My Diversity Masterminds® business partner, Heather Cox, and I attended the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) Conference last week in Denver. The NGLCC conference is always one of my favorites because while it shares DNA with the other supplier diversity conferences, it is distinct in a couple of ways.
What differentiates the NGLCC conference
As a chamber, it is overtly political. They lobby on issues that are important to the LGBT business community and as many of the speakers pointed out, they have been very busy this year protecting trans folks and the queer community from harmful legislation in state legislatures around the country.
In just about every session I attended speakers and participants referenced the cultural moment where queer and trans people feel vulnerable and unsafe. Kevin Naff, editor and co-owner of the Washington Blade talked to the audience about his book “How We Won the War for LGBT Equality (And how our enemies could take it all away)”.
It was the latter sentiment that drove a lot of the discussions around the need to preserve mental health and protect one’s own space. Keynote speaker Shola Richards said, with regard to whether the LGBT community should be bringing people who deny their basic humanity into the fold, “A honey bee doesn’t waste a single minute trying to convince a fly that honey tastes better than shit.”
It’s mandatory to have a good time
At the same time, one of the other dominating forces at this conference, as in previous years, is one of hope and positive change. On Wednesday night, the reception theme was 80s night. In the midst of political challenges and personal strife, there was still room to dance and celebrate another feature of the NGLCC conference. The openness and inclusiveness provides for really great parties.
Back to the Future
While we went back into the past for 80s night, I also found myself in a number of discussions about the future of supplier diversity.
I spoke with some attendees about how “diversity” is morphing into “inclusion” and “belonging.” There is a subtle shift in the way speakers at these events, especially representatives of major corporations, are making these changes to respond to the politics and culture of the moment.
And, the effects of these programs and the political challenges are not limited to the LGBT community. Responses to the SCOTUS ruling on affirmative action has had an effect on the whole network of supplier diversity/supplier inclusion programs.
Supplier diversity>>Supplier Inclusion
At the same time, I’m noticing that at the WBENC conference, Billion Dollar Roundtable, and several other organizational events, there is an increasing focus on sustainability and economic impact of these programs.
My friend whose company measures the brand impact to companies who have supplier diversity programs is seeing a huge amount of interest in her surveys. Companies who feel that their programs are under attack need economic justification to continue to invest in them.
I have mentioned before that I usually try to see the opportunity in what could be seen as a setback. These subtle changes in language – moving away from diversity to less polarizing terms – might be seen as ways to step back from corporate diversity commitments in both internal and external programs.
With change comes opportunity
But, they can also have a protective effect as well. Transparency in supply chains and diversifying supplier bases has always been good for company’s bottom lines and for the network of diverse suppliers that want to sell goods and services to major corporations.
If the motivation for buyers is now sustainability instead of diversity, diverse suppliers need to be aware of that in their messaging. That shift doesn’t preclude them from taking advantage of the opportunities.
The organizational networks put in place to respond to supplier diversity programs can be instrumental in sourcing and identifying suppliers who can meet these other needs too. In fact, the diverse supplier networks have a distinct advantage when the focus is on corporate supply chains.
The same goes for proving economic impact – both to the brand itself and the broader community. The promise of supplier diversity is that it puts dollars and economic power into underestimated communities, driving economic development. It’s always been a good idea to show how it’s working.
Future thought, present action
Dr. Michio Kaku, a physicist and futurist also talked to the audience about AI and how it will change business. Chance Mitchell, Co-founder and CEO of NGLCC asked him about the people who were too wary of AI to implement it in their businesses or who didn’t believe in its effectiveness. Dr. Kaku responded that they have that choice – and they can certainly make the choice to go bankrupt if they don’t want to get on board.
The tension between change and our ability to adapt to it was almost an unofficial theme of the conference. Officially though, the theme was Upward Together.
In that vein, Meghan Crutchley from Habitqueer kicked off the NGLCC bootcamp with a session on How to Feel Less Like Burnt Toast. They made the point that for marginalized communities, resilience is oversold. As a community we will need to reframe, refocus and react without forgetting to take the time to recover so we can move forward together.