Diversity in the Supply Chain

I have been interested in diversity in supply chains and how it can support business growth and widen the availability of products and services for many years from a consumer perspective.

Personally, I cannot understand how businesses could ignore a new market which has potential to be financially lucrative. For example, in the 1970’s I recall only two companies I knew of that catered for Black women, Fashion Fair and Flori Roberts, and that could be purchased in the UK. Whilst, in 2022 I cannot nip to the high street and purchase tights suitable for my skin tone easily and the cost can be 3 times as much as those my wife, who’s white, buys.

Unfortunately, the UK continues to lag behind the US when it comes to supplying goods and services for diverse communities, and diversity in our supply chains is no different. As far back as late 1960’s the US government, yes you heard me, 1960’s, required government agencies and contractors to work with minority-owned companies with the reporting of these relationships being mandatory.

Supplier diversity has increasingly been seen as a business imperative and an indicator of an organisations’ commitment to equality diversity and inclusion and social value. It now seems UK businesses are starting to consider diversity within their supply chain and are taking steps to address. 

So, what are diverse suppliers?  Diverse suppliers are majority owned companies (51% or more) by those with a protected characteristics such as disability, race, gender or sexual orientation.

To build supplier diversity it has been recognised that diverse businesses may not have the knowledge and experience to be able to navigate a company’s request for proposal (RFP). To address this many organisations have developed and implemented diverse supplier programmes to provide information, training and mentoring to support diverse businesses.

A number of benefits of having a diverse supply chain have been identified such as :-

  • Increasing supply chain agility and resilience
  • Widening the pool of suppliers
  • Providing economic opportunities for disadvantaged communities
  • Driving competition
  • Boosting market growth
  • Enhancing company brand
  • Facilitating innovation
  • Increasing return on investment

Interestingly, HS2 has taken a different approach to increasing supplier diversity by emphasising the importance of equality, diversity, and inclusion in the awarding of their contracts by not awarding contracts to those who do not meet their diversity criteria. In November 2021 HS2 emphasised their commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion and supply chain diversity even further by setting an equality standard across their supply chain and implementing their Marketplace platform.

Designed to support and equip companies of all sizes within their supply chain with the tools needed to embed diversity and inclusion best practice across their business processes. No excuses!

Surely, this will highlight those who are using “smoke and mirrors” techniques to obscure who they really are.

As the great Sam Cooke sang “It’s been a long, a long time coming, but I know a change gon’ come, …”

Black History and Black Women

Whilst the origins of Black History Month in the US can be traced to Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. In the UK recognising the contribution of Black People and Black culture began in 1987 and is annually celebrated in the month of October.

As a Black Briton of Afro-Caribbean ancestry I do feel a sense of frustration that the recognition and contribution Black people have made to the UK frequently starts with migration from the Caribbean on the Empire Windrush in 1948.

Black people have lived and worked in the Britain since the 12th century, which covers period from the 1101 to 1200, but that is not the information and history shared as part of British history.

I also question how much recognition Black women receive for their contribution from within and without Black communities. As a young girl growing up in Birmingham, I do not recall hearing, seeing, and reading up Black women who I could have aspired me, apart from my Mum. Who was a real inspiration for me?

In fact, in the UK Black people were portrayed on tv as stereotypes in sitcoms, two 1970’s which spring to mind are Love thy Neighbour, which showed the conflict be a white working-class man and his Black neighbour and Never Mind the Language, about a group of immigrants learning English in an adult education school in London. Black women featured in minor ways to the men. The other context where Black people were visible was in sports, however I never saw a Black female gymnast, and as I was a gymnast it could have encouraged me to continue to pursue my passion for gymnastics. I had to settle for Olga Korbut and Nadia Comăneci.

I fully appreciate that the adage “You can’t be what you can’t see,” by Marian Wright Edelman may not resonate with some, but it does take a certain something from inside to place yourself in environments where you are different to everyone else. And it is isolating, and emotionally and psychologically draining.

So, it is great to see the contribution Black women have made, and continue to make, is being increasingly recognised. From the Poet Phillis Wheatley became the first ever African woman to be published in Britain and America in 1773, Mary Seacole who set up a facility outside of Balaklava, Ukraine where she nursed wounded British soldiers; Lilian Bader, the very first black women to join the British Armed Forces; Olive Morris, civil rights campaigner; Diane Abbott the first black woman ever to be elected to Parliament; Dr Shirley J. Thompson OBE Composer, Conductor, Artistic Director, Educator, Violinist. Professor Thompson is Head of Composition and Performance at the University of Westminster.

What’s heartening to see, with this year’s theme of “Proud to Be” Black women coming into the limelight. For example Dr. Elizabeth Williams blog post, Black History Month 2021:Black Women. Not forgetting seeing two Black British women in major roles in the James Bond films, Naomie Harris and Lashana Lynch certainly brings an enormous smile to my face.

I cannot help but wonder why its taken so much time for Black women’s role, contribution, and achievements to acknowledged and celebrated. I end by sharing an extract from a poem I wrote titled “Who do you see when you look at me?

“Do you see my intellect, creativity, capability, competence and potential.

But does that really matter to you when you look at me?

Which box do I fit in, that works for you, when you look at me?

This blog post is written by Marcia Ore Assoc CIPD MSc MA PgCert, Lead Consultant and Coach  for Blue Level Training

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