the blocking and tackling of front-line responsibilities.”
Corporate commitment to those two areas also requires a significant adjustment in how companies view diverse ideas and people, comments Janet B. Reid, a principal partner of Global Lead Management Consulting and co-author of The Phoenix Principles: Leveraging Inclusion to Transform Your Company (New Village Publishing; $22.95).
“The higher up you go, the less your advancement is predicated on technical skills. Those in the C-suite have to be familiar with, comfortable with, and trusting of you to let you in the club,” she explains. “That’s where the C-suite has to be willing to build a bridge to [develop a business relationship]. It’s the same with supplier diversity. It’s about building familiarity, comfort, and trust.”
For some companies, the heavier weighting on senior management and procurement made a difference in making the list. This year we saw a 19% increase in survey participation and several newcomers: WGL Holdings Inc., TIAA-CREF, Starbucks Coffee Co., Johnson Controls Inc., Ryder System Inc., Comcast, Texas Instruments, State Farm Insurance, Exelon Corp., Eli Lilly and Co., and General Mills. Several of the 40 Best Companies for Diversity employ executives from our 75 Most Powerful African Americans in Corporate America list and have procurement contracts with a variety of BE 100s companies, including Bridgewater Interiors L.L.C., ACT-1 Group, Siméus Foods International Inc., Manufacturers Industrial Group, and World Wide Technology Inc.
“The best way a company can show its customers that it values their business is by doing business with them,” states Harriet R. Michel, president of the National Minority Supplier Development Council Inc. in New York City. “This is an economy that functions on the exchange of business, so it’s not enough to have money coming into a minority organization from a majority company; there has to be an economic exchange with that same community.”
Unfortunately, at many companies there’s the assumption that minority suppliers cannot match the quality and national or international distribution mechanisms of current majority suppliers, stresses Reid. “The problem is there is rarely ever enough effort in developing the network or tapping into the resources that would help you find the best suppliers.”
Those companies who are the best at diversity and inclusion understand that challenge and have created the programs, systems, and tracking to make it an integral part of how they do business. “Not only is it part of their culture,” explains Reid, “they drive the culture of their majority suppliers — encouraging them to use minority suppliers.” Diversity, when it works, is developed and financed with programs for training and outreach mechanisms to grow contacts and networks. “Once corporations understand it, they support it with initiatives and tactical plans and then people,” explains Cousins. There are many who have good intentions, he offers, but for diversity to be successful, companies have to be willing to change their business approach. “Those who do it right do it consistently, and it’s a part of their go-to strategy. They track it, measure it, and commit to being the best in class.”