Washington, DC
July 14, 2022

Supplier Diversity & Inclusion: Why Bias is One of the Biggest Barriers – By Michael Tobolski

Bias is pervasive and undeniable. It will take business leaders, policymakers, decision-makers, individuals, educators – everyone! – working together to stamp it out of society. We have a long way to go, but we made some progress recently that I’m particularly proud of.

Recently, WEConnect International and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) hosted a virtual training and roundtable discussion, “Addressing Challenge of Bias in Supply Chains as a Barrier to Business.” Click here to view the recording of the event and here to view the presentation slides.

The 90-minute event with 84 attendees was facilitated by Reginald Williams, CEO of Procurement Resources, with guest presenters Peter Zerp, Accenture Global Leader for Supplier Diversity, and Janice Howroyd, AgileOne Group Chairperson. Brittany Gonzalez, WEConnect International Supplier Inclusion Manager, and I hosted an interactive discussion with these thought leaders on bias in supply chains relative to supplier diversity and inclusion and provided solutions for removing obstacles for women and other diverse-owned businesses.

Many powerful insights were shared and the event affirmed my belief that bias is one of the most significant barriers for women-owned businesses today—one of the many reasons why I have dedicated significant time and energy to educating people on the topic with the goal of helping them become aware of both the conscious and unconscious biases that exist in our value chains and how best to mitigate bias in the world.

The reality of the negative impact of bias on women-owned businesses worldwide is just as disappointing as it is overwhelming; it seems that most individuals do not understand what bias is and its impact on society, business and our global and local economies. Even worse perhaps, others live in denial by refusing to acknowledge that bias happens everywhere and every day, even in their own workplaces and communities.

Data and statistics support my global observations that bias, both conscious and unconscious, is a significant barrier to women-owned businesses. For example, more than one-third of all privately held businesses in the world are owned by women, yet women-owned enterprises earn less than 1% of contract opportunities with large corporate and government purchasing organizations on a global scale.

It is undeniable—bias poses an inordinate challenge for women-owned businesses. However, events like the one USAID and WEConnect International hosted today with other leaders in this space—and with such strong attendance—bring hope. While there is no “quick fix,” there are actions that can be taken right now both by individuals and by companies to help us move in a better direction.

Individuals should:

  1. Understand what bias is. By definition, bias is a “prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.” For women-owned businesses, bias represents barriers that mitigate opportunities in business that have no relevance on a contractor’s ability to perform. It frequently occurs because of cultural expectations, misinformation, societal norms and negative assumptions that are not driven by facts, logic or past history. Most often these barriers are invisible to those who erect them as they may be implicit and unintentional, but the negative impact does not change regardless of intentions.
  2. Acknowledge that bias happens everywhere and every day. The effect of procurement barriers on opportunities for diverse suppliers such as women, minorities, veterans, disabled and LGBTQ+ communities continues to serve as unnecessary obstacles to business growth and opportunity. We need to be intentional in reflecting on our own bias and holding ourselves accountable—even when bias is unintentional.
  3. Make inclusion a top priority. Whether personally or at the organizational level, diversity and inclusion needs to be prioritized.

Companies should work to break bias by implementing these 10 steps:

  1. Engage Your C-Suite: Leadership support at the top is crucial and needs to be tied to any supplier diversity & inclusion strategy or environmental, social, and governance (ESG) effort.
  2. Set Goals & Use Data to Drive Performance: Set and share clear goals and establish monitoring and reporting to measure your performance against your goals.
  3. Drive Economic Impact: Measure the impact of your company’s efforts on community and establish action-oriented measures to ensure competitive access for women-owned businesses.
  4. Leverage Brand Appreciation: Partner with diverse suppliers and engage local community-based vendors. Let these businesses know of your commitment to them and their communities.
  5. Invest in Capacity Building: Guild and launch supplier development initiatives to help diverse and women-owned suppliers hone their skills and offerings to best meet your needs.
  6. Be Results-Driven & Accountable: Implement audits and include supplier diversity in your key performance indicator appraisals.
  7. Develop Self-Driven Performance Through Team Incentives: Establish rewards and commendation and promote leadership recognition. Talk about the added value of diverse supplier partnerships and celebrate it!
  8. Improve Engagement with Diversity Subgroups: Engage with highly underutilized groups in the communities you serve. Make it known that you’re committed to their success as part of your success.
  9. Focus on Cost Reduction, Avoidance & Innovation: Ensure that all suppliers, including diverse suppliers, drive value and report on these results. Highlight cost containment opportunities through partnerships with diverse suppliers. Spotlight diverse supplier innovations internally and externally.
  10. Establish Annual Recognition Events: Engage senior leaders to present awards to highlight the achievements of staff, supplier and teams. Build a community around your commitment to breaking bias as you celebrate success stories.

Globally, women-owned businesses represent the fastest-growing group within the small business economy and supporting these and other diverse suppliers is not just the right thing to do but also the smart thing to do. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the potential for growth.

I believe we are on the edge of possibility for correcting bias and helping women-owned businesses begin to achieve their full potential. Follow the steps above, watch the video of our event and join me by committing to #breakthebias today.


CLICK TO VIEW THE PRESENTATION: