In this episode of The Business Gay Podcast, host Calan Breckon speaks with A.J. Stewart, the Operations Manager For Supplier Diversity at Canada’s 2SLGBTQI+ Chamber of Commerce, also known as the CGLCC.
As a subject matter expert for Supplier Diversity, A.J.’s goal is to connect diverse entrepreneurs to a broad network of Canada’s largest corporations with an invested interest in diversifying their supply chains, as well as fellow diverse owned businesses. IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility) is a family business for A.J. In his role at the CGLCC, he is passionate about advocacy for diverse & marginalized communities holistically.
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Key Takeaways for quick navigation:
- [00:42] Supplier Diversity is a commitment by major corporations to diversify their supply chains and provide opportunities for diverse-owned businesses.
- [02:35] Supplier Diversity is crucial for businesses to align with ESG goals, fostering innovation, competitiveness, and economic opportunities while meeting social responsibility standards.
- [06:01] Certification as a diverse supplier is not a compromise on cost, quality, or service but offers access to a network, resources, and support, promoting inclusivity and business growth.
- [13:26] Large corporations benefit from Supplier Diversity through access to diverse perspectives, cost-effective operations, and enhanced corporate social responsibility, ultimately contributing to their bottom line.
- [16:12] Small suppliers can better equip themselves by being prepared, doing homework on potential partners, following up effectively, and demonstrating patience in the often lengthy process of engaging with large corporations.
- [22:54] CGLCC offers both Supplier Diversity Certification (B2B focused for businesses majority-owned by the community) and Rainbow Registered Accreditation (B2C focused for any business, regardless of ownership, promoting inclusivity).
- [23:22] Supplier Diversity Certification provides B2B businesses access to large supply chains, learning opportunities, mentorship, and networking, while Rainbow Registered focuses on creating inclusive spaces for the 2SLGBTQI+ community.
- [24:46] Rainbow Registered signifies businesses as allies and supporters of the 2SLGBTQI+ community, even if not owned by community members, promoting inclusivity in their policies and practices.
- [25:15] To learn more about CGLCC and certifications, visit their website at cglcc.ca
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Welcome to the Business Gay podcast where we talk about all things business, marketing and entrepreneurship. I’m your host, Calan Breckon, and on today’s episode, I have A.J. Stewart, the operations manager for supplier diversity at Canada’s 2SLGBTQI+ Chamber of Commerce, also known as the CGLCC. As a subject matter expert for supplier diversity, A.J.’s goal is to connect diverse entrepreneurs to a broad network of Canada’s largest corporations with an invested interest in diversifying their supply chains, as well as fellow diverse owned businesses. Idea, which stands for inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility, is a family business for A.J. In his role at the CGLCC, he is passionate about advocacy for diverse and marginalized communities holistically. I’m excited to jump in with A.J. and to talk about the importance of supplier diversity and the role it plays in today’s changing markets. So let’s jump in.
[00:01:44] Calan Breckon: Welcome to the podcast. I’m so excited to have you. How you doing?
[00:01:49] A.J. Stewart: I’m good, Calan, how are you doing?
[00:01:52] Calan Breckon: I’m fantastic. I’ve wanted to do this podcast episode for a while with you because as some people may or may not know, I am a CGLCC certified diverse supplier, but I know many people who are not. And also, I get questions all the time about what it is, how you can use it, how it’s benefited me. And so I’m really excited to dive into those things with you today. Are you ready to tell us all the fun details?
[00:02:18] A.J. Stewart: I was born ready. I’m so ready.
[00:02:20] Calan Breckon: Magical. Okay, so, I mean, speaking broadly, what is supplier diversity? Just to educate the people first.
[00:02:27] A.J. Stewart: Yeah. For, you know, at its core, supplier diversity is a commitment to diversity and inclusion by major corporations in Canada, the United States and globally. Really to be a little more thoughtful about who they’re buying their products and services from, SEO, they want to provide that level playing field for diverse owned businesses to enter into procurement opportunities within their corporate supply chains. So that’s at its core, what supplier diversity is can get a little bit more complicated than that as well. When we talk about tier one or tier two, spend so small to medium sized organizations that work directly with major corporations, and then you have those tier two, the smaller ones, who kind of work through those medium sized organizations to serve a larger organization. And the kind of the cool thing we’re seeing in this space now is a lot of larger organizations in this country are now turning around to their tier one suppliers. So the people that supply directly to them, and they’re saying, hey, we have a supplier diversity initiative in place, and now we expect you to have a supplier diversity initiative in place. So, as I’m sure you can assume or imagine, diverse businesses or marginalized business owners in this country, their organizations or their corporations are smaller one to two person organizations and not these medium sized corporations. So that kind of tier one spend of turning around and working with those smaller, diverse businesses is really, really important to the space as well.
[00:04:00] Calan Breckon: Yeah, and I was going to say, why is it important for businesses to pay attention to supplier diversity in their supply chains?
[00:04:07] A.J. Stewart: Yeah, this is a really big question, but I think that a lot of it ties into that conversation around ESG. So for those who don’t know what ESG is, we’re essentially focusing on the sustainability goals of a company, which include environmental, social and governance. So all of these factors are really major considerations within an organization’s supply chain. So decisions aren’t just related to finding the cheapest or best deal. Environmental and sustainability considerations are added to the equation as well as social considerations. So organizations want to ensure they’re being socially responsible. And ESG efforts have taught us that these elements are interconnected. And to achieve true sustainability, we have to consider the bigger picture and how these all relate. And this is where supplier diversity plays a big role. Supplier diversity enhances innovation, competitiveness, and diverse suppliers bring a wealth of unique perspectives, ideas, approaches to the table. And that diversity of thought and experience leads to the development of innovative products and services that really better meet today’s evolving expectations from our major corporations.
It also enables customers to tap into niche markets and expand their customer base, or major corporations to tap into those niche markets and expand. And by sourcing from diverse suppliers, they foster economic opportunities, job creation, entrepreneurship within that marginalized community, all while advancing their internal ESG efforts and increasing competitiveness and brand reputation.
And I guess CGLCC has conducted several surveys over the years that speak to this. And I think what they’re truly saying here, in a nutshell, is that supplier diversity is good for the bottom line. And so to sum up, I guess, because I’ve said a lot, to sum up what I’ve said, I guess you could make the argument that if folks aren’t engaged with supplier diversity efforts within their organization, then their supply chain isn’t truly sustainable.
[00:06:15] Calan Breckon: Yes. And I will say many different kinds of backgrounds and peoples have been saying for a long time, we need change. We need things to shift. We need to get more accessibility and visibility going on. And we are finally seeing the big companies, the big conglomerate organizations, turning around and finally going, okay, we need to be the change, because everybody, people follow suit in the big shoes. And so they are now turning around saying, okay, well, we have supplier diversity engagement going on in our organization. You also need to have it in your organization. And so it is trickling down, and I am seeing that coming about. I know from a small, single person organization, it can be difficult sometimes to meet all these requirements for the large organizations. But being able to plug into maybe the smaller medium organizations on the way to larger organizations is a really great way for me to get into there when it comes to your sustainability and environment and all that. I am a single person. I can’t track all that, but I can do other things for smaller organizations and still be a part of that supply chain. Now, I’m really curious. Why would a business seek out certification to be a diverse supplier?
[00:07:37] A.J. Stewart: Yeah.
So I think maybe before I get into the good stuff about why people get certified, I’ll take an opportunity to talk briefly about what supplier diversity isn’t. So, first and foremost, it’s not a compromise on cost, quality, or service requirements. So we’re not asking you to provide a deal or a discount to corporate members or government members. But on the flip side, it’s also not a social program or a guarantee of securing business with those participating corporations.
So, essentially, what supplier diversity is, is a seat at the table. It’s an access point to vetted corporations that have an invested interest in diversifying their supply chain and working with those diverse and marginalized entrepreneurs from equity deserving groups.
So we recently collaborated on a study with the Diversity Institute at Toronto Metropolitan University that focused on the state of 2SLGBTQI+ entrepreneurship in Canada. And of course, I don’t have to tell you, Calan, but we found that one of the biggest challenges facing the entrepreneurs in our community is access to funding.
[00:08:43] Calan Breckon: Oh, my God. Shocker.
[00:08:45] A.J. Stewart: I don’t think anyone’s shocked, but what we also found was that access and awareness and inclusion of support programs were lacking. So 2SLGBTQ+ entrepreneurs are feeling alone because they don’t know actually about the supports and programs out there that can assist them. So all of the diverse supplier certification programs, and maybe I’ll back up a second, is that supplier diversity is not just an initiative for 2SLGBTQ+ business owners, but it serves marginalized entrepreneurs holistically. So if you are indigenous, LGBTQ, women owned, veteran owned, identify as a person with disability, visible minority, or a refugee, you can get certified in Canada under an organization. We’re actually part of a council called Supplier Diversity Alliance Canada, which is a coalition of several different certifying organizations under the umbrella of SDAC, Supplier Diversity Alliance Canada. So it’s a much broader conversation.
But all of those diverse supplier programs, whether that’s through us or another organization, don’t just offer an official stamp and say, okay, you’re certified, off you go. We also offer access to resources and tools, professional development, business acumen, networking workshops, webinars, and most valuable, we offer access to a robust network of fellow diverse entrepreneurs and professionals.
So getting certified, it’s not just an advocacy point. It’s a support system that provides you guidance and access. But again, it’s not an instant win. And we aren’t guaranteeing business. We are offering a comprehensive tool to have in your belts as a marginalized business owner that provides access and support. And Calan, just to jump back for a second to talk a little bit about your comments about how corporations are really leading the change, I heard a really interesting analogy that I’m definitely going to start using to put that example in the context of an insurance company. So whenever you go for car insurance, they always ask you, do you have winter tires? And if you have winter tires, the price goes down a little bit. So it’s like an incentive, right? Someone was making that analogy to the supplier diversity space, where if a major organization like Tdey Telus is asking, do you have a supplier diversity program, or are you a diverse supplier? People are going to be like, oh, wow, this is important. Just like those winter tires. I thought that was really funny, so I just thought I’d.
[00:11:26] Calan Breckon: That’s a really interesting analogy, but it does make sense because a lot of them are asking for it. Now, you brought up a lot of really great points, and I will say from my side, as the certified supplier, I was that entrepreneur, that queer, LGBTQ entrepreneur who felt like I didn’t have access because I didn’t go to post secondary a further education. I didn’t plug into these kind of traditional networks where I could lean on fellow previous classmates or other people that I knew from that world in order to better myself in business, to learn, to grow, to find mentorship, to learn about business. I didn’t have that, and I felt isolated and alone. And that’s just a story a lot of LGBTQ people have as well, in general, for life.
A lot of times, we can’t lean on our families because most of the times, when you’re a business person, family and friends is kind of your first seed round of money or support to start your business. And there’s a lot of people who don’t have that because we just didn’t have that in general because our families maybe didn’t want to be a part of our lives anymore or what have you. And so we start in that kind of. Maybe a bit of a disadvantage right there. And so for me coming into this, what I really got out of being a CGLCC certified supplier was I got access to that room of people who not only I felt like I could breathe and be myself around, where I was like, oh, I don’t have to hide this part of me because it won’t hurt me in business, in this room. That was a huge factor to me, where I was like, oh, this whole room loves all of me and who I am, and I can be my true self in business, and that makes me wanting me working with people in this room potentially way better, because then we can all be ourselves and enjoy that exchange a lot more. And being able to also have that access to the big corporates and know that it’s not this dream that’s super far away or a complete different world that I live in. They’re human beings just like me. We can chat, maybe. Yeah, I can’t supply to ey because.
[00:13:34] Speaker A: I’m this one little, small person, and.
[00:13:36] Calan Breckon: They are this huge company. But maybe eventually, down the road, there’s different ways in order to work with them in a different capacity. But even having those relationships is hugely impactful, and it has completely changed my life, being in those rooms, meeting those people, meeting other entrepreneurs. But it’s so wild that I had no idea about the CGLCC until a friend of mine just mentioned it off the cuff, and I was at a dodgeball event, and he’s like, oh, yeah, I did this pitch for the CGLCC, la la la, and I was like, what is this? He’s like, oh, you should look it up. The LGBTQ or two s, LGBTQIA chamber of Commerce in Canada. I’m like, what? And so the fact that we need more people to learn about it. And even just now, another friend of mine just signed up for getting certified because they’re growing this amazing platform, the Bo platform. Did a podcast about it, go back a couple of episodes. It’s the Bo platform and it’s a great streaming platform that’s going to be coming up. So it really does create a lot of access.
I could go on forever and ever and ever. So I’m going to stop going on because I think I’ve done enough on that. But what are some more benefits big businesses experience from engaging in supplier diversity? From their side of it? Yeah.
[00:15:01] A.J. Stewart: So when it comes right down to it, large corporations certification provides large corporations with access and visibility. So really it provides them with reliable accountability so they can grow their supplier diversity initiatives within their organization, again, both ethically and sustainably. So working with those diverse companies provides, again, that competitive advantage that comes from innovation and flexibility. And through these small businesses, they’re not only diversifying their supply chain, but it’s also further rooting their connections within these diverse communities and supporting economic development. I’m going to say it again because I think it’s important. Supplier diversity is good for the bottom line. So those diverse owned businesses, often being smaller or medium sized enterprises, can be more cost effective in their operations compared to larger corporations. So they may have lower overhead, cost, or streamlined processes or efficient supply chains themselves, which allows them to offer competitive pricing for their products or services. And that can result in cost savings for the larger corporation when sourcing from that diverse supplier.
Major corporations invest in supplier diversity efforts globally. This is not nationally or just in North America, but it’s a global initiative. And they do that because they know that working with those diverse businesses provides that myriad of benefits to buyers. So connecting and engaging with diverse communities, meeting corporate and social responsibility goals, enhanced cost savings, flexibility, response time, creativity, innovation, product and service quality, I could probably go on forever as well. So all these benefits, though, are really dependent on the active participation within the space. And sometimes we do get that chicken and the egg question, what comes first, the diverse business or the major corporation? And I think they need to come together, really. And to do that, they need a forum and a community where those connections can be made and fostered. And that’s where we come in. That’s where CGLCC does its work, as well as our other partners with Supplier Diversity Alliance Canada.
[00:17:14] Calan Breckon: Yeah, definitely. And I just love everything that you’re just saying my brain is just like, I have ten different things I want to say in my brain right now, so I need to pull myself back down and be like, okay, let’s calm down. Let’s get back, get into it.
I was talking earlier about how for me, as a small, single individual person, working with the big corporate organizations is a little bit more difficult. But how can a smaller supplier better equip themselves to step up to the plate when it comes to working with corporations through supplier diversity programs?
[00:17:45] A.J. Stewart: Okay, so first, there is a really fantastic resource on YouTube. It’s called Supplier diversity tv. It’s not a CGLCC resource and it’s us based content, but a lot of it is very transferable to the canadian market. So I encourage folks to check that out. You’re going to hear from supplier diversity managers, from some of the biggest players in the space about what they need from you and how to best work with them to be successful. But to be more specific, I think one of the biggest things that I hear is be prepared, and that can be simple things. When you’re going to a matchmaking event or a networking event, be on time, have a practice and perfective elevator pitch. Have your business cards have capability statements printed off and in digital format for your business.
But we can get even more specific as well. And this comes down to doing your homework. So know who you’re meeting ahead of time, look them up on LinkedIn, know what it is you do and be ready to explain it to someone who may have no idea about the industry you work in or what you do. And know who it is that you want to connect with within their organization as well. It doesn’t have to be a specific name or a person, but you should be able to give them an idea of the types of roles or departments it would be productive for you to meet with within their organization.
And I get a lot of the times I hear supplier diversity managers, when they’re giving tips and tricks, say, don’t ask what we can do for you, tell them what you can do for us and then make the ask to be connected with someone who wants to buy your product and service. Yeah, the other big one is follow up.
Not every day, but do follow up and stay connected. So send updates on innovation and new developments. Can you add that person you’re speaking with to your newsletter? Ask that person how you can best follow up. Is it by email, phone, text? How often is appropriate? And then respect that boundary. This is an exaggerated example, but there’s a story I heard once, and it actually might have been on supplier diversity tv about a business owner who saw a supplier diversity manager at Disney World with their family, and they approached them and started a business conversation right there in the middle of Disney World and then loaded them up with swag that that person had to then carry with them for the rest of the day at Disney. So I’m willing to bet that person did not end up getting any business. But this is also a lesson in appropriate and effective communication. But maybe also being mindful that not everyone wants to carry around your branded merchandise for the entire day unless you’re in an environment where that’s expected.
Also, I guess, be specific in your asks. Remember that supplier diversity managers may not be the direct person that you want to plug into, but they hold that contact within their business. So the ask might be for more access and connections within the organization and not necessarily direct business. And I think most of all, and finally, be patient.
Doing business with large organizations takes time. There’s a lot of moving parts. Not only do you have to wait for that perfect RFP or bid to come along, but you also have to work on fostering that network, just like you said, Calan, that you’re building within that organization. And the more people you have in your corner, the better position you’ll be in when that RFP does come along.
[00:21:13] Calan Breckon: Yeah, definitely. Patience is a huge virtue.
There’s this one organization that I finally, right before, in December, I closed the deal and everything, paperwork and all that kind of got done, but it took me nine months maybe to do that. But that’s relationship building, communication, talking. And I like what you were talking about in regards to your pitch or how you speak to people. I think of it as just relationships. Business relationships are just relationships because business is done with human beings. We are human beings, and we all come to the table. And so when I went to my first kind of meetings and events and conferences and that kind of a thing, my approach is I just want to meet really cool people. And through just the osmosis of doing that, I naturally have conversations, because people at those events eventually want to talk about business. But if you approach them like human beings and just talk to them, they’re going to eventually be curious and be like, well, what do you do? And that opens that door. And also the Disneyland story, don’t just throw everything on the person. It’s like, talk to them like a human being. Say, hey, this is really great. I would love to continue this conversation, but let’s do it. When we’re not both having fun. Let’s just exchange contact, or the best contact of who I should be speaking to in the organization.
[00:22:41] A.J. Stewart: And that brings up another point of it takes so long to work with a large corporation on purpose. Right? Supplier risk, especially when it comes to a new supplier, is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. When a large corporation, or any organization for that matter, is working with a supplier that they’ve never worked with before and don’t have a previous relationship with, there’s a huge risk that comes along with that. So building that network and building that rapport within that nine month span is actually part of the process. You have to build trust in order to get the money.
[00:23:22] Calan Breckon: Yeah, it is what it is. And I say the same thing with SEO. It is not a short term, quick fix to your organic marketing. SEO takes months and sometimes years to really build out that structure. But that’s because you’re building this library of content that takes a long time. The same with trust. Trust takes a long time to truly build with people. Now, yes, you can gain easier trust when somebody recommends you, who personally knows you, the friend of a friend. Recommendations come with that trust. But it’s like any relationships, they still take time to get to know, like, and trust somebody to make sure that it’s like, okay, I know you enough to feel safe and comfortable enough to give you money and know that you’re going to give me in return what you say you were going to give me in, right?
[00:24:09] A.J. Stewart: That’s right.
[00:24:10] Calan Breckon: So I’m really curious. I want to know more about the actual certifications that the CGLCC offers and the programs you have for supplier diversity. Because I know it’s not just one you have SEO.
[00:24:23] A.J. Stewart: You know, we have our supplier diversity certification program, which is the program that we’ve been talking about today. And then we also have our rainbow registered accreditation program. So CGLCC has spent a lot of time over the years differentiating between certification and accreditation, and that’s on purpose. We want to make sure people are falling in the right bucket for programs that are accessible and appropriate for their business.
But really, when it comes down to it, supplier diversity certification is primarily a b to b focused tool and only for businesses that are majority owned by a member of the community. So again, through certification, we offer access to some of the largest supply chains in North America, learning and development, mentorship, and of course, networking. So Rainbow registered accreditation has a primarily b to c focus, although any business can become rainbow registered, including a b to b business, and it’s for any business, regardless of their ownership. So you don’t have to identify within the community to become accredited with CGLCC.
So just to provide kind of like a blanket umbrella statement for Rainbow registered, it’s a nationally recognized space.
Nationally recognized accreditation, pardon me, and businesses can measure their policies and practices against a set of qualifying standards to ensure they’re providing a safe space in terms of staff and clientele. And the great thing about the Rainbow registered program is it’s not just a sticker that you slap on your window. Our assessors provide you with a report and feedback on how you can become a more inclusive space for the 2SLGBTQ+ community. And CGLCC also provides support and resources to make that a reality for you as well.
[00:26:10] Calan Breckon: Yeah, and I love both. And when I. For me, looking on the outside in, I always looked at it as like, I know that I can trust a rainbow registered because they are supporters of the community. They’re our allies. They’re like, we might not be of the community ourselves personally, but we are supporters and we want to support and we want to be able to show up for that. And so I really love that there is that option, because if you’re not of the community, there should still be an option to say, but hey, we’re here, we’re ready to support and we want to create that inclusive in our business and in supply chains in general.
Where can people find out more about the CGLCC and certifications if they are interested?
[00:26:50] A.J. Stewart: What an excellent question. So you can reach out to us either by going to our website, CGLCC.CA, or you can reach out to me or one of my colleagues at supplier diversity at CGLCC.CA through a direct email. And even if you’re interested in the Rainbow registered accreditation program and not supplier diversity certification, we can make sure we connect you with the right people. We are great connectors at CGLCC. So, yes, please contact us any which way. We will say hello and make sure we connect you accordingly.
[00:27:24] Calan Breckon: Definitely. And I’ll make sure all of this is in the show notes so you can just go there, find the links that you need to get to all these amazing people. AJ, thank you so much for being on the show today. This is a magical, this is a magical podcast. And I hope a lot of people learned, I know a lot of people learned about certifications and the CGLCC.
[00:27:44] A.J. Stewart: Thank you so much for your time, Calan. I really appreciate you having me on the show as well and letting me get up on my soapbox for a little bit. I appreciate it.
[00:27:51] Calan Breckon: I love the soapbox.
[00:27:53] Speaker A: If I haven’t said it enough already on this podcast, I am an absolute lover and supporter of the CGLCC. They completely changed my business and how it operates and just I’m so grateful for the opportunities that have come my way because of being part of the organization. Thank you again for tuning into today’s episode. Don’t forget to hit that subscribe button and if you really enjoyed, please give me a star rating, it really helps out the podcast. The Business Gay Podcast is written, produced, and edited by me, Calan Breckon, and if you’re looking to get a little SEO website audit, you can head on over to calanbreckon.com/audit and set one up with me, or just click the link in the show notes. That’s it for today. Peace, love, rainbows.