Kris Oswold, VP of UPS: Advocate of Supplier Diversity

Why global inclusion is the blueprint to value creation

According to Kris Oswold, supplier diversity is a business strategy that addresses the systemic biases resulting in fewer opportunities, limited access, and less capital available to diverse business owners.

An executive with more than 33 years at UPS, Oswold – Vice President of Global Supplier Diversity – brings a wealth of experience to the role. 

“For a corporation like UPS, supplier diversity means working to ensure third-party spend goes to companies whose owners reflect the diversity of the population,” she says.

“The data is clear, and the experiences are real. Without intentional efforts to develop and include Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, women, veteran, LGBTQ+, and disabled-owned businesses, these companies do not have equitable access to contract opportunities with corporations.”

At UPS, contracts are awarded based on who brings the best value. “Diverse-owned businesses often just need the opportunity to show what they can do to a procurement group that’s open to new suppliers and understands the business value of diversity,” Oswold says. 

The benefits that supplier diversity can bring to businesses and commerce

Small and medium-sized businesses are critical to the health of commerce and economies. Oswold highlights the importance of understanding that “diverse populations start more businesses than majority groups, and these businesses are spread across all industries and located throughout the US”. 

“Buying from diverse businesses also brings incredible value to companies. At UPS, customers expect the company to value diversity and take actions that drive economic equity. Data shows that, when a customer becomes aware of the supplier diversity, their perception of the UPS brand and likelihood to purchase from UPS improves.

“Additionally,” she continues, “employees expect companies to address inequities, with both current and potential employees thinking more favourably of brands that are committed to supplier diversity.”

All of this is, of course, in addition to the benefits of finding great new suppliers: “Diverse companies are often more flexible, innovative, and efficient – they just need the opportunity to show what they can do.”

How supplier diversity relates to ESG and sustainability

Oswold highlights that supplier diversity is an integral part of building long-term success. 

“Combatting forms of ignorance and hate is part of what must be done to help ensure employees, customers and suppliers have the inclusive and equitable communities they need to thrive.”

Today, driving ESG initiatives across UPS is more important than ever. “UPS is committed to pursuing solutions to improve the wellbeing of our people, customers, communities, and other stakeholders.

“UPS understands the strong connections between environmental and social justice and is making steady progress to build a more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive world.”

The main barriers to supplier diversity and their solutions

Oswold says that in order to overcome barriers to achieving supplier diversity, the first thing that’s required is “an increase in awareness of its value in corporations, and among diverse business owners. 

“Data from market research firm, Hootology,” she says, “reveals that awareness of supplier diversity among US business decision-makers hovers in single-digit percentages.

“One of the core goals of the UPS supplier diversity strategy is to raise awareness both inside and outside the company. In addition, only a small fraction of diverse businesses obtain third-party diversity certifications. Getting a certification that the business is at least 51% owned, managed, and controlled by diverse individuals is the first step to leveraging supplier diversity as a channel to grow the business.

“Second is internal to corporations within the procurement staff and stakeholders,” she says. “Much like the biases companies have recognised and been addressing for years regarding a lack of diversity in hiring and promotions, similar biases exist in the supplier selection process.

“It can feel safer to hire a company where there is already familiarity and risky to take a chance on a business only recently discovered. Mitigating risks and getting people comfortable with change is an important part of a supplier diversity strategy to help ensure diverse businesses win contracts and are not simply invited to bid in vain.”

The true value of supplier diversity

Oswold says that supplier diversity brings “real, measurable business value, while simultaneously broadening economic inclusion”. Companies should approach it as a business strategy with the focus, resources, and accountability necessary to achieve results. 

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts must expand beyond employees, and should include suppliers and customers as well. With an authentic approach, if you care about diversity and inequity anywhere, you must care about it everywhere.”

Kris Oswold is Vice President of Global Supplier diversity at UPS. Prior to leading supplier diversity, Kris designed and executed a variety of UPS business processes across the globe, including customer and technical support, billing, accounts receivable, and human resources operations. 

Driving change through the large organisation is where Kris excels, so being tapped to lead a rejuvenation of supplier diversity at UPS was a great fit.

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