May 23, 2024

Hidden Stories of Corporate Citizenship: Why Public Affairs Leaders Should Embrace Supplier Diversity

Strengthening Community Ties Through Diverse Supplier Partnerships

Marketing & Communications
Supplier Diversity

“Damage control with our LGBT employee resource group.”That’s how a Fortune 100 public affairs leader described a meeting he needed to have to explain political action committee donations to a group of concerned team members.“We are an inclusive company. We’re doing so many great things for the LGBTQ community. But our ERG [employee resource group] is focused on a few donations we made,” he told me.

As he shared his talking points, I realized there was a hidden opportunity right in front of him.

“Did you plan to tell your employees that the company has a strong supplier diversity program to identify new diverse-owned vendors? That you have engaged members and sponsors of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce? And that it was through your supplier diversity efforts that you found and hired my company Social Driver, an award-winning LGBT-owned and minority-owned business?”

There was a pause.

“Anthony,” he said, “none of that even crossed my mind. But it should have. And I am definitely going to tell them that!”

Whether on the Hill, in the District or on social media, corporate and industry group leaders are always looking for ways to highlight their responsible business practices. This is true inside the company, to team members who care what the brand stands for, as well as to external stakeholder groups.

But many public affairs leaders may be unaware of success stories their companies are already investing in through supplier diversity.

Relationships with diverse suppliers might seem far removed from government relations and public affairs. However, most Fortune 500 companies have engaged in strategic efforts to identify diverse-owned businesses and include them in their procurement pipelines. These businesses go through a rigorous process to be certified as one or more of the following: minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned, LGBT-owned, and disability-owned.

So why have so many companies continued to make investments in a diverse pipeline of vendors, especially as the terms “diversity” and “DEI” fall out of favor?

According to Carlos Guzman, managing director of supplier diversity and sustainability at The Cigna Group, it’s not because it’s a nice thing to do. It’s good business.

Earlier this year, The Cigna Group announced that it had surpassed its goal of $1 billion in annual spending with small and diverse businesses in the United States, about two years ahead of schedule.

“Reaching this ambitious goal was an enterprise-wide effort, because we all recognize that investing in supplier diversity helps increase the pool of qualified suppliers, leading to better product quality, more innovation and cost savings,” Guzman said.

While the initiatives may live in the corporate headquarters, the impact extends across multiple cities and states.

“Diverse businesses disproportionately hire more diverse talent than large corporations,” he said. “When you invest in diverse businesses, you invest in local communities. It’s about growing employment in local communities. These municipalities want to hear that you are investing in businesses that invest in their local communities.”

Guzman added that these efforts go beyond direct procurement and include mentor-protege programs to help small companies accelerate their ability to do business with The Cigna Group as well as other corporations.

Leaders in government relations and public affairs spend enough time on damage control. They may find that learning about existing supplier diversity programs that their company has invested in may reveal corporate citizenship stories of responsible business that support their team’s goals in a difficult climate.

Here are a few questions worth considering:

  • Does your company have a supplier diversity team? If so, how could their success stories support your public affairs goals?
  • Does your ERG know about your company’s diverse supplier base?
  • Do the elected officials you’re speaking with know how many diverse local businesses your company or industry has hired?
  • Is your government relations team converting diverse vendors into advocates for your company or issues?
  • When your team releases an RFP or explores new vendor partners, do you reach out to businesses certified by the National Minority Supplier Development Council, the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, and other groups that certify diverse-owned businesses?

Article originally published by the Public Affairs Council here