Diversity beyond the workforce – How supplier diversity can benefit business, suppliers and more

BMS program drives innovation and equity, helping patients and communities

March 11, 2021

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or Bristol Myers Squibb, supplier diversity is as much about promoting equity beyond the business as driving business performance within it, and BMS’ longtime supplier diversity program has been so key to both that the company recently pledged to expand it by spending $1 billion globally with diverse-owned suppliers by 2025.

Doing business with Black- and other diverse-owned suppliers helps keep BMS on the cutting edge of innovative products and service that benefit patients, while helping the businesses thrive in ways that create jobs and other positive economic impacts, including in diverse communities hard-hit by systemic injustices being spotlighted now.

But achieving supplier diversity in a substantive way doesn’t just happen on its own or quickly. The effort must be intentional, underpinned by a sufficiently resourced infrastructure, have senior-level support from across an organization and a dedicated leader to run it. BMS has all that and more, and the supplier diversity program that drives it is as critical to the company’s future as it has been to its past.

“Our supplier diversity program has not only made BMS better able to compete in the marketplace and discover, develop and deliver breakthrough therapies for patients in the U.S. and around the globe, it has made us a more inclusive and open-minded company and a more attractive place for the best and brightest to build their careers,” says Rondu Vincent, executive director, Global Supplier Diversity & Sustainability at BMS.

At its core, “supplier diversity is about economic parity, economic equilibrium, job creation and lifting up people and the communities they live in,” Vincent says. “Our partnership with diverse suppliers can have an ongoing and meaningful ripple effect far beyond our organization and across communities, over time and in support of a much greater good.”

Yet while that good extends beyond BMS’ walls, it permeates within them too, enabling the company to take advantage of the richness of diversity that brings a range of ideas and perspectives, says Vincent. Diverse-owned businesses are often “more nimble, more cost-effective and willing to ideate and collaborate” regardless of their size, he says. This can drive innovation faster—for the suppliers and BMS—creating meaningful change that ultimately benefits the patients and others the company serves.   

Our supplier diversity program has not only made BMS better able to compete in the marketplace and discover, develop and deliver breakthrough therapies for patients in the U.S. and around the globe, it has made us a more inclusive and open-minded company and a more attractive place for the best and the brightest to build their careers.
Rondu Vincent, executive director, Supplier Diversity & Sustainability, BMS

Vincent points to one diverse supplier that saved BMS scientists valuable research and development time by proactively creating a one-stop-shop online marketplace aggregating its preferred products, such as plasma, serums and more. This allowed the scientists to spend more of their valuable time discovering innovative ways to help patients instead of searching for supplies.

“We have an obligation to bring innovation to the company, to bring the best, brightest and most promising suppliers in, and supplier diversity is one important way we do that,” Vincent says, noting that to be considered for the supplier diversity program a business generally has to be at least 51% owned, controlled and operated by individuals who fall within a variety of under-represented categories, such as those who are Black, differently abled, veterans or LGBTQ. “Supplier diversity is not something we just check off on our to-do list. Our program and the goals we’ve set for ourselves reflect who we are as an organization and the role we want to play in society.”

Evolving the program’s purpose

Established 25 years ago as part of compliance requirements set for government contractors, BMS’ supplier diversity program has morphed over time from a U.S. effort to a global imperative with programming in countries such as the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil. 

The program has evolved from merely purchasing from small- and diverse-owned enterprises to helping them build capabilities and capacity to sustain their companies and the communities where they operate. It has expanded to include mentorship of suppliers and scholarship opportunities to attend executive business programs at universities. BMS also has built strong partnerships with advocacy groups that help identify and vet diverse suppliers at regional, national and international levels.

Supplier diversity is not something we just check off on our to-do list. Our program and the goals we’ve set for ourselves reflect who we are as an organization and the role we want to play in society.

Simply put, the program, a multi-award-winning innovator in this space, has become essential to BMS’ ability to stay engaged with new ideas and business practices worldwide. Another benefit: it has improved the company culture by helping execute on a broader commitment to diversity, inclusion and belonging — including better enabling BMS to recruit and retain top experts from across the biopharma industry.

Consider Rangam Consultants. The minority, woman and disabled-owned workforce solutions company in Somerset, New Jersey, has been able to connect BMS with underrepresented talent pools, including differently-abled workers with autism.

It all ladders up to a broader goal. “The supplier diversity program is fundamental to our overall procurement strategy,” says Chief Procurement Officer Farryn Melton, who is a big supporter of the program. “It is a conduit not only to up-and-coming innovative suppliers of the goods and services we need, but also to larger, established diverse-owned organizations that can tackle projects at scale. Our program goes beyond the dollars and cents, it’s truly about the economic empowerments of our communities.” 

The program stands out in part because employees are accountable to supporting it: everyone at BMS now has a goal tied to supplier diversity, and BMS is in the process of appointing supplier diversity “champions” not just within the procurement organization, but across the enterprise as well. The company is also intentional about spreading opportunity among many diverse suppliers instead of concentrating spending with just a small group.

Building true partnership

“Like the program itself, the concept of partnership has also evolved as diverse suppliers have increasingly driven innovation that BMS can apply across a wide variety of areas. This has raised suppliers’ value far beyond the goods and services they provide at any one time,” Melton says. “And that value has deepened BMS’ commitment to helping diverse suppliers grow and prosper in ways that help their businesses stay viable.”

One way BMS does this is by ensuring suppliers hold themselves to the same exacting standards that BMS does for its own business across sustainability, social and governance issues. That means working with suppliers to ensure they are protecting the environment as much as possible, following labor laws and pursuing diversity within their own organizations.

“We want to get to know these organizations and their CEOs well to understand their vision and business practices,” says Vincent. “That’s how we determine whether we’re a good cultural fit as well as a good service fit.”  

For those that show high potential, capacity-building is often a challenge, so mentoring gives the leaders of these organizations an opportunity to engage over time, including one-on-ones with BMS’ internal experts across marketing, finance, analytics and more. “In the beginning, we step back and ask, ‘What do you need from us?’ and sometimes we help them identify those needs,” says Vincent. “That’s part of lifting them up, contributing to their growth so they can contribute to ours.”

The program also offers scholarships to executive business programs at Dartmouth, Northwestern and elsewhere, where participants learn from professors and peers in an experience Vincent says is like getting an MBA in a week.   

We want to get to know these organizations and their CEOs well to understand their vision and business practices. That’s how we determine whether we’re a good cultural fit as well as a good service fit.
Rondu Vincent, executive director, Supplier Diversity & Sustainability, BMS

Tackling tough times

While Vincent is excited about future growth for the supplier diversity program, he’s especially proud of how the team worked with some current suppliers hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

One was Ice Safety Solutions, which offers safety training and equipment and is led by CEO and President Pamela Isom. The pandemic “basically disrupted and dismantled” her business, says Vincent, so Isom pivoted to offering personal protective equipment (PPE). BMS, which was in the market for PPE, immediately placed a $100,000 order. That allowed Isom to purchase stock to fulfill BMS’ order and those of other customers, including frontline workers such as fire and police departments. Eventually she was able to rehire staff, pay rent and restock.

“That amount of money may not have been a stretch for us, but for an enterprise on the brink, it was enough for them to keep going. And today, they’re thriving,” Vincent says.

It’s experiences like these that not only have an impact on those businesses and their communities, but BMS as well. After all, it’s a partnership—not a one-way delivery service—so when a supplier does well, ultimately so does BMS.

“It’s good for their business, employees and communities, and it’s good for our business and company culture,” says Vincent. “And, over time, it’s good for everyone.”  

Community outreach

Bristol Myers Squibb is committed to conscientious citizenship and helping worthwhile causes, as well as diversity and inclusion. It is no surprise that the supplier diversity program under the Strategic Sourcing & Procurement organization intentionally runs an outreach program to targeted diverse audiences as part of engagement at national supplier diversity events.

Since 2016, the Supplier Diversity team has held numerous successful community outreach events impacting thousands of individuals, through co-sponsoring STEM education and careers programs for middle school students and homeless teens and adults across the country in conjunction with numerous supplier diversity events

 "The overarching goal was and is to connect directly with the communities we serve, especially the underserved and under-represented," says Vincent. Initially the community program was called Real Talks, but it has evolved into an award-winning, action-oriented program now called Power 2 Impact, with sponsorship of it shared by Supplier Diversity, and often partnering with internal partners such as Government Affairs, Talent Acquisition, and the company's People in Business Resource Groups (PBRGs) as well as external partners for full positive impact on communities.

Click here to learn more about our Supplier Diversity Program.