February 10, 2023

From RFP to DEI: How diversity, equity and inclusion can help you find the best partners

Learn how to create a more inclusive RFP process, support supplier diversity, and boost your diversity, equity and inclusion efforts overall.

National MBEIC Executive Committee and Regional MBE Chairs
Supplier Diversity

My wife Meschelle and I have raised foster kids for over 20 years. These are kids were constantly told “No” or “You can’t do X,Y,Z,” or worse. But we showed them that they can be anything they want to be, as long as they have the passion, commitment, and determination to never give up. 

I have seen the importance of this firsthand, not just in the foster parent role, but from the obstacles I have faced and the challenges faced by those like me. Growing up, I was told I couldn't achieve my dreams, but I refused to believe it. Now, it's my mission to ensure that others from diverse backgrounds are given equal opportunities in the business world. I am driven by the belief that corporations should follow through on their promises for DEI and make a real impact. Not only because it’s right to do, but because diverse businesses deliver the innovation solutions they need to succeed.

Despite the challenges, I am encouraged by companies that walk the walk, creating programs to level the playing field. I am dedicated to driving change and holding corporations accountable for diversity and inclusion commitments because I know that this will also help the corporations succeed and grow our economy so that we can all rise together.

So how can we do this? Based on my decades of experience, I have outlined one immediate action companies can take and the steps to do it successfully: create an inclusive Request for Proposal (RFP) process. 

A seat at the table

As leaders within our respective fields, it is crucial that we make a concerted effort to ensure that our RFP process is inclusive and representative of the diverse communities we work within. In my role as a leader with the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) Minority Business Enterprise Input Committee (MBEIC, pictured above), I work closely with corporations that embrace supplier diversity–MBEs small and large–and have dedicated my professional experience to a very personal objective: seeing more diverse-owned businesses succeed. 

One fundamental way to do this is through supplier diversity, which means actively seeking out and doing business with Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs), LGBT Business Enterprises (LGBTBEs), and other diverse suppliers. Seek out diverse suppliers as you put out an RFP, and prioritize reaching out and inviting these companies and the different organizing bodies to ensure there is a seat at the proverbial RFP table for anyone who could be a fit. 

In my role as Senior Advisor for Strategic Growth at Social Driver, I was invited to speak at Webflow Conf in San Francisco last November, a convening of low-code and no-code Webflow developers, innovators, companies, and agencies. They asked me to address the importance of equity and diversity in technology. We all are working to have better practices and prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in our hiring and culture building to ensure we reflect these values. Simultaneously, we also need to consider the vendors we use. It is essential to drive measurable business impact while creating a representative and inclusionary community.

Kevin Williams at Webflow Conf 2022

Webflow and Social Driver have partnered to provide world-class solutions to some of the largest corporations in the world, while simultaneously supporting those companies’ supplier diversity efforts. Expanding and improving relationships with diverse suppliers is one of the keys to empowering the next generation of innovators and creators. By effectively collaborating with people of all backgrounds and identities, we can advance DEI and accessibility as core components of our organizations and industry culture.

It's important to note that diversity is notoriously underrepresented in the creative and tech fields. For example, just over a third of tech jobs are held by women, only 7% of workers identify as Black and only roughly 8% as Hispanic. This highlights the need for proactive efforts to create and lead practices centered on equity to combat racism and inequality.

Leading by example

To truly lead the field, it's vital that we define, measure, track, and analyze the effectiveness of our short to long-term goals, establish benchmarks, report on our progress, and identify any gaps and opportunities for future impact and improvements.

As we move forward, we must ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Do we need growth opportunities in areas where we wouldn't ordinarily look?
  • Are we recruiting, training, and hiring diverse candidates and digital firms?
  • Are our developer or design teams reflective of the community we're working in currently and with clients you are working so hard to get into?

I am inspired by what I am seeing from some companies and individuals who are are asking themselves these questions and walking the supplier diversity walk. To name a few:

  • Clint Grimes and Allison Roser Kube of Capital One prioritize diverse procurement at all levels. Capital One's supplier diversity program is exceptional, offering mentorship and support to minority-owned companies. The program involves collaboration between Capital One's procurement, management, and supplier diversity staff to help these companies prepare and succeed as vendors within the Capital One network. The mentorship aspect of the program sets Capital One apart and demonstrates their commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion in the business world. Meta has an amazing impact on supplier diversity, led by Jason Trimiew. In 2021, Meta invested $1 billion in diverse suppliers, focusing on Black-owned businesses. They've invested $3 billion in minority-, women-, veteran-, LGBTQ-, and disabled-owned companies across creative services, network infrastructure, facilities management, and more. Meta's investment in supplier diversity showcases their commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion.With extensive experience working with MBEs and women-owned businesses, Jeff Conley previously served as the manager of Supplier Diversity for Henrico County and now works for the Federal Reserve Bank. He also plays a crucial role in supporting businesses through his involvement with the Metropolitan Business League and Leadership Metro Richmond. Jeff is one of many individuals who are the backbone of supplier diversity efforts and their contributions are essential to the progress and success of these initiatives.The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) works tirelessly to support the minority Certified LGBT Business Enterprise® (Certified LGBTBE®) community. NGLCC's “Communities of Color Initiative” (CoCi) mission is to support the growth and success of minority LGBTQ-owned businesses through certification and business development by creating equal opportunities for the economic advancement and empowerment of the minority LGBTQ business community. This incredible effort brings together business leaders from a range of industries to work together, share best practices, and foster success. Justin G. Nelson, Sean Franklin and Alicia Greene (she/her) are doing an incredible job!
  • The Greater Washington Partnership is a nonprofit alliance whose goal is to champion economic growth and inclusive prosperity, from Baltimore to Richmond, to make the region the best place to live, work and build a business. GWP member businesses and colleges committed $4.7 billion over five years toward boosting minority-owned businesses and underrepresented communities. The pledge includes $2.6 billion toward procurement spending on diverse suppliers and Minority Business Enterprises. We are so grateful that Francesca Ioffreda invited us to present to this group as part of their efforts.
  • And we can’t forget, there are fellow MBEs, including VDart’s Sidd Ahmed, who is tackling the same equity conversation we are. Ahmed is a business leader who has grown his company and became a leader in the MBE community. Ahmed is dedicated to helping other minority business owners succeed. He spends individualized time with MBEs, showing them the ropes and offering guidance on how to be successful. In addition, Ahmed is also committed to preparing the next generation for the workforce and provides personal one-on-one resume training and assistance to college students.

Steps you can take

By prioritizing supplier diversity, empowering diverse-owned businesses and making DEI a core component of an RFP process, we can ensure that our teams and our vendors are representative of the diverse communities we serve and that we are creating opportunities for everyone to succeed. As you begin to craft an RFP, consider taking the following actions:

  • Develop and implement a diverse supplier policy that outlines the organization's commitment to working with diverse suppliers.
  • Partner with diversity organizations and certifications, such as NMSDC, WBENC, and NGLCC, to access a network of diverse suppliers.
  • Search additional resources such as Clutch and The Manifest to find potential diverse-owned vendors.
  • Reach out to internal stakeholders to identify existing diverse-owned vendors who are qualified.
  • Craft a list of diverse-owned businesses to ensure they receive the RFP.
  • Evaluate the responses from the vendors and make a decision based on the qualifications and experience of each vendor.

And finally, as you continue to create a more inclusive RFP and procurement process. Consider these additional steps:

  • Offer diversity and inclusivity training to procurement teams.
  • Foster open and ongoing communication with diverse suppliers to understand their unique challenges and to identify ways to support their success.
  • Provide mentorship opportunities to diverse suppliers to help them grow and succeed in their business.
  • Over time, assess your supplier diversity progress and make changes to the process as needed to continue to increase diversity and inclusiveness.

We've made remarkable progress in supporting diverse-owned businesses and advancing equity. I’m just the messenger here to underscore that we can celebrate progress while striving for increased impact. Companies that include diverse-owned businesses in their RFP processes not only walk the walk - but they end up getting the best possible vendor to achieve their business goals. Together, let's keep pushing forward to achieve these win-win scenarios for small businesses and corporate partners. I’d love to hear about your wins and ideas!