How Diverse Suppliers Impact Communities

January 03, 2024
By Suzanne Weston

The perception that bigger companies can drive sustainable societal change has some basis: They do have financial clout — but do they use it wisely? What about small companies? They can make an impact, too.

All too often, little effort is devoted to measure and quantify the value of small diverse businesses. The scales are tipped to favor larger organizations, and yet, diverse suppliers can provide value more than their relative weight. They can be particularly instrumental in strengthening communities.

Making a Difference

Diverse suppliers are for-profit businesses at least 51-percent owned and operated by underrepresented or underserved segments of the population. Because diverse suppliers often find it difficult to win contracts, supplier diversity programs can help remove barriers to entry, allowing diverse firms to compete for contracts in a fair and equitable environment. Using diverse suppliers provides business value to corporations and stimulates the economic prosperity of systemically underutilized groups.

What’s often left out of the equation is the value, impact and influence that small, diverse businesses have on communities. Diverse firms’ contributions can be disproportionately large when comparing their size to their impact. Leaders of diverse businesses can inspire others; they often become role models in their communities. An example:

For example, three Atlanta businesswomen — Ingrid Watkins, CEO of IW Consulting Group, Sanquinetta Dover, CEO of Dover Staffing, and Renee Newman, executive vice president of Dove Direct — set out to inspire Atlanta’s future leaders. Rather than appealing to large corporations, they encouraged other small businesses to follow their lead by supporting the community’s children.

The three women hosted a screening of “The Little Mermaid,” which featured a diverse cast, for girls living in Atlanta Housing, an affordable housing program for low-income families, as a way to inspire them that anything is possible.

"As a diversity consultant, I know that representation matters,” Watkins said, about why she helped set up the screening. “It was important to me to share this historical event, a Disney movie starring a Black lead actress (Halle Bailey), with these deserving girls."

Dover adds, “I believe every little girl should have experiences that make them know they are special. We made sure that this event did that.” Newman noted that, “This was about giving back to the community that we love, but also about showing love to these young girls.”

Bailey, an Atlanta native, “once sat in a movie theater just like those girls, looking up at the screen and dreaming of being a movie star … and look at her now,” Watkins says. “I hope it will encourage them to dream big and do big things in their futures. Nothing is impossible. That is why we did this, to give them hope and to let them know that they have no limits.”

Measuring the Value

It’s imperative that supply management organizations acknowledge the influence that small diverse businesses have. All too often, their contributions fall below the radar and don’t factor into the traditional environmental, social and governance (ESG) measures. This calls for a recalibration of how their impact is measured.

Measures should become more holistic, focusing on creating positive, lasting change and addressing unmet needs, rather than measuring price, spend and cost savings. Large companies can build a culture of equity, inclusion and belonging — and make a lasting impact on all the communities they serve by inspiring future leaders to dream big.

(Photo credit: Getty Images/FG Trade Latin)

About the Author

Suzanne Weston

About the Author

Suzanne Weston is a former partner, program strategies at IW Consulting Group, specializing in supplier diversity program creation, innovation and management. She is passionate about building impactful second-tier programs.