Diversity equals Sustainability: An Interview with Our President of Supplier Diversity
by Kristin Bentley
With a passion for helping the disenfranchised, underserved, and underrepresented, RLC President of Supplier Diversity Jesse Crawford quickly established a reputation as a well-known advocate in supplier diversity.
Serving and leading on boards and committees for numerous organizations, such as the National Minority Supplier Development Council, Women’s Business Council Southwest, Minority Business News USA Advisory Board and the Billion Dollar Roundtable, he found his niche in working with diverse-owned businesses.
Growing up as a military brat and frequently relocating, Jesse felt it was his early exposure to those diverse communities that allowed him to interact with people of various cultures, alongside all the dynamics that coincide with living in a military environment. He says this gave him a sincere appreciation for people and their cultural backgrounds.
With these early experiences, as well as the beginning of a successful career in telecommunications, Jesse was found to be quite gifted in driving for the inclusion of diverse people and their multitude of cultures and communities. He quickly progressed through the corporation with increased responsibilities in corporate operations and logistics before transitioning into supply chain management, which led him into supplier diversity.
According to Jesse, diversity is sustainability because of the different values and benefits brought to the table when we look at attributes such as gender, age, ethnicity, experiences and differences of thought. Everyone benefits from those different perspectives if we can truly appreciate and capitalize on what those contributions bring.
I recently sat down with Jesse to conduct an interview to share more about this perspective that diversity is sustainability and how it is affecting the industry, both today and in the future.
KB: One of the phrases you often use is that you are “culturally comfortable.” What exactly does that mean?
JC: Allowing ourselves to engage and welcome conversations about things we are personally unaware of, that we may gain a better understanding from someone with a different ethnic background, helps us all to become more culturally comfortable. As we do so, we find that others also become unilaterally culturally comfortable, which should be the end goal for any corporation across the globe.
Usually, people start innocently enough with “connectors” such as food, music, travel, sports, and religion before they realize that they have become culturally comfortable.
Societally, there’s still an elephant in the room and ignorance can often be blind. People do shield themselves from experiencing this and I think it’s by comfort and design, not by mistake.
There are still people who do not want to see or embrace diversity and inclusion, because there’s a fear that exposure to different beliefs and cultures will change who they are. Instead, we need to be able to appreciate those differences in approaches and thinking.
It doesn’t diminish who we are by accepting that there are others who may not have the same perspective and approach. We often uncover that we have more similarities than differences once we get past the surface.
In business, when we look at small and diverse-owned businesses, they bring to the table alternative experiences, approaches, innovation, and technology because they have unique perspectives. Since they also represent targeted communities, they can help corporations create custom solutions that meet specific needs in the marketplace.
When there is workplace diversity, which truly embraces all people regardless of race, ethnicity, physical abilities, age, gender, and sexual orientations, it leads to a richness of thought.
Through these engagements, statistics have shown that we have increased innovation, productivity, profitability and employee satisfaction. When you see someone who is opposed to it, I believe it’s because they haven’t had the exposure or opportunities to truly experience it. There’s a change that does occur naturally when we become exposed to something new.
KB: What does RLC offer to the supplier diversity industry that supports this methodology?
JC: The differentiator of RLC is that our company is full of passionate, proficient and highly-motivated individuals who understand how to do business the right way. It is within our ability to find the best and brightest diverse companies and bring them to a business entity or corporation’s supplier chain. Our mission says it all, ”We maximize the value of diversity for our clients and the communities they impact around the world.”
Through our diverse business backgrounds and proven track records of success with corporations, we are able to better understand their needs and objectives as we assist in further developing their supplier diversity programs. We also work with the supplier community by helping to educate, develop and successfully advocate for them so they are ready to compete and win business.
The ultimate goal is for diverse suppliers to not simply participate in the bidding process, but to actually win meaningful and sustainable business opportunities.
KB: Where do you see the industry heading in the future?
JC: Supplier diversity has now transitioned to true supplier development and strategic partnerships within the world-class supply chains who have adopted these forward-thinking practices with their primes.
For example, when technology and market dynamics occur, successful businesses sit down with their prime vendors and suppliers to find solutions, re-tool, and drive the innovation needed to address those changes in their industries, supply chains, communities, etc.
Supplier Summit photo, provided by Jesse Crawford
This same approach is being taken with diverse-owned firms who are under contract within these supply chains. This ensures that they are aware of the changes, able to update their business models, scale up or down, invest in their capabilities and service offerings, etc. This results in capacity building, sustainable growth, efficiencies, cost savings, and profitability for all.
The key to supplier development is for the diverse suppliers and small businesses to truly partner with their contracted business entities so they too can grow and improve their operations and business models successful for sustainability.
KB: What is our biggest hurdle as an industry in getting to that point?
JC: What immediately comes to mind is not necessarily a hurdle, but a strong consideration as we all think about the ever-changing dynamics of our world with the increase in technology, artificial intelligence and robotics. There have been significant gains in efficiency, productivity, cost savings and avoidances through automation occurring across all industries.
For small and diverse-owned businesses, they have to remain mindful that world-class supply chains are constantly focused on profitability and eliminating costs. Therefore, they need to be cognizant of their own processes, product and service offerings, and how they can proactively offer those with a continued focus on innovation, high-quality and profitability. A corporation is not going to incorporate additional costs just to say they are working with a small business.
to truly remain competitive, sustainable, and be considered as partners in these world-class supply chains, forward-thinking businesses should be positioned to address the current states of their industries and the associated supply chain challenges. This really is the key to their success, and the success of the industry.