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5 Ways to Boost Supplier Diversity Success – From the Orgs That Do It Best

Supplier diversity leaders are more data-driven, proactive, business-oriented, and collaborative.

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Nearly all business leaders agree that supplier diversity is important. But if you look at the numbers, you wouldn’t get that impression. Across industries, the average spend on diverse suppliers is 3.6%. Some industries do better—tech is at 8%—but plenty do worse, including manufacturing (2.9%) and financial services (2.7%). 

In other words, the averages aren’t great. But across industries, individual companies are delivering on the promise of supplier diversity, with top performers spending 2-3X more with diverse suppliers than their peers. Who are they, and what can they teach us?  At Supplier.io, we set out to find the organizations that are putting their money where their mouths are—and to learn what they’re doing to succeed. 

In partnership with the Sourcing Industry Group, we conducted in-depth analysis of how best-in-class companies operate differently. Beginning with a research pool of 466 orgs in 15 industries, we used a data-driven approach to determine the market leaders—i.e., the 20% with the highest diverse spend. 

After we surfaced the leaders, we conducted one-on-one interviews to find out what they’re doing right. Among the interviewees were Ford Motor Company, Honeywell Aerospace, M&T Bank, Motorola Solutions, Inc., and Unilever.

Key finding: In our study, there was no clear correlation between supplier diversity success and the age, budget, or staff size of the program. In other words, success isn’t tied to how long your team has been around or how many people you have on the job. It’s the actions you take that count. What are those actions?

We uncovered five specific behaviors that differentiate the top performers from their peers

1. Dive deeper with data.

All companies use data—but how they use it, and the level of detail they drill down to, varies a lot. Leading orgs track metrics down to the business unit (BU) or product level. They set very clear goals and targets. And they use data to hold specific teams accountable. To ensure accuracy, all the leaders we interviewed use third-party diversity data, and they map it down to the BU level. Then they use the insights in multiple ways.

2. Take action earlier in the process.

Most supplier diversity teams meet with buyers to identify future opportunities. But leaders take planning to the next level by connecting with both buyers and BU leaders well ahead of the RFP process. They bring in diverse suppliers earlier and for specific purposes, identifying ways to innovate together. And they plan future opportunities from there.

3. Stay more connected to the business.

It’s common for supplier diversity programs to have the support of the business and to collaborate with peers in procurement and finance. But leaders go beyond procurement and finance, forming direct relationships with managers on other teams. And strategically, supplier diversity leaders stay closely connected with the organization’s broader vision and goals.

4. Initiate and maintain collaboration.

Collaboration between supplier diversity and procurement is almost a given; the procurement team is obviously in the logical position to provide support. But leaders take collaboration further by focusing on how they can support specific BU needs—including going out into the business to publicize their role and making it easy for BUs to get onboard. Leaders also work to streamline supplier diversity across their organizations. 

5. Leverage both data and relationships.

Some supplier diversity pros rely on data; others build relationships with diverse suppliers. Leaders excel at both. They use data to prioritize relationships with specific BU teams and diverse suppliers. And leaders are highly engaged in industry groups—not only to network but also to learn from peers, get data they can use, and influence supplier development programs.

And finally, a key takeaway that will help focus your efforts to build a stronger supplier diversity program: prioritize. Leaders understand that it’s impossible to do it all, so they don’t try. Instead, they build partnerships and, among the goals they set, focus on the achievable—and then get to work.

Curious to dive deeper? In Supplier Diversity Strategies Report 2023: Moving Beyond Best Practices, you’ll find a closer look at each behavior—and you’ll see specific tips from leaders at Unilever, Ford, Motorola, and more.

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