Kelly Services: Diversity must help bottom line to be sustainable
Source: Crain’s Detroit Business
In 1979, Kelly Services Inc. became one of the first staffing companies to enact a diversity program. Today, its formalized supplier diversity program encompasses 4,600 suppliers worldwide and 800 in the U.S. The Troy-based company itself has grown, too, expanding beyond temporary staffing and into helping companies manage their talent supply chains.
For the past 12 years, Brenda Marshall, senior director of global diversity solutions, has been responsible for the day-to-day growth and development of Kelly's supplier base. Under her watch, the company has won the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council's award for Corporation of the Year – Professional Services for the past five years.
Crain's talked with Marshall and John Healy, Kelly's vice president and talent supply chain strategist, about the company's diversity initiatives.
How does Kelly define diversity?
Marshall: We look at it as minorities, women, small disadvantaged, veteran-owned. As the economy continues to evolve, so does the face of diversity. Diversity started out of the civil rights movement. It was a process designed to ensure that minorities were incorporated into procurement as well as solutions to corporate consanguinity. Today, it's about business results. Every initiative in a company has to be sustainable and deliver value. Diversity is no different.
What is the business case for having diversity in your supply chain?
Healy: We're a talent supply chain. We need to ensure that our supply base reflects the community that our customer is operating within and that Kelly operates within. It's not just about capturing spend, which is how these initiatives began for some organizations.
Marshall: This is not about set-asides and preferential treatment. These suppliers have to compete, perform and deliver like everyone else. They just might not have the deep pockets or abundance of resources like a majority supplier. But they can be our most valued suppliers.
How does Kelly develop its diverse suppliers?
Marshall: A cornerstone of our strategy is development and continuing education so that once we find suppliers and assess their readiness and capabilities, we can make sure they become a sustainable profile in our supply chain.
(Kelly recently launched an office of innovation, which has a pilot project that was brought forward by one of the company's diverse suppliers.)
Healy: They had something that they thought was unique but didn't know how to bring it to market or have the network to extend that out. Now it has the potential to change the staffing market, and Kelly's recruitment business is a supplier to one of its suppliers. That's an exciting thing to me, when the relationship becomes bidirectional.
How do you discuss the case for diversity internally?
Healy: This isn't something you do alone; diversity is a team initiative. This is a strategic imperative. We have CEO-level commitment that extends into a supplier diversity advisory council and a supplier diversity team that Brenda leads.
Marshall: Diversity does not belong to the diversity department. It has to be a part of your culture and how you do business.
How do you measure the success of Kelly's diversity supplier program?
Marshall: Obviously, we have our scorecard — on-time delivery, quality, etcetera — but we take it one step further. We look at business acumen, cultural alignment to Kelly and the value vendors bring in terms of innovation. If you're talking about building partnerships, it's about more than about performance; it's about the infrastructure, financial solvency, resources and technology to succeed.
What challenge does Kelly face in building its diverse supply chain?
Marshall: To maintain inclusion in our supply chain, it is important for us to develop a network of scalable minority, women and disadvantaged business enterprises. As such, professional development and continuing education is the cornerstone of our diversity initiatives.
By fostering ongoing growth and development, we have connected hundreds of diverse firms to staffing industry leaders, procurement specialists and leading Fortune 500 companies, creating viable, profitable, sustainable partners.
What advice do you have for other firms implementing supplier diversity programs?
Marshall: You must approach it as a business initiative, not just being a good corporate citizen. Everyone is lean and mean; we learned from the recession that we have to be smarter. So if your diversity initiative is not contributing to the bottom line and bringing value, then it's not sustainable.
It's not just identifying diverse suppliers; it's about building a network. It's beyond a commitment; it's an investment. Diversity doesn't just happen by itself.