The power of the supplier diversity movement and its compelling future


By now we have extensive evidence that supporting diversity in society and business is not just the right thing to do, it significantly improves outcomes.

In organizations a primary focus of diversity and inclusion initiatives is of course on employees, senior management, and board members. However for many sound reasons it is also critical to focus on diversity of suppliers.

As such I was deeply honored to give the closing keynote at the annual Supply Nation Connect Conference last week in Sydney.

Supply Nation was founded in 2009 to assist verified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to engage with its corporate, government, and not-for-profit members that are seeking greater diversity in their suppliers.

The history and growth of supplier diversity

The supplier diversity movement has its roots in the United States, where the predecessor of today’s National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) was established in 1972, growing to become a powerhouse, with its affiliate the Billion Dollar Roundtable bringing together currently 28 organizations that spend at least a billion dollars with minority or women-owned businesses.

Supply Nation was founded in 2009 after the Australian federal government recommended that an organization to support indigenous business be founded based on NMSDC.

The supplier diversity movement is now firmly global, with the Global Supplier Diversity Association connecting similar organizations in Canada, China, South Africa, and UK in addition to those in the US and Australia, while a similar organization is being launched in New Zealand, and initiatives developing in other countries.

The future of supplier diversity

The theme of the Supply Nation conference was “the power of an idea,” referring to the idea of supplier diversity. The opening keynote was given by Harriet Michel, who was president of NMSDC for 22 years, and has been a strong supporter of the global diversity movement.

Harriet reviewed the history of the movement, and emphasized that supplier diversity should be seen as not just the right thing to do, but something that benefits everyone.

In my closing keynote, looking to the future, I observed that supplier diversity has come so far, yet still has so far to go, particularly outside the US. A key part of the future of the movement is its globalization, where national organizations can learn from each other, but also support the initiatives of multinationals that understand the importance of supplier diversity.

The frame for my keynote was Powerful Ideas Shaping Our Future, building on the theme of the powerful idea that has taken us this far. I will share some of the ideas in my keynote in another post soon, but the most important frame was that we need to understand and acknowledge the massive shifts underway in the business and social landscape, and not just adapt to them, but to ride them.

As Harriet observed, we have in front of us a compelling opportunity to build greater supplier diversity across the world in ways that benefit everyone.

Image: Jeroen Moes