Creating a global supplier diversity mentoring program for a Fortune Global 500 company with $34.9 billion in revenue (2017) and offices in 200 cities in 120 countries is no small enterprise. Constantly improving and expanding it is even more difficult. Yet, that’s exactly what Global Supplier Inclusion and Sustainability Lead Nedra Dickson is doing.
“Our program, the Diverse Supplier Development Program (DSDP), covers four geographies, at present, but will expand to six by the end of the year. Our main focus with the program is that we want to help small businesses grow. And we’ve put together a core curriculum to accomplish that. But that curriculum is also flexible and customizable to also cover what’s going on in the industry right now. For example, three years ago we were talking about social media. Today, we’re talking about cybersecurity. So, we prepare small businesses to handle current market issues, while educating them on sound, fundamental business practices as well.
“It gets pretty in depth, too. Of course, much depends on where the business is at and what its needs are. We obtain that information in our RFI (request for information) that each candidate submits. So, one business might need help with attrition, another might want to know how to grow globally, another might want to learn how to build a better office. We partner them with the right people that can help each business with its individual needs. Initially, we assign two mentors. But the great thing is that the businesses are not limited to those two mentors. They have access to the full breadth and depth of Accenture.”
Despite Accenture’s global presence and focus, Dickson points out that DSDP’s virtues are also very much local. For example, in symposiums held regionally around the country, DSDP participants gain access to Accenture excellence centers and the experts that populate them. But they also get something even more exceptional.
“We’ve divided the U.S. into five regions. DSDP participants get a chance to go to each of our offices in the five regions for symposia. For example, in D.C. they got to see what our federal practice looks like. We also visited our one-of-a-kind Cyberfusion Center, where participants gained insight into the latest cybersecurity issues. They learned what a comprehensive cybersecurity program is and how to create one. In December, they’ll go to our Houston innovation office where we deal with our oil and gas clients. So, it really is a comprehensive education. But it doesn’t stop there.
“We require a very strict commitment from potential DSDP participants. For example, the CEO must attend each session. But we do that for a reason. When we go to these different geographies, I also bring in clients to meet with our diverse supplier participants. For example, though you might not be able to work with Accenture right away, we not only expose you to potential work at [the company], but we also introduce you to our clients as potential suppliers if the fit is right.”
But as Dickson cautions, this program is not for everyone. And it is also not a guarantee of work with Accenture. It is an 18-month commitment and the CEO must be available for all meetings. She also recommends that suppliers properly prepare to take part in the program, if they wish to succeed. And her most sacred advice is biblical.
“Know thyself. We carefully examine who is a good fit and who isn’t for the program. And a supplier must also fill a business need for us to secure a contract. But the most important thing they can do to prepare is to know their business, its strengths and weaknesses and [the] specific objective for joining the program. Diverse suppliers must be able to incorporate what they learn and be agile enough to respond to a growing market. Ultimately, that’s what they’ll need in the market to thrive.”
Though the DSDP program is flourishing, Dickson and her team are never ones to rest on laurels. In fact, they’ve created a new program called DSDP Hire Performance, which she likens to an MBA program for diverse suppliers. But like the original program, it’s highly selective. Of the 400 RFI respondents, Dickson has selected only 12 finalists, so far. And there is one other element that is true for both programs.
“There is one caveat for every supplier that participates in our programs—and I will not bend on this for anyone. They must give back to their community. It doesn’t matter whether they bring in local interns or have fundraisers or volunteer locally—whatever it is, they must give something back to the community or they cannot participate in our program.”
Creating and implementing a highly successful diversity supplier program for a Fortune Global 500 company is never easy, but that’s exactly what Nedra Dickson is doing at Accenture.
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