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Standing Tall with OPPORTUNITY GLADIATORS: The Fight for Supplier Diversity
What would you ask the OGs of Supplier Diversity?
Written by Daniel Ellis
1. What is the Point?
In the robust and ever-changing field of commerce, Supplier Diversity (SD) emerges not merely as a strategy but as an arena of opportunity, challenge, and inclusivity.
This arena, etched with the indelible marks of battles won and lost, has been shaped by the relentless efforts of the Opportunity Gladiators (OGs) – the visionaries who laid the building blocks for a level playing field.
Their mission, transcending mere good business practices, embraces a social responsibility to make growth and innovation accessible to all, regardless of background or size. It's not just a historical fact; it's a living legacy.
As we navigate the complexities of the current supplier diversity ecosystem – whether as SD practitioners, DBE owners, or advocacy agencies – it is imperative that we continuously reflect on, honor, and build upon the path that the OGs have so courageously paved. Their wisdom serves as our compass, their struggles as our inspiration, and their vision as our call to arms. In honoring their legacy, we renew our commitment to the true purpose of Supplier Diversity.
“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Isaac Newton.
2. Key Takeaways
Embrace Curiosity in Supplier Diversity: Fully understanding the core principles that fuel Opportunity Gladiators requires an innate curiosity. Their pursuit of fairness, inclusivity, and innovation in the supply chain is a foundational legacy.
Active Effort and Commitment: Supplier Diversity is not an automatic outcome; it’s a continuous, deliberate effort. Achieving a balance to ensure equal opportunities for all, regardless of size or background, demands ongoing commitment within the supply chain.
Diversity as a Direct Path to Innovation: For brands and business operations alike, embracing Supplier Diversity is more than a goal; it's a direct pathway to innovation. By fostering an inclusive environment, businesses unlock new perspectives, drive creativity, and catalyze growth within the supply chain.
“Opportunity Gladiators maintain a positive attitude when there are so many negative emotions swirling around… they know there is a greater purpose.”
3. Conversations with Opportunity Gladiators:
A GUIDED Inquiry
As an active practitioner in the world of Supplier Diversity, with nearly five years of hands-on experience, I've had the privilege of working in this field, helping to globalize Supplier Diversity efforts. I'm eager to dive back into the ecosystem after a brief hiatus.
As I return to this dynamic arena, I find myself reflecting on the pioneers and visionaries who have played a pivotal role in shaping what Supplier Diversity is today. These are the Opportunity Gladiators (OGs), individuals whose dedication and insights have left an indelible mark on the landscape.
*See below for image sources
Among the OGs that I hold in high regard are:
Harriet Michel: A luminary who served as the President of NMSDC (National Minority Supplier Development Council) for an astounding 22 years. She championed the cause of Supplier Diversity and has been instrumental in its global expansion.
James H. Lowry: With nearly half a century of experience advising both diverse vendors and corporations, Lowry is a true trailblazer. His writings, including "Minority Business Success: Refocusing on the American Dream" and his latest work, "Change Agent: A Life Dedicated to Creating Wealth for Minorities," have been foundational to Supplier Diversity.
Michael K. Robinson: As the former Program Director for Global Supplier Diversity at IBM, Robinson spearheaded efforts to build a global supplier program that prioritized the inclusion of women and minority groups.
Reginald K. Layton: Serving as the former VP of Supplier Diversity & Supply Chain Sustainability at Johnson Controls International, Layton charted one of the most robust Supplier Diversity programs globally. His development of processes and policies has served as templates for countless programs across the industry.
These luminaries have paved the way for the Supplier Diversity community, and their insights continue to resonate in our efforts today. Now, as I embark on this guided inquiry into their vision and experiences, I invite you to join me in this exploration of the past, the present, and the future of Supplier Diversity.
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Imagine sharing a moment with the Opportunity Gladiators, the architects of Supplier Diversity's foundation. Their indomitable spirit crafted pathways where none existed. As we seek to build upon their legacy, we're prompted by these crucial questions, leading our imaginary symposium:
What Was Your Vision for Supplier Diversity?
Context for Question: Understanding the roots of Supplier Diversity by exploring the OGs' original vision can help today's practitioners align our objectives with the foundational goals. We need to preserve the essence of Supplier Diversity, an ideal established by those who pioneered the field. By channeling curiosity into the OGs' journey, we can uncover the arena impasses they faced, strengthening our resolve in the field of Supplier Diversity.
What Parts of Your Vision Have We Achieved? What Are We Missing?
Context for Question: This question aims to assess progress and identify gaps by comparing current practices with the OGs' initial vision. The context serves to remind practitioners of the original roadmap, ensuring that ongoing efforts resonate with the underlying principles that define Supplier Diversity.
Hindsight Being 2020, What Would You Have Started, Built, or Removed from Supplier Diversity?
Context for Question: Reflecting on the tireless efforts made to innovate and build programs within Supplier Diversity, we must also consider their varying levels of impact. What are the key items that may stand out as missed opportunities, misguided, or possibly even taking the field of Supplier Diversity backwards in some instances.
How Does Supplier Diversity Serve as a Direct Path to Innovation for Brands and Business Operations?
Context for Question: Exploring the connection between diversity and innovation enriches the understanding of how inclusivity can drive creativity and growth. This aligns with the broader goal of embracing diversity as a catalyst for new ideas. Capturing the instances of innovation created by diversity would be an excellent repository of the business case for supplier diversity which is the ongoing challenge faced by SD practitioners.
What Do You See as the Biggest Challenge Facing Supplier Diversity in the Next 2-5 Years?
Context for Question: Recognizing potential challenges from the perspective of the OGs prepares practitioners to proactively address emerging issues. In the last 3-4 decades supplier diversity has faced its share of challenges. Are these new challenges? How have we addressed previous major challenges?
How Should We Inspire the Next Generation to Continue Building Supplier Diversity?
Context for Question: Let’s engage the OGs in a conversation not only shaping the future, but also about inspiring future leaders reinforces the ongoing mission of Supplier Diversity. Let’s promote a legacy that continues to evolve and thrive through new generations.
Recently, listening to the NBA and NFL Hall of Fame speeches from the entering class, I was encouraged to hear how many players and coaches reflect back on legends that they looked up to and who they saw as foundational to the game today. This phenomenon isn't unique to sports but extends across various industries. In the tech world, we revere figures like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates as visionaries who have shaped the landscape of innovation. In the automotive industry, the pioneering spirit of Henry Ford and Kiichiro Toyoda continues to influence manufacturing and mobility.
As we conclude this exploration, it becomes clear that these questions serve as more than just a set of inquiries – they are our homage to the Opportunity Gladiators who have set the stage for what Supplier Diversity represents today. In much the same way that legends in sports, technology, and automotive fields paved the way, these Gladiators championed fairness, inclusivity, and innovation within the supply chain.
Their wisdom has become our trusty compass, and their vision our battle strategy. With each question posed, we echo the heart and soul of Supplier Diversity, ensuring that our every move aligns with the principles they've laid down.
So, let's keep their legacy alive as we innovate, build, and carry the torch forward. Just as in sports, technology, and automotive industries, Supplier Diversity's Opportunity Gladiators are our guiding stars, propelling us toward a future where fairness, inclusivity, and opportunity are accessible to all.
5. Your Voice as a Call to Action
Join the Ranks of Opportunity Gladiators.
Picture this – the battleground of Supplier Diversity is waiting for someone like you. Just like those Opportunity Gladiators of the past, you're being called to action. Join the fight for access, be the voice of innovation, and be part of shaping a world where opportunities aren't just for a select few, but for everyone. Take a moment to look back, roll up your sleeves for today, and steer the ship into the future. This isn't just their battle; it's yours too.
Let's honor their legacy, fuel our drive, and together, let's build on their trailblazing work to create a more inclusive and innovative supplier diversity ecosystem.
Daniel Ellis has served as a supplier diversity practitioner for more than five years with leaders in the automotive and consumer goods industries. He recently launched Aloha Laundry, an app that can reduce hospitality, restaurants and large corporations with towel/linen services reduce their environmental impact.
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Stay tuned for another best practice from Melanie Rae, founder of Plan with Peers.