Supply + Demand: What’s in a Name? Unpacking new Roles in Supply Chain and Diversity with Constance Wilson
As new roles appear in companies for supplier diversity initiatives, internal and external equity initiatives, and balance hiring efforts, the question must be posed as to whether this is performative or actually progressive. To answer this, it’s important that the current state of things, how far we’ve come, and how much further we have to go are addressed, discussed openly, and shared with leaders across all industries.
In the latest Supply + Demand: The Real Cost of Doing Business webinar, Stimulus Founder and CEO, Tiffanie Stanard, sat down with the Global Head of Belonging, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (BEDI) at Udemy, Constance Wilson, to break down these new roles, how leaders can take advantage of this progress, and what still must be done to reach a true egalitarian future.
As an educator with over 15 years in the industry, Wilson has a unique perspective into these topics and recognizes that education has the power to be the great equalizer, if used correctly. On the other hand, Wilson also recognizes the vast inequities currently built within the system and how vital it is to reinvent this ‘boy’s club’ to not just focus on ‘who you know’ but rather ‘what you know’ moving forward. To see how this educator’s efforts have already made an impact on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in education, let’s take a look at the past and present that shaped this black woman leader we see today.
Background History and Work at Udemy
As a part of several marginalized communities herself (black, woman, mother), Wilson seeks to embrace her differences and help others to use theirs as their biggest advantage in life. Starting her career in marketing, Wilson learned the value of communication, being a persuasive advocate, and having visibility to sell yourself and the products you champion.
In March 2021, Wilson joined Udemy, an online learning platform with roughly 13 years in business dedicated to helping people improve their lives through learning by democratizing education. This global education company has offices in Turkey, Brazil, Ireland, San Francisco, and multiple other locations so as to ensure representation for every student that chooses to join a course. With this, it’s clear to see the dedication udemy already has for DEI initiatives. As such, Wilson earned her titled as the Global Head of BEDI rather quickly and began to build out her team and action plan internally and externally for diversity and inclusion.
Her dedication to Udemy’s initiatives is one of the reasons Wilson happily took the position and seeks to make a real impact in the company’s efforts for equity. Offering affordable education is something Wilson feels strongly about as she explained in the webinar, “A bachelor degree can cost you up to six figures and your degree doesn’t ensure the debt can be paid off with a guaranteed career. Udemy allows people to upscale and rescale through flexibility to develop their skills and move forward in their careers — or shift careers without paying for new highly expensive degrees. With Udemy courses, they’re affordable ranging from $10-$100, and there’s certainly no six-figure courses because that’s making education exclusive.”
With an understanding of the value of education and the cost of unjustly excluding individuals from opportunities, Wilson is an excellent resource for companies looking to navigate the new world of DEI initiatives, job titles, and supplier diversity programs. This is why Stimulus sought to discuss these topics of interest next — starting with the many titles associated with DEI and how these random jobs don’t truly offer a standard set of job requirements or expectations thus far.
Unpacking new Roles and Standards in DEI Initiatives
With so many titles ranging from ‘Chief Equity Officer’ and ‘Chief Diversity Officer’ to ‘DP of Culture’ and ‘DEI Specialist,’ it’s no wonder why many companies are confused as to what these jobs should be described as, include, and exclude for effectiveness.
As Wilson explains, standardization is crucial moving forward. When working in finances, you can move to different companies and your job title and description won’t change all that much. However, with the current state of DEI initiatives being up in the air, it’s difficult to define the best practices across the board, and to not lump these jobs in with Human Resources or other jobs to try and save money.
Fortunately, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is currently trying to rectify these issues, Wilson claims, to create standards that are concrete and prove the definitive value in having these DEI leaders in your company. As a result, Wilson believes that it will be easier for companies to take that first leap toward inclusion and equity. But, to help break down some of the other barriers companies face when creating DEI initiatives, Wilson also shared some of the most common setbacks and solutions leaders should recognize as well.
Challenges Companies Face When Implementing DEI Initiatives
As Wilson explains, there are three things companies must address if they want to have a strong DEI team and plan:
Some business leaders have no idea how to make their businesses more inclusive because they’ve never had to before. As a result, they find themselves stuck in their ways facing analysis paralysis and asking why they should even try if it might lead to them being perceived as ‘racist,’ ‘sexist,’ etc. The answer to this, according to Wilson, is simply accepting that you don’t know everything and taking the opportunity to learn from others about areas where you can improve. She recommends hiring a third-party evaluator for these efforts to create an action plan that is effective and flexible for the future.
Another issue many companies fall victim to is a sense of apparent apathy. Companies talk about DEI initiatives often nowadays but their actions can sometimes feel contrary. These brands continue to do the same thing because ‘if it’s not broken for me, why fix it?’ This is especially apparent when it comes to supplier diversity efforts as many companies tend to try to work with friends or big companies solely because they always have and don’t see how working with a smaller or more local supplier would be better.
To resolve this, you must be willing to hire someone that can serve as a persuasive advocate and explain the benefits of DEI initiative and Supplier Diversity Programs. Understanding the value of these actions can make leaders more apt to putting money towards these efforts and hiring a team to focus on these plans likewise.
Lastly, far too often even now, companies don’t perceive DEI and supplier diversity programs as business imperatives. While they don’t mind having them and using their current employees to try and make small changes, when there are budget cuts, they almost always cut DEI first as they don’t perceive it as ‘essential.’
This has to change, Wilson explains. Companies must understand the value of supplier diversity programs and DEI or they will consistently underfund and understaff these departments into oblivion. These efforts are not one-man jobs, they require just as much funding as any other department, and they must be treated with respect because, in today’s market, a company’s dedication to DEI truly does matter internally and externally.
Supplier Challenges and Company Goals
Two of the final topics Stanard and Wilson discussed in the recent insightful webinar were the challenges suppliers faced and the ways in which companies are currently setting DEI goals.
As both leaders agreed, the system was designed to work in an exclusive way, so it is very hard for small suppliers to actually enter that world without having connections or a large name backing them. Processes are currently in place that actually serve as obstacles for smaller suppliers from the very start.
Firstly, you have to certify your brand to designate yourself as part of a marginalized community. This can take 3 months or more to do and the process also includes fees in order to move forward. All of these processes also vary by state, meaning that, from day one, smaller marginalized vendors are ‘behind the ball.’
On top of this, unlike the massive companies that can pay for radio and social media ads, be featured in the Superbowl, or have full teams dedicated to contract procurement, small suppliers don’t typically have the budget for any of this. Even though they may have cheaper rates and the same qualifications, visibility is next to impossible for these smaller yet more reliable suppliers.
Having said this, Wilson feels that these suppliers must be particularly intentional and seek out supplier diversity programs so they can bid with the big companies and get contracts. These brands can’t become concerned with whether or not they are being chosen solely based on their certification. Instead, companies must think of this diversity badge, so to speak, as an equalizer and a chance to finally be noticed by companies. At the end of the day, the goal should always be picking the best suppliers and including marginalized companies organically through intention and inclusivity.
As Wilson and Stanard explain, the goal shouldn’t be to acquire ‘token’ suppliers simply to diversify but rather to even out the playing field and actually choose based on qualifications rather than company size or who they know. Automation can help to give that equitable chance to people in order to find great diverse suppliers, according to Wilson. The data and having marginalized companies in supplier databases is the key to providing visibility to these smaller suppliers moving forward. Fortunately, at Stimulus, with the Stimulus Relationship Intelligence Platform (SRIP), companies can use automation and a more diverse database to actually choose the right companies no matter who runs them or what size they are.
As Stanard states, “At the end of the day, take advantage of what’s happening right now and the good intentions of these companies and their DEI initiatives to join supplier diversity programs, be certified as a diverse supplier, network, and create those relationships. It doesn’t matter how you get in there as long as you do something powerful and continue to grow these initiatives once you are in that position of power.”
In conjunction with that sentiment, Wilson went on to add, “This concept takes me back and makes me think about the ancestors. The people that came before us and the people that came before them and the things they had to go through to get us to the point where we’re sitting in this webinar. I mean, you’re owning and running your own company and I’m a director in corporate America. That took some intentional effort from a lot of folks for a long time for us to be able to sit where we are right now. So, yes, it is about the future generations and setting up and establishing things now so when they get their turn to be able to go through ‘the door,’ it’s already open for them. They don’t have to kick it or push at it, they can just walk through based on what we’ve done in this present day.”
Company Goals and Structure
For companies, the goal should be to create an action plan for supplier diversity that has a certain timeframe to achieve set goals but doesn’t end there. Instead, the plans should be flexible and redefined regularly by staff, stakeholders, third-party resources, and your DEI team. Currently, many companies aren’t even tracking their supplier diversity, so it becomes hard to acquire contracts with the best suppliers but, with the right structure in place, this issue can be a thing of the past.
A great way to go about this by building your foundation first. Companies need to first create internal supplier diversity structures and enforce them so these conversations and connections can actually happen. This is also how companies can prove their DEI efforts are not just performative but visible and definitive.
One of the great things Wilson and her team offer to companies looking to build this structure is free education on these crucial elements. Through Udemy, Wilson and her team offer free resources to help companies with DEI and understanding new terms and phrases such as ‘white privilege’ and ‘intersectionality.’ Those resources enable and empower leaders and their brands to move forward in their own journeys toward inclusion and equality. As Wilson puts it, it takes learning and unlearning to succeed, “The golden rule used to be ‘treat others as you would want to be treated,’ but we must actually now learn to ‘treat people the way they want to be treated.’ We shouldn’t be centering our interactions around our own perceptions and worldviews. We must learn to listen to others and learn how they want to be treated and viewed to create true equity in our companies.”
The Future of BEDI with Constance Wilson
Although Wilson has already made a tremendous impact in Udemy and the education industry as a whole, there is still so much more to come, she says. “I like the fact that it’s not just me working on BEDI efforts. I have a team of three plus myself all working on these efforts plus our culture crew, global council, and employee resource groups. ‘Udemates’ must understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We have to explain why it matters and why it’s relevant to Udemy. It’s important to articulate to our internal staff our efforts and the data behind it. That’s why we partnered with Canaries, a tech firm, to use a data-driven approach to building out our DEI initiatives and going through our company with a fine-toothed comb to find where we can improve or build upon our current initiatives and action plans most effectively. This will help to bring visibility to potential issues we have to set up a one, three, and five year plan. We accept we’re not where we want to be just yet, and we’re using our data to move forward and create action plans based on what we find. Vulnerability to accept we don’t know everything and we’re not perfect is vital.”
In the end, it’s all about progress. For the companies that don’t know what to do and choose to do nothing, it’s simply not acceptable anymore. As a leader, you have to pivot and make changes according to what’s happening around you, and it starts with accepting you’re not perfect. Ignoring the issues in our world and treating every opportunity equally even when it’s not is no longer viable as employees, other companies, and customers all expect brands to address these issues and make efforts to resolve them in their own company structures.
As Wilson remarked at the end of the webinar, “More and more employees want to know that the companies they are working for are not just aligned with them from a professional perspective but aligned based on personal values as well.”
For this, compassion, structure, and data are key.
To learn more of the valuable insights Wilson and Stanard shared in this webinar, watch the full video below:
Learn more about Supply + Demand: The Real Cost of Doing Business — visit https://www.supplyanddemandevents.com/