strategies, bolster new operations and provide technology solutions. I was a classic business stakeholder, trying to achieve my quality and financial objectives the best way I knew how, but somehow supplier diversity never hit my radar.

So, as I embarked on this new journey, I set out on a fact-finding mission.

“UPS has a long history of supporting organizations that certify and help develop diverse suppliers — and possesses a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion across the entire organization.”

The state of supplier diversity

What I discovered in my first month made me proud. In the area of supplier diversity, UPS already possessed a healthy budget, great executive support and a strong group of diverse suppliers with valuable products and services.

UPS has a long history of supporting organizations that certify and help develop diverse suppliers — and possesses a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion across the entire organization. UPS is also among the leading corporations working to build more inclusive supply chains.

Even with that success, it did not take long to identify challenges and new opportunities. As I scoured records to familiarize myself with my new role, I noticed areas for improvement.

Sure, we had success stories and thousands of diverse companies in the supply chain, but our spending with diverse suppliers had barely changed during the last few years. We had all kinds of mentoring programs, coaching efforts, educational initiatives and networking and matchmaking events, but that wasn’t enough.

To truly drive toward economic equality, supplier diversity can’t feel like a secret tucked away in the procurement function. It has to hit the main stage.

Stakeholders throughout the company need to talk about the mission, know where their departments stand in the effort to include diverse suppliers and hold each other accountable to deliver more than the status quo.

It was my responsibility to enable the change we needed and draft and execute the plan that would bring transparency, urgency and credibility to our mission. 

“To truly drive toward economic equality, supplier diversity can’t feel like a secret tucked away in the procurement function. It has to hit the main stage.”

Luckily, the next step was clear

To move forward, we needed to align supplier diversity with UPS’s strategic framework, and we needed to recognize not just the good we were doing for suppliers, but also the good diverse suppliers were doing for us.

Our partners and buyers needed to see diverse suppliers as potential sources of innovation and quality enhancements. To do so, we had to identify real and perceived conflicts in our messaging and processes and address them. 

We had to focus our efforts and find and develop diverse suppliers in areas where stakeholders needed new solutions to reach ambitious goals. I needed to engage buyers, stakeholders and certification agencies differently. I needed to understand their priorities and tailor engagement in a way that made sense to them. 

The good news? This approach resonated across the full spectrum of stakeholders. Senior leadership at UPS appreciated the transparency when I shared a candid assessment of our performance. 

Stakeholders and procurement staff became more collaborative when I took the time to understand their needs and then prioritized our strategies based on what would be most useful to them. They began to ask me for more data, more suppliers and more support.

In that first year, we made tangible progress, and our spending with diverse businesses increased 250 percent. With such traction, we invested in a larger supplier diversity team and expanded our outlook to additional countries. We’re planning for and working toward even greater progress in the months and years ahead.

At UPS, the commitment to inclusive supply chains is even more resolute. But in truth we, along with so many corporations, still have a long way to go. 

WEConnect International estimates that just 1 percent of corporate spending goes to women-owned businesses throughout the world, and although black and Hispanic-owned businesses in the U.S. are growing in number, employment and revenues continue to lag well behind. It is not yet time to celebrate.

“Simply valuing diversity and inclusion is not enough to drive organizational change — at least not at the pace we want to move.”

What’s next?

With supplier diversity, I like to ask two simple questions: Why do we need to talk about this? And what makes it so difficult?

With more focused introspection, the answers always follow.

We have to acknowledge the forces of expediency, familiarity and ego on our actions. Our unconscious biases can blind us to the urgency of the moment and settle us into what feels safe. Simply valuing diversity and inclusion is not enough to drive organizational change — at least not at the pace we want to move. We need to take steps, as my partners remind me, to “move our feet.”

We should celebrate achievements, of course. But rather than claim victory, we should use such progress as fuel for innovation and as confidence to expect even more of ourselves.

Whether we are talking about suppliers, employees, customers or communities, inclusion requires more than top-down statements and quarterly reports. It requires everyone in the organization to understand their role and actively participate. It requires the humility to admit we could probably do better — and the determination to do so.

When will I know we have arrived? It is hard to say, but ensuring we put the same level of scrutiny on diversity and inclusion that we do profit and loss would be a great place to start.

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