“Diversity” seems to be the word on everyone’s lips these days, with more businesses than ever pledging to take action. Customers and employees alike are looking to see real change at the corporate level, particularly among the younger generations: nearly half of millennials believe that companies have a responsibility and duty to promote diversity. What does it really mean, though, to “promote diversity”? Hire a diverse staff? Generate diverse leads? Maintain a diverse supply chain?
For Tracey Grace, it’s all of the above — and more. Grace, the founder and CEO of IBEX IT Business Experts, has always believed that diversity needs to go far beyond the walls of a company’s office. She has made it her professional mission to encourage and help companies diversify their supply chains through her new vendor management platform, Certifiably Diverse. I caught up with her recently to hear about what her journey has been like and where she hopes to go in the future.
Serenity Gibbons: As a diverse supplier yourself, what challenges have you faced with supplier diversity and getting access to opportunities?
Tracey Grace: Starting IBEX a major question was, “Do I promote our minority and woman-owned diversity status, or do I tuck away?” This decision is one faced by most diverse businesses, and thankfully more and more leaders are putting themselves out there — I remember when very few Black business owners would even post their photo on LinkedIn! Eventually I knew that I wouldn’t want to work with a business that wasn’t willing to work with someone like me, but there’s no question that this decision cost me a few opportunities. It can be difficult to get noticed or to establish a reputation as quickly as some of your competitors, which is why it’s so important to have a network of satisfied customers out there.
Gibbons: Who is typically responsible for supplier diversity within a company? How does it affect diversity and inclusion as a whole?
Grace: While some large businesses have supplier diversity managers, most companies assign the task of diversifying the supply chain to the same person who manages diversity in the workplace. This means that the business world is full of diversity, equity, and inclusion managers who are stretched far too thin between their various responsibilities. Any service or platform that could make their lives easier would lead to greater supplier diversity in turn.
Gibbons: Why did you create Certifiably Diverse?
Grace: Four years ago, I was meeting with a client interested in outsourcing some IT work, and during the meeting they mentioned just how difficult it was for them to get their supply chain suitably diverse. In that moment I realized just how much of a need there was for a system that did the heavy lifting for big companies. Small suppliers can’t get their attention on their own, and there are too many for large enterprises to be able to sort through. I wanted Certifiably Diverse to work as a bridge between those two worlds, diversifying large companies while still managing to highlight suppliers based on the strength and uniqueness of their offerings.
Gibbons: There are a lot of other players in this space, why do you think Certifiably Diverse will succeed despite the competition?
Grace: While it’s true that there are several popular vendor management platforms and that some of them incorporate diversity statuses, I wouldn’t have created Certifiably Diverse if I felt like everything was running smoothly. When we meet people to talk about their current vendor management systems, they tell us that they’re cumbersome, hard to use, and not intuitive at all — how can a platform promote supplier diversity if companies struggle even to use it in the first place? What truly makes us different, though, is that Certifiably Diverse is designed to work for enterprise companies as well as promote small, diverse vendors, not just one or the other. It’s a system for improving the state of things, not just maintaining the status quo.
Gibbons: What is your vision for Certifiably Diverse’s future?
Grace: I’m so grateful that I get to operate a business whose success also means success for others. If Certifiably Diverse is doing well, that means other small businesses owned and operated by underrepresented groups are getting more action than they would have otherwise. We want to make the practice of diversifying a supply chain as seamless and easy as possible — right now, that’s Certifiably Diverse’s sole focus.
It often feels like diversity is at risk of becoming more of a buzzword than an actual ethos, but Tracey Grace shows that there are still people in the business world striving to make it better. I expect that, as the market for services that promote diversity grows, the world is going to see a lot more entrepreneurs like Grace ready to grow along with it.
Forbes – Entrepreneurs