Supplier diversity can help to build a more inclusive economy. Accenture’s Global Supplier Inclusion & Diversity Program connects supply and value chains with businesses owned by women, ethnic minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons and persons with disabilities.

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A crucial trend identified by Accenture Interactive's Fjord is the Ethics Economy, referring to the growing number of corporate organizations taking a political stand on issues of general concern. Trending topics revolve around encouraging companies to behave like people, and as such integrate human values into their corporate strategies and actions. 

This article explores the potential of social innovation and supplier diversity & inclusion and offers guidance on how to get there. By tapping into diverse talent pools, corporate businesses will optimize their supply chain, and simultaneously prove socio-economic advancement for these groups.

What Are Social Innovation and Supplier Inclusion & Diversity?

Social innovation involves all solutions created to engage groups and individuals who may experience a distance from the labor market and business opportunities. Women, for example, make up for about half the world’s population. They own about 35 percent of all businesses but earn less than 1 percent of the money spent on vendors by large corporations and governments.

Ethnic minorities, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons, as well as veterans, persons with disabilities and immigrants, face similar problems. They are excluded from or have limited access to opportunities. Governments and companies are unable to make use of their talents. Unfortunately, this lack of supplier inclusion & diversity holds true for high and lower-income countries alike.

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The Unconscious Bias

Take the Netherlands. It is easy to assume that women in this liberal country have equal career opportunities. But when accepted for a job, more often than not they are offered part-time contracts. The reasoning is as simple as it is limiting: companies assume that women will want to work part-time when raising a family.

Although no harm is intended, this unconscious bias will put women considerably behind their male counterparts, who will be offered career opportunities not available to people with part-time contracts. Women will have a hard time catching up.

Ignorance Breeds Intolerance

A different bias applies to minority groups: we prefer to do business with people who are alike. Hence, people who differ from us in terms of appearance or background will encounter greater difficulties in their efforts to secure a contract.

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We prefer to do business with people who are alike.

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Scared of Small Scale

There is also a general assumption that, due to their size, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) might not be able to deliver. How then can small, diverse businesses engage with corporate organizations or governments? And, from a company perspective: why would a buyer wish to do business with an SME?

It’s a Win-Win Situation

Indeed, SMEs involves risks: limited human resources might lead to delays and bureaucratic payment procedures might put the SME at risk, consequently endangering the continuity in the supply chain.

So what’s in it for the corporates? We strongly believe that partnering with a diverse business is a win-win situation, as these businesses:

  • They are generally highly flexible and innovative.
  • Are better equipped to respond to market changes than larger organizations.
  • Lack of overhead costs and are therefore likely to offer competitive pricing.

Also, by sourcing from diverse suppliers, companies might explore new markets and gain a competitive advantage. What's more, companies that employ and support more persons with disabilities in their workforce outperform their peers. Finally, supplier inclusion & diversity increases the chances of contracting extraordinary talent, as the talent pool increases.

Would you like to find out how supporting entrepreneurship among marginalized groups can lead to social innovation? Then watch this video about Accenture’s collaboration with WE-Connect International and Self-Employed Women’s Association in India to support former female waste pickers in their journey to become self-supportive entrepreneurs.

In short, integrating these groups through a supplier inclusion and diversity program can lead to socio-economic advancement and offers a competitive edge for large businesses.

Creating Supplier Inclusion & Diversity: Where to Start?

In some countries, socio-economic advancement is stimulated by government programs. The US government applies federal regulations when it comes to procurement. American companies pursuing a government contract need to prove their diversity. There are no obligations, but if they don’t, they will be unable to work for the government.

In South Africa, the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) program requires large investors to include and develop black-owned and black women-owned businesses into their supply chains.

In Europe, there are no such regulations but if more inclusive procurement policies are implemented in the public and private supply chains, it can help trigger initiatives empowering women- and minority-owned businesses.  

Global platforms and mentoring programs

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So, where to start in an effort to create a more inclusive marketplace?

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First of all, we need to get to know one another. Worldwide, organizations like WEConnect International (women) and the  National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) focus on helping out, respectively, women and members of the LGBT community. There are many more such organizations, whose activities range from providing micro-credits to organizing congresses and setting up databases of participating businesses. They offer excellent opportunities for diversity groups and corporate organizations to connect with each other.

Secondly, we can help integrate small and diverse enterprises into our supply and value chains. They need to become more business savvy: for instance, risk sharing, marketing and technical skills will help them secure the robustness of their business and maintain a sustainable partnership with larger clients.

Aiming for long-term partnerships, this approach will result in nimbler, more cost-effective and innovative partnerships.

Accenture’s customized supplier inclusion & diversity program

Accenture has a global supplier inclusion & diversity program in 17 countries, where we:

  • Connect diverse suppliers with our and our clients’ supply chains.
  • Offer mentoring and training programs enabling diverse suppliers to grow their business and grow long-term sustainable relationships with corporate supply chains.
  • Support our clients in building their own (global) supplier inclusion & diversity programs, enabling them to diversify their supply chains with vendors that bring innovative and cost-competitive solutions.

We can help you make a difference

Inclusive supply chains empower entire communities. Corporations partnering with diverse businesses will benefit from higher flexibility, increased innovation, cost-effectiveness and potential access to new markets. What’s not to like? It is time to increase your talent pool and reap the rewards that come with diversity. Do you want to be part of the #socialinnovation movement? Start today and drop me a line at

Peter Zerp

Supplier Inclusion & Diversity Program Lead

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