Originating in the United States, supplier diversity has a uniquely American story, but its principles are universal and hold immense potential for creating an inclusive, equitable, and prosperous global marketplace.

In this article, we look at how supplier diversity is increasingly an international phenomenon practiced in ways that both resemble and necessarily differ from its original form in the United States. Understanding these differences is essential to building supplier diversity practices for global enterprises and their supply chains  

Supplier Diversity: How it Works in the United States

At its core, supplier diversity is a business strategy that ensures a diverse supplier base in the procurement of goods and services for any business or organization. It involves proactively engaging and sourcing materials from businesses that are owned and operated by a diverse cross-section of individuals. Supplier diversity stems from a commitment to create an inclusive, equitable business ecosystem that reflects the multicultural fabric of society.

In the U.S. context, this diversity encompasses businesses owned by racial and ethnic minorities – women, veterans, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and disabled people. These groups have been disproportionately impacted by systemic barriers to business ownership and economic advancement, and the obstacles they face have been entrenched by discriminatory practices, inequitable policies, and a lack of access to critical resources and opportunities.

For example, racial and ethnic minority-owned businesses often face disproportionate challenges in accessing credit, venture capital, and other forms of financial support, hindering their growth potential. Women-owned businesses, despite constituting a significant portion of the American business landscape, often encounter similar barriers, including gender biases and a lack of representation in certain sectors.

LGBTQIA+ owned businesses, while growing in number and visibility, still face hurdles such as discrimination and societal bias. Veteran-owned businesses grapple with the unique challenges of transitioning from military to civilian life, including difficulties in translating military skills and experiences to the business world. Businesses owned by disabled people are frequently overlooked, despite their potential to contribute significantly to the economy and society.

The goal of supplier diversity is to create an equitable environment that mitigates these challenges. It aims to level the playing field, providing historically marginalized groups with fair access to business opportunities. In doing so, supplier diversity not only contributes to the economic empowerment of these diverse groups but also enriches the entire business ecosystem.

By opening doors to diverse suppliers, businesses can tap into a wider pool of talent, ideas, and capabilities, fostering innovation and driving competitive advantage. Moreover, supplier diversity allows businesses to reflect the diversity of their customers, employees, and communities they serve, leading to increased market reach and improved customer engagement.

The commitment to supplier diversity is a commitment to social justice and economic inclusion. It’s about rectifying the past and shaping a more inclusive, equitable future. It’s about acknowledging that when we ensure equal opportunity for all businesses—regardless of who owns them—we all win.

Supplier Diversity: The American Approach

The United States has been at the forefront of the supplier diversity movement, with its roots tracing back to the civil rights era of the 1960s. Today, supplier diversity is not only recognized as a social responsibility but also as a strategic business imperative.

U.S. corporations, both large and small, have embraced supplier diversity. They have established comprehensive programs that aim to increase the proportion of procurement spending directed towards diverse suppliers. These programs often include training, mentoring, and capacity-building initiatives that help diverse suppliers compete effectively in the corporate marketplace.

Diversity certification bodies such as the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) play a pivotal role in the American supplier diversity model. They validate the ownership and operational control of businesses, ensuring that corporations are indeed doing business with genuine diverse suppliers.

Global Supplier Diversity: Working in Local Context

While the principles of supplier diversity are increasingly recognized globally, the specific implementation and approach can differ.

In the United States, supplier diversity is often tied to government regulations and incentives. Federal, state, and local governments set specific goals for contracting with diverse businesses and provide incentives for private corporations to do the same.

Internationally, the approach to supplier diversity may vary based on local social, cultural, and economic contexts. In some regions, the focus might be on empowering indigenous communities or bolstering gender equality in business ownership. In others, the emphasis could be on promoting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to ensure economic decentralization.

In countries like Canada and Australia, supplier diversity programs are often focused on supporting indigenous communities. In Canada, corporations may partner with indigenous-owned businesses, providing them with opportunities for growth and development. This not only helps in preserving the cultural heritage but also contributes to the economic upliftment of these communities. In Australia, similar initiatives include the Indigenous Procurement Policy, which mandates a certain percentage of government contracts to be awarded to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses. These policies not only foster economic participation of indigenous peoples but also bring their vital perspectives and solutions to the corporate sector.

In European nations, such as the United Kingdom and Germany, supplier diversity programs frequently emphasize gender equality and the inclusion of migrants and refugees. In the UK, programs might be designed to support women-owned businesses, addressing the gender gap in entrepreneurship. Germany, known for its significant migrant population, could focus on integrating migrant-owned businesses into supply chains. This approach not only aids in social integration but also brings diverse cultural insights into the business environment. 

The Growing Importance of Supplier Diversity Globally

The world is increasingly recognizing that diversity is a driver of innovation and competitiveness. Businesses that embrace supplier diversity tend to be more agile, adaptable, and better prepared to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing global marketplace.

Moreover, supplier diversity can be a powerful tool in promoting social equity and sustainable development. By including underrepresented groups in the corporate marketplace, we can drive job creation, reduce income inequality, and promote sustainable business practices.

Integrating Supplier Diversity in International Business

To integrate supplier diversity seamlessly into the global business landscape, we need to build upon the principles and lessons learned from the American experience while tailoring the approach to local contexts. Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Establish Global Supplier Diversity Standards: Just as we have international standards for quality management, developing global guidelines for supplier diversity can help ensure consistency and transparency in practices worldwide.
  • Promote Cross-Border Collaboration: Encourage partnerships between diversity certification bodies across countries. This can help validate diverse suppliers operating in different regions and facilitate their access to multinational corporations.
  • Build Capacity: Offer training and capacity-building programs for diverse suppliers to equip them with the skills and knowledge necessary to compete in the global marketplace.
  • Partner with Advocacy Orgs: Connect with local organizations working to build the capacity of diverse-owned businesses. See our comprehensive list of supplier diversity advocacy organizations around the world.

While supplier diversity may have its roots in America, its future is undoubtedly global. At Hire Ground, we envision a future where supplier diversity is woven into the fabric of global business—driving innovation, fostering social equity, and creating a sustainable, inclusive future for all. 

Key Takeaways

  • Supplier diversity is a business strategy aimed at ensuring a diverse supplier base for any business or organization. In the American context, this includes businesses owned by racial and ethnic minorities, women, veterans, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and disabled people.
  • Historical marginalization of these groups has led to systemic barriers to business ownership and economic advancement. Supplier diversity aims to mitigate these challenges and provide fair access to business opportunities.
  • Embracing supplier diversity benefits businesses by tapping into a wider pool of talent, fostering innovation, and driving competitive advantage. It also enables businesses to reflect the diversity of their customers, employees, and communities, enhancing market reach and customer engagement.
  • The United States has been a pioneer in supplier diversity, integrating it into both social responsibility and strategic business practices. This includes training, mentoring, and capacity-building initiatives for diverse suppliers.
  • While the principles of supplier diversity are recognized globally, implementation varies based on local social, cultural, and economic contexts. The most effective international supplier diversity practices must address these contexts to drive  innovation and competitiveness on a global scale.
  • Integrating supplier diversity into global business requires establishing international standards, promoting cross-border collaboration, and offering capacity-building programs for diverse suppliers.
  • Supplier diversity is not just about doing business, but about doing business right. It represents a commitment to social justice, economic inclusion, and the creation of a sustainable, inclusive future for all.