Four key considerations for creating change in an organization through SD programs.
In fall 2022, when the role of Head of Supplier Diversity became available at MassMutual, I knew it was a challenge I was ready for. This was an exciting opportunity to elevate a recently established supplier diversity program, focused on creating systemic change internally and in society at large.
In May 2021, MassMutual announced our commitment to promote diversity in every aspect of our procurement process. Our five-year, $150 million supplier diversity investment has changed the way MassMutual engages with suppliers. But change does not come overnight, especially for a company with over 10,000 employees and a vast network of affiliated financial professionals with offices from coast to coast.
To guide the implementation of the supplier diversity program, Head of Procurement Will Porter and his team ensured supplier diversity was embedded into every capability under procurement. The results have been a resounding success.
I’ve spent most of my career in procurement. I came to MassMutual after 16 years at a large corporate retailer, where the program was firmly established and ingrained in the culture. MassMutual’s was brand new; I didn’t know what to expect.
MassMutual gets it—an exceptionally strong foundation has been laid, and supplier diversity is fully integrated into our new procurement process. What’s truly significant is the spirit of collaboration that has been embraced.
The work that’s been done and the work that lies ahead of us are great examples of how companies can successfully build and implement large-scale, collaboration-based initiatives. Let us look at our four key considerations for creating change in an organization through programs like supplier diversity.
1.Buy-In and Visibility from Executive Leadership
The momentum behind MassMutual’s revitalized diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts originated with CEO Roger Crandall, who articulated the company’s unique mission and identified specific assets to make profound changes in its social justice approach. If leadership were not invested in change, receiving adequate resources to support supplier diversity efforts, and winning the hearts and minds of employees would have been an uphill battle. “It was essential for us to have Roger’s support,” Porter says. “Top-down support is critical to implement a supplier diversity program. There is a real benefit to open, frequent conversations.”
2.Broad Company Representation Drives Business Objectives
The supplier diversity team was deliberate and strategic with internal collaboration. The usual diversity stakeholders—the DEI and ESG (environmental, social, and governance) leads—are involved, along with brand marketing, affiliate and field relations, product development, internal portfolio investments, and customer segmentation strategy.
Michelle Pedigo, head of Field Management-Southern Region, oversees MassMutual’s affiliated financial professionals, and has recognized both the business and economic equity upsides of reaching underserved communities.
“When I was approached to contribute, I jumped at the chance,” Pedigo says. “The more feedback I can provide on frontline sales’ needs, the better we serve our affiliates with products that meet the demands of their customers. Helping diverse groups establish wealth to secure the futures of their families not only aligns with our brand but is the right thing to do.”
3.Motivated, Connected Membership
One aspect was made clear upon my arrival—MassMutual is deeply committed to ensuring our efforts are outsized in terms of impact and efficiency.
“I see my role as a conductor,” says Ying Yu, chief sustainability officer and ESG lead, and a fellow collaborator. “I can give feedback in ways that are unique to my position. I have broad exposure across the company and can bring my knowledge and relationships to the table to help create something better.”
“There is clarity in the purpose of our work. Being a part of it has opened a new network of possibilities,” says Liz Roberts, director of MassMutual’s Catalyst Fund, an incubator that targets diverse-owned startups. “For example, knowing Michelle Pedigo has contacts in diverse business communities in the Southern Region whom I would never have access to, creates a new geographic area of opportunity for us.”
4.Diversity, Diversity, Diversity
At MassMutual, we are dedicated to DEI. “Authenticity is key when undertaking an effort such as this. Different skillsets and experiences expand our capabilities. They drive our excellence,” remarks my colleague Wonhong Lee, head of Marketing Segmentation and Development. “Broad involvement helps dispel the notion that supplier diversity is a handout, both in appearance and in how we function.”
Two and a half years into the process, our work is bearing fruit. Along with our $150 million commitment to utilizing underrepresented diverse businesses in our procurement process, we are also committed to developing 175 diverse businesses for growth at scale, a number that dovetails with our 175th anniversary in 2026.
Integrating DEI into our procurement operation enables MassMutual to drive change with what we spend. The commitment includes both immediate and long-term actions, such as:
■ Holding suppliers accountable through an industry-leading framework for assessing and managing suppliers’ own DEI internal performance.
■ Forward by MassMutual, an innovative program with Dartmouth College, provides executive education to nurture diverse business leaders and owners.
“We are a mutual company. Caring for our communities is part of our DNA,” Lee says. “Our work amplifies those efforts and helps strengthen the brand.” MassMutual actively participates and sponsors various diverse organizations such as National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, Disability: IN, U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, 100 Black Men of America, and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.
“The financial planning and women-focused education programs we host with WBENC are phenomenally successful,” says Pedigo. “We empower female entrepreneurs to make business decisions to build wealth for themselves, their families, and their communities. And as our relationships deepen, we learn more about diverse communities and can tailor our products and services to those groups.”
Alignment with the company’s core values, mission, and goals provide the flexibility to experiment and be creative in our approach. Supplier diversity drives innovation and competition. It alleviates risk by creating more options and choices. It motivates suppliers who want a seat at the table. Our program helps our suppliers reach their own diversity goals by providing clear standards and teaching them the economic benefits of diversity. And ultimately—and this is crucial for us—it creates an evolving, flexible, resilient, risk-friendly, innovative company that we expect to thrive for another 175 years.