Sydney Stern Miller, October 14, 2020 | 3 min read

How to Navigate Supplier Diversity

This article was originally written for and published on The Charlotte Business Journal Leadership Trust.

There is no question that diversity within an organization allows it to transform rather than just perform. Many companies are more focused on diversity and inclusion efforts now than they have ever been, and most of us are familiar with the benefits of employing a diverse workforce. But something is missing from the conversation: the clear-cut advantages of using diverse suppliers.

Employers have an invaluable opportunity to not only make the workforce reflect the global population but also to supply their business with goods and services that are created and owned by diverse suppliers and represent everyone.

It stems from the idea that if we want our products to be purchased and consumed by a diverse group of people, then a diverse group of people should be included in the creation of that product. In that sense, D&I could also stand for design and inclusion. It’s the act of looking around and asking ourselves, “Who are we missing?” at every juncture.


What is supplier diversity?

Supplier diversity is the act of being intentional about where, how, what, and who you include in your supply chain to expand business opportunities for minority-owned companies. Similar to the steps organizations take to ensure their workforce and contractors are diverse, supplier diversity is the practice of looking for, tracking, and working with organizations that are owned or operated by a diverse team or by a company that shares your commitment to diversity and inclusion.

To identify a diverse supplier, look for at least 51% owned and operated by an underrepresented group, including racial and ethnic minorities, veterans, service-disabled veterans, the LGBTQ+ community, and women.


I am a diverse supplier. How do I get started?

There are two ways to begin. You can get certified, or you can simply start submitting your information to supplier diversity portals. We recommend doing both simultaneously. Several organizations do not require certifications to apply (i.e., Google, Bank of America). However, some organizations will require you to obtain a third-party certification from organizations such as the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), or the Center for Veteran Enterprises.

You must make applying to supplier diversity portals an active and continuous process for your team. There are resources available that make searching for portals more accessible, such as Diversity 411 and Get Diversity Certified. When you register with each organization, you will be given the opportunity to hear about openings when they become available. Other benefits include the opportunity to attend forums, submit for RFPs and gain access to benefits such as tools, training, and discounts.


What are the most common certifications?

Certifications can be obtained by federal, state, and third-party agencies. Below is a list of some of the most common certifications, but it is by no means exhaustive. You can also search for certifications by state and county.

For small businesses:

For women-owned businesses:

For minority-owned businesses:

For veteran-owned businesses:

The benefits of using diverse suppliers

The benefits of supplier diversity are vast and ever-changing. Supplier diversity allows companies to take physical steps past performative declarations around D&I by being more intentional and structured about which businesses are represented in their supply chain. This practice puts money directly into the hands of the suppliers. In 2006, the Hackett Group found that companies that participate in long-term supplier diversity programs generate 133% greater ROI than those that do not, boast an additional $3.6 million for every $1 million spent in procurement operations costs, and create innovative new revenue streams.

In addition to benefitting the bottom line, diversifying your supplier base also puts money and jobs directly back into the local and global economy. As these small businesses grow, so does their purchasing power and their ability to help boost their own communities, creating a ripple effect of positive growth.

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