Editor’s note: The following story was sponsored by KC Rising, a regional initiative to help Kansas City grow faster and more intentionally, as part of a campaign to promote its CEO-to-CEO Challenge on supplier diversity.
Successful efforts to promote increased, consistent spending with more diverse small businesses must start with C-Suite buy-in, Christine Kelly said, otherwise employers simply have a “token program.”
“That is where people only do just enough to say they’re doing something. You need to have total support from those who direct and manage the company — your CEOs, presidents or chancellors — to hold the company accountable for accomplishing these efforts,” said Kelly, who serves as the program coordinator of supplier diversity at Metropolitan Community College (MCC) and has been working in the field for more than 25 years.
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Known as one of the best in the business of supplier diversity, Kelly has teamed up with KC Rising on its CEO-to-CEO Challenge — an initiative encouraging corporate CEOs to increase spending with diverse small businesses.
Click here to take the pledge or to learn more about what accepting the challenge entails.
“I’ve been working with Sheri Gonzales [director of KC Rising and vice president of the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City] for the past couple of years, and she’s made a believer out of me — that this is not just a bunch of talk,” Kelly said, referencing that when she’s tried to help companies in the past, they have been disingenuous with following through on their plans.
Click here to see which companies were among the first dozen to join the CEO-to-CEO Challenge.
MCC is one of the 12 companies and organizations in the CEO-to-CEO Challenge’s first cohort. Although the college has been championing supplier diversity efforts since 1989, Kelly admitted the field can be difficult to navigate.
“It’s a full-time position that many are trying to do part-time,” she said. “I will tell you that, right now, there’s only a handful of supply diversity professionals who are doing this job full time — and I’m one of the few. I think you will find that those who are doing it part time, their programs are not as robust as they would desire them to be because they have to divide their time with other resources.”
Looking to make supplier diversity easier for companies in the future, H&R Block — another challenge participant — is in the beginning stages of creating a playbook for other companies that are working on supplier diversity efforts for the first time.
The CEO-to-CEO Challenge is powered by Connectus Worldwide, KC Rising and KCSourceLink in collaboration with the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
Click here to take the challenge.
“Supplier diversity is deceptively difficult,” said Alan Lowden, chief information officer at H&R Block. “There are so many suppliers out there, and it’s hard to find them. You also have to influence so many people across a single company because buying happens all over the place. So we have to ask, ‘How do we get our arms around all the people in the community with the tools (suppliers), as well as all those in the company who need them?’”
In searching for possible suppliers, an individual comes across numerous lists — but a list only goes so far, said Gina Monger, the sourcing director at H&R Block who has taken on supplier diversity efforts.
“There are lists for minority-owned businesses, lists for women-owned businesses… but a list doesn’t tell me who has specific skills in what,” Monger noted. “I need more information, but don’t have time to call every person on a list and ask. That is one of the biggest barriers we are running into. We are working to develop a more sustainable solution and exploring the possibility of technology to connect.”
Before the CEO-to-CEO Challenge’s launch, Lowden met with Kelly to discuss where corporate efforts can be focused. Their conversation helped lead to the challenge’s focus on supplier diversity, they shared.
Click here to read about H&R Block’s recent inclusion and belonging efforts, which include showcasing Black vendors and products made by Black entrepreneurs.
Diversity, equity and inclusion departments and efforts have been gaining momentum within corporations in recent years, Kelly noted — but before DEI, there was supplier diversity.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion is focused on the internal — internally thinking about the employer and their staff,” Kelly explained. “Supply diversity is external to the community; it focuses on the business owners who are being underutilized. Both are extremely important, but they are distinct from one another. … Many overlook supply diversity, which is where this [CEO-to-CEO] Challenge came about.”
Although supplier diversity might be a daunting task, the duo said, it’s time to break down long-standing barriers to ensure more collaboration with small businesses in the community.
“We believe fully that end results will be better with a more diverse team and partners,” Lowden said. “We have a long way to go, but the first step is to get started.”