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Supplier Diversity Best Practices for 2024 with UScellular™

The UScellular™ supplier diversity program drives improved business results by injecting optionality and competitiveness into their supply chain.

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Supplier.io recently spoke with Chris Cooley, Supplier Diversity Manager at UScellular™. UScellular™ is the 4th largest telecommunications company in the United States and prioritizes connecting the unserved and underserved. Cooley shares what he has done to get executive buy-in on supplier diversity initiatives, as well as best practices to follow in 2024.

Over the last several years, supplier diversity has been rapidly transforming from a compliance requirement into a strategic and essential business initiative. This shift was clearly captured in a recent Supplier.io webinar featuring Chris Cooley, Supplier Diversity Manager at UScellular™. With more than five years in the supplier diversity sector, Cooley provided insights into steering a major corporation’s program towards success amidst changing dynamics.

UScellular™ has a clear mission: to connect the unserved and underserved. This mission dovetails with the company’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and nurturing an inclusive supply chain. Their decade-long journey in supplier diversity is driven by the belief that embracing small and diverse businesses is not just morally right but strategically advantageous. Cooley emphasized, “Leading programs do a great job of connecting their supplier diversity program to their line of business counterparts,” highlighting the innovative edge and business value that diverse suppliers bring to the table.

Get and Share Accurate Data

Cooley shared the message he delivered to UScellular™ executives to start getting them engaged with supplier diversity. According to Cooley, a supplier diversity program has several benefits to businesses:

  • Diverse or small businesses support corporate America
  • Reduces purchasing costs through a broader supply pool
  • Injects optionality and competitiveness into supply chains
  • Retains and attracts talentImproves corporate image in the marketplace
  • Increases market share and awareness in targeted markets

However, it’s not enough to simply make these claims to the executive team. Supplier diversity leaders must be able to show proof via data and reports.

“The foundation of a strong supplier diversity program is your data,” asserted Cooley. This principle is the bedrock of UScellular™’s approach, ensuring data visibility across the organization to foster accountability. With the executive team’s growing demand for tangible proof of the program’s value, the ability to leverage comprehensive reports and regularly updated supplier lists becomes crucial. This data-driven strategy not only showcases past successes but also informs future engagements, weaving the supplier diversity program seamlessly into UScellular™’s broader operational framework.

Build Partnerships through Storytelling

Supplier diversity leaders also need to function as storytellers, sharing not only RFPs that were won but also why they were won. Cooley embraced this idea in order to align the supplier diversity program with the company’s strategic blueprint and get executive buy-in. At the end of 2023, Cooley was able to secure a CEO endorsement, exemplifying the power of internal advocacy and storytelling.

By highlighting innovation, cost savings, and market expansion resulting from supplier diversity programs, Cooley has crafted a compelling case for the program’s integral role in the company’s future. This approach, underscored by forming strong alliances within the organization, particularly with the DEI team, highlights the symbiotic relationship between supplier diversity and corporate strategy.

Combine ESG with Supplier Diversity

As environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations become increasingly central to corporate agendas, supplier diversity programs are uniquely positioned to contribute to these objectives. UScellular™’s foray into formal ESG reporting, as Cooley notes, adds another layer of legitimacy to the supplier diversity program, intertwining the narratives of sustainability and inclusivity.

For supplier diversity leaders at the beginning stages of their data journey, the goal is clear: Expand the scope of supplier assessment to include sustainability metrics, thereby enriching the program’s impact and relevance.

Conclusion

The journey from engagement to partnership defines UScellular™’s strategic vision for supplier diversity in 2024. Cooley’s ambition to revisit and deepen the relationships forged is indicative of a broader industry trend: the evolution of supplier diversity from a peripheral function to a central pillar of business strategy. In an era where the business value of diversity is increasingly recognized and scrutinized, the lessons from UScellular™’s experience offer a roadmap for embedding supplier diversity into the fabric of corporate America. As Cooley aptly summarizes, “My goal for 2023 was engagement. For 2024, my goal is partnership.”

Hear directly from Chris in this recent webinar.

Download the full Best Practices for 2024 Report.

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