It takes internal support for people with disabilities as key contributors to competitive success to successfully include disabled entrepreneurs in the supply chain. By Malibu Kothari
In the U.S., 1-out-of-5 people have a disability, and millions of able people with disabilities continue to be excluded from the economic mainstream. In response, many of them have started businesses. A survey conducted by the Chamber of Commerce found that 44 percent of people with disabilities who are self-employed started a business because they needed to create their own job. Providing equal opportunities for inclusion in corporate supply chains is an excellent strategy for gaining a better understanding of the market consisting of people with disabilities, improving competitive advantage, and generating economic growth in communities. Members of supply chains can provide access to qualified talent, offer informed perspectives concerning the market, and contribute to innovation through new products and creative product designs. Like any supplier diversity program, the effort begins internally because leadership and staff need to be fully on board for the company to successfully build a diverse supply chain.
Inclusiveness Begins at the Top
Developing an inclusive supply chain does not begin in procurement. It begins with the message from the top – a message that says every operation, function, activity, and strategy will be inclusive. Diversity and inclusion (D&I) are values that can enhance competitiveness in a variety of ways, including innovative thinking and access to new markets. A desire to include people with disabilities should be as embedded in the organization as the desire to be inclusive of people of different colors, gender, sexual preference, and ethnicities.
The unemployment rate for persons with disabilities remains approximately twice that of people with no disability – 10.5 percent v. 4.6 percent in 2016. The only way that will change is through implementation of proactive efforts to align the diversity and inclusion strategies with business values and goals in key areas like the Human Resources policies and procedures and employee learning and development. Key practices include ERGs for people with disabilities that are led by senior executives, ongoing training opportunities that promote D&I, regular reinforcement of the corporate values of D&I, and community outreach.
Once the organization internally embraces D&I as crucial to competitive success, it is a value that applies to every function, including supply chain development. A supply chain that includes businesses owned or managed by people with disabilities supports the internal culture of D&I and delivers a competitive advantage. Businesses owned by people with disabilities bring new perspectives and creative thinking to their customers. They offer a better understanding of how to reach an underserved market, product ideas that support people with disabilities and their family and friends, new skills and new ways of achieving tasks, and access to new networks.
Driving Supply Chain Success with Best Practices
Key drivers of strategic supply chain performance include network optimization, partnerships with suppliers and customers that create communication channels, information technology, product design collaboration, and a supply chain operation aligned with the organization's overall strategy. When internal stakeholders fully support diversity and inclusion, they are able to leverage the knowledge to get the greatest advantages from a diverse supply chain. For example, procurement professionals work with supportive department managers who embrace diverse suppliers able to bring product or services innovations. Without the internal support, diverse suppliers face many barriers to getting into the supply chain and new ideas are never heard.
Leading corporations are utilizing a variety of best practices to make deliberate efforts to strengthen a culture of diversity and inclusion, and to drive the principles into every aspect of their operations. One best practice is cultivating internal and external diversity champions who find high potential talent and suppliers. Champions are employees and people in advocacy organizations, like the US Business Leadership Network which offers a Disability Supplier Diversity Program certification process and business matchmaking opportunities, and WE Connect International. The intersection of internal and external support for inclusion of people with disabilities that impacts the supply chain is found in the AT&T Global Supplier Diversity organization. The program is structured around internal and external initiatives, and uses managers dedicated to working with sourcing teams and business units to identify specific areas of opportunities where diverse businesses can be included in the competitive bid process. AT&T believes diverse suppliers bring innovative ideas and unique skills and can help the company meet the diverse needs of customers through technology.
Other best practices include establishing strategic planning committees that set goals and hold managers accountable for meeting the goals; showing community support by attending local meetings addressing support for people with disabilities; strategically using social media to have direct conversations with people with disabilities; and mentoring and developing relationships with qualified disability and service disabled veteran businesses. Mentoring programs are particularly helpful because businesses owned by people with disabilities has not been a major focus of private and government organizations until recently, leaving a gap in terms of examples and support systems.
Inclusion and Opportunity Go Hand-in-Hand
Accenture developed a program for strategic sourcing which pairs a senior executive with a diverse supplier protégé company. The Diverse Supplier Development Program is 12-18 months long. Lowe's integrated its supplier diversity program into its commitment to enhance economic development in diverse communities of operation. The company is a member of 15 regional supplier diversity councils and organizations to ensure it has the deepest and broadest outreach possible. IBM has focused on developing products which include accessibility characteristics, so accessibility is a key criteria for supplier selection. This drives inclusion of suppliers owned by people with disabilities. L'Oréal Group established the Solidarity Sourcing Program which opens the Group's procurement process to the suppliers who have difficulty accessing major contractors or hire the people often excluded from the job market, like people with disabilities. The company believes that it should use its buying power as leverage to advance social inclusion.
Engaging the workforce in the importance of including people with disabilities as a core value naturally leads to including businesses owned by people with disabilities or that employ people with disabilities. Inclusion and opportunity are two words that seamlessly go together. A collective attitude that continually builds and embeds support for people with disabilities, including entrepreneurs, is the right thing to do, but it is a right thing that will bring exceptional business results.