Supplier diversity champions 'must speak language of execs'

Container Store Supplier D&I manager LaTisha Brandon on why securing board buy-in is vital to the success of any supplier diversity programme

Embedding ESG programmes into operations is easier said than done for most organisations, and those that are successful invariably have buy-in at every level, from boardroom to shop floor.

Leading the way are businesses such as The Container Store, one of the biggest retailers of domestic storage solutions in the US. It is also part of a movement called Conscious Capitalism – a group of companies looking to optimise business stakeholder relationships, including employees, customers, vendors and shareholders. 

LaTisha Brandon is Vice President, DE&I, at The Container Store, and has secured executive support to build a supplier diversity program that involves departments and processes across the company. 

Brandon says driving a supplier diversity programme is not possible “unless you speak the language of the business”. 

She adds that if executives are engaged in supplier diversity for its own sake “disconnects arise because people are essentially speaking different languages”.  

“You have to be able to frame the conversation in the way that the business can understand”, Brandon explains. “This means understanding the data that’s most vital to your board and executive suite: namely, the revenue drivers.” 

Brandon was speaking with supplier.io, an SaaS-based data analytics provider that helps companies optimise and scale supplier diversity programs.

A recent supplier.io study shows that organisations increasingly are turning to supplier diversity programmes to enhance their brand image.

Its State of Supplier Diversity 2023 report reveals companies are investing in supplier diversity to:

  • Enhance brand image (53%)
  • Win new business (46%)
  • Align with corporate culture and workforce inclusiveness (81%). 
  • Drive ESG performance (55%)
  • Drive cost savings, risk reduction and innovation (65%)

Supplier diversity programmes 'need strong metrics'

Brandon says that having strong metrics and clear accountability measures is a boon for any supplier diversity programme. 

“This not only benefits the community but your organisation’s bottom line helps frame your programme as a vital resource to be invested in,” she explains.  

However, Brandon recognises that many supplier diversity leaders “feel like they are on an island apart from the rest of their organisation”.

“You quickly realise you can’t do it by yourself,” she says. “I took steps to turn executive engagement into shared accountability and ownership by establishing a Supplier Diversity Council at The Container Store.  

This Council, says Brandon, involves colleagues from across the business, including marketing, buying and procurement and HR. 

“Most importantly, it includes the final decision makers, such as the chief marketing officer.” 

Brandon says that this model has given The Container Store’s board “accountability for the program’s success, and helped them set attainable goals for the program”.

She stresses that part of speaking the language of business, and enticing executives to share ownership, is simplifying the process of supplier diversity. 

“If you make economic inclusion look to be this daunting task, it’s going to scare people,” she says, adding: “The trick is to achieve small wins early on. When I first joined The Container Store, I used Supplier.io’s data enrichment tool to uncover diverse suppliers the company was already partnering with and encouraged them to certify as diverse businesses.”

Doing so, she says, meant that just one of those suppliers helped increase The Container Store’s diverse spend by $20 million. 

“This made supplier diversity feel like less of a risk, and helped me set more specific and attainable goals in the future. Equity and inclusion is a journey”, she says. “There’s no need to boil the ocean.”  

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