Who is Allowed to Take Part in the Supplier Diversity Debate?


My recent articles (see links at the bottom) on the many changes taking place in the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC)  have stirred things up across the country – or so I have been told. I hope they've stirred things up for the better, as in helped stimulate an active debate around the best ways to address the needs of SMWBE (Small, Minority, Women Owned Business Enterprises) suppliers (MBEs in the case of NMSDC).

Getting MBEs closer to establishing a supplier relationship with the NMSDC corporate members (primarily large Global 2000 type organizations) is, in my opinion, the baby that should not be tossed out with any organizational bath water changes. The national activities are good, but the local level is critical. It’s still a personal relationship business world, and cutting back on the opportunities to create those personal meetings should be avoided.

Interestingly, my thoughts and critique have been questioned by some based on my rather pale complexion. I would have thought that Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous “I have a dream” speech had a broader path than that in mind.

I have also been asked how I acquired my supplier diversity insights and perspective, so I thought I would share some of my personal background. Technically, my first real exposure into this area was along the EEO (Equal Employment Opportunities) activities – I participated as an elected, voting member of my university’s “equality” committee (this was in northern Europe, where there is a different approach to running universities). I must have done a good job, since the other members wanted to make me the chair for the next year, but alas this role was reserved for university employees.

Fast forward to my entry into the working world-- in Japan, where I was hired directly after undergrad by a Japanese manufacturing firm. After seven years working as the sole non-Japanese employee at the firm, and living in Japan, I think I have a decent idea of the pressures and biases that others not of the dominant ethnic group face on a daily basis.

There’s a certain resistance or bias to overcome in every new encounter you make, every day. A step where you quickly have to establish yourself as a productive contributor and not mere window dressing. I know this from crossing that bridge probably dozens of times every day throughout my years in Japan. In the beginning it was more annoying than anything else, but it became second nature after some time. And, in their defense, nearly all non-Asians living in Japan were incapable of more than a few basic greetings, so it's little wonder that the Japanese typically start out first encounters with Westerners with an incredulous mindset.

More recently, I worked several years in sales and consulting roles at AECsoft USA – a dual WBENC (Women's Business Enterprise National Council) and NMSDC certified software solution provider quite famous for its strong supplier diversity solutions. Alongside CVM Solutions, AECsoft dominated the market for supplier registration portals (solutions for the diverse supplier subset, as well as enterprise-wide for all suppliers), 1st and 2nd tier diverse spend reporting solutions, data cleansing of A/P records to identify eligible diverse suppliers – as well as many other non-diversity procurement tools such as e-sourcing, contract management, and supplier performance management. The company was acquired by SciQuest almost three years ago, which is when I joined Spend Matters.

While at AECsoft, I worked closely with supplier diversity directors at many of the largest firms in the USA – particularly how best to address their software and data needs. I also attended numerous WBENC and NMSDC conferences, took part in workshops, and otherwise developed an understanding of the challenges in this space and how to address them – I guess I am an analyst at heart.

So, back to my original point – I hope this background helps clarify that I do in fact have relevant experience in the diversity field, and that over the years I have had an active part in supporting the corporate side of the supplier diversity space. I have on occasion even introduced diverse firms to supplier diversity directors where I thought there would be a good fit around unique products (some industries, particularly manufacturing, are notoriously devoid of SMWBE firms).

Last summer, I devised a comprehensive approach (with much credit to Harvard’s Michael Porter) around a “shared value” model to frame the ROI and value of supplier diversity – an approach that includes all shades and flavors of SMWBE suppliers. Read about this here.

But enough about my background in the supplier diversity space and back to the recent NMSDC articles. I have received almost nothing but praise for the articles. The concerns I raised clearly resonate among many supplier directors across the country. Since nearly all have chosen to comment off the record, it is clear that this is a sensitive topic, but it's also clear that people are indeed concerned.

The proposed loss of local councils seems to be the number one concern among those I’ve spoken with. The red thread in the comments I've heard is "give us strong local councils, and more of them."

Please keep sending me your thoughts and input – I’m happy to stick my neck out and put in print what is on your mind, especially if your corporate position makes it a little difficult to go on the record.

Finally, I would certainly hope that we can keep the dialogue going without challenging positions based on who is making them – we should have gotten over that attitude long ago.

First Voice

  1. Jason Busch:

    Bravo, Thomas. The color of one’s skin should say nothing about their passion, expertise or willingness to lead a discussion around a topic — and their ability to contribute to it. My only hope is that others will step forward as well and let their voices be heard on the recent NMSDC decisions directly on this site or through other resources versus just through you as a channel. Such an important topic deserves a two-way exchange of information. Such is the benefit of diversity of opinion!

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