Originally published in the WBE Canada Magazine; Issue 7. Read our full magazine HERE.
Crazy. It’s the word Jessica Grey remembers using to describe her parent’s decision to leave Jamaica for a new life in Ottawa. And that was even before January’s frigid winds greeted her family on their first day in their adopted country.
“They were driven by a quest for a better education and careers for themselves and their children,” recalls Jessica. “Canada was the gateway to those kinds of opportunities.“
Access to Opportunity
Access to opportunity is something Jessica thinks a lot about nowadays as a leader on RBC’s global procurement team, which helps the bank achieve strategic objectives of maximizing the value of third-party supplier engagements, valued at $8.8 billion in 2021. Jessica’s role allows her to see how the bank’s buying power supports diverse suppliers and, in turn, strengthens local communities.
“Sixty to 70 per cent of every dollar spent with a diverse supplier goes back into that community. What that tells me is procurement can be a powerful change agent,” says Jessica, who defines diverse suppliers as businesses 51 per cent or more owned by a member of a traditionally underrepresented or underserved group including women, LGBTQ+, BIPOC, people with disabilities, veterans and, in the U.S., qualifying small businesses.
Build networks, gain momentum
Ann Gomez knows all about the transformational power of accessing opportunity. The founder of Clear Concept Inc., a training organization that helps people do their best work through productivity, high-performance teaming and wellbeing programs, has worked with RBC for 15 of the 18 years her firm has been in business.
“One of the challenges all diverse suppliers face is access to networks. But when you have a diverse supplier champion, like RBC, that makes introductions into the company, well that’s golden” says Ann, whose business has grown to 18 people. “Once introductions are made, it’s up to me to demonstrate the value we bring to the table. But the opportunity to pitch is all that we’re asking for.“
‘Procurement can be a powerful agent of change’
Efforts to diversify corporate supply chains are gaining momentum as part of a larger global response to address systemic racism. RBC, which first began to focus on diversifying its supply chain in the early 2000s as a way to support Indigenous-owned businesses, recognizes more progress is needed. For instance, 25 per cent of Canadian companies had no formal supplier diversity program in place, and more than 10 per cent are still in the initial stage of initializing one according to one research paper.
“Thousands upon thousands of businesses simply don’t have experience accessing opportunities to major companies. And so they struggle to grow. RBC’s strategy is to help level the playing field in every market we operate in,” explains Jessica.
The bank is on a ‘permanent campaign” to identify and include eligible businesses in its supplier diversity program, which currently includes more than 4,000 certified suppliers. Yet the bank’s access to such companies is far greater through its partnerships with diversity councils and other business associations to help eligible suppliers gain greater access to competitive bids. To accelerate the bank’s efforts around the world, the number of these partnerships has grown from four to 12 since 2018. The bank also embeds supplier diversity considerations into day-to-day procurement activities, and includes supplier diversity goals in the procurement activities to inspire progress.
Creating value for diverse-owned businesses
But even as Procurement evolves the diverse supply strategy, the bank looks for other ways to create value for companies owned by underrepresented or underserved groups. For instance, the bank leads various mentorship activities to help entrepreneurs gain access to new business opportunities, or skills to succeed over the long term, such as financial planning workshops for women entrepreneurs.
A number of bank executives have also put up their hands to coach these entrepreneurs. Jessica recalls one occasion when a senior leader invited attendees at a diversity conference to call her if they needed help with their sales pitches. “That said a lot about the connection between the bank’s diversity agenda and its procurement efforts,” says Jessica. “We want to build capabilities — and create opportunities — to strengthen communities.”
Clear Concept’s founder offers another example. “We used to only provide training in a workshop format, which made it hard to scale across a large organization,” explains Ann. “A team at RBC helped co-design a new model, effectively one-to-many, which not only allowed us to scale up but also make it more accessible to companies of all sizes. Their productivity program has been rolled out across the bank’s retail network, as well as other organizations across the country. I wholeheartedly believe that RBC has helped us step into our vision for what we’re trying to achieve as a company.”
“A big part of why RBC exists is to help communities prosper, so in a sense, we are simply embedding our Purpose into our sourcing tools and strategy,” says Jessica. “We know there are many diverse suppliers like Clear Concept, who may be one opportunity away from reaching their full potential. Helping them access it is good for their business, and more broadly, our society.“
Jessica Grey is an Associate Director, Supplier Diversity RBC. In her current role, Jessica works with a team of Procurement Professionals, across the globe, leading programs such as Supplier Diversity, Learning & Development, and manages the governance process for a variety of Global Procurement Policies and Procedures. Jessica firmly believes that inclusive procurement practices strengthen local economies, forge new business opportunities and create value for communities. Her goal is to advance equality of opportunity for women, BIPOC, LGBT+, people with disabilities, service-disabled and veteran-owned businesses by promoting an inclusive supply chain and leveling the playing field for diverse suppliers.
Ann Gomez is a productivity and leadership consultant and the founding president of Clear Concept Inc. She is also the best-selling author of The Email Warrior: how to clear your inbox and keep it that way. Ann and her team are passionate about helping busy people, like all of us, find more time in our days. Ann is an engaging and inspiring speaker, with compelling insights about productivity and leadership. Ann works with clients across various industries, including law, finance, healthcare, and consumer goods. She is also an active blogger and is often sought out by the media for her wise, no-nonsense approach to taming work and overload.