Jillnell Joiner is the Senior Supplier Diversity Manager for the American Red Cross. We asked her about the day-to-day responsibilities of her position, what she values most about her experience in the role, the challenges she faces, and what advice she would give to other supplier diversity industry professionals. We also asked about the future she sees for the industry. Here is what she shared with us:
Q: To start, tell me a little bit about what you do on a day-to-day basis.
A: As the Senior Supplier Diversity Manager for American Red Cross, I am responsible for making sure that potential suppliers are certified — that could be with the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), the Veteran’s Administration, small businesses or LGBT. With that, I travel throughout the country speaking to potential suppliers and give them insight about American Red Cross, our program and how that program is run. At that point, suppliers will send me an email letting me know where we met and I will send them instructions on how to register with us. Once they complete the registration, they will get back in contact with me and I will read their information. If I see that there is a match for us, (about 87% of suppliers are), I introduce them to the category manager via email, and let the supplier know they will be hearing back from the category manager.
Q: What has been most valuable about your experience?
A: I would say the most valuable part of my experience is traveling throughout the country, meeting potential suppliers, and hearing all the stories about how American Red Cross helped them. Many people are very surprised we have a supplier diversity program. And, honestly, that’s the most inspiring thing to me: just hearing all of these beautiful words about American Red Cross. I’ve heard people say “My goodness, this is a non-profit. You guys really do this?” I’m a people person. Just meeting so many people, even though I can’t help everyone, I just love the idea of meeting them. I let everyone know they might not be able to get work with America Red Cross, but I will go above and beyond to introduce these suppliers to corporations that I know. That’s something I do all the time and it’s very fulfilling for me.
Q: Tell me a bit about your experience working with ConnXus?
A: We’ve been working with ConnXus now for about two years. I’ve always had a concern because American Red Cross did not have a tracking system. With that, we decided we’d look into having a system so people can come in, and register, and we could track our spend. After I was introduced to ConnXus, I went to their office to meet with them and was very impressed – not only with their service, but also with hearing from much larger corporations giving me kudos about ConnXus. Procter & Gamble, who is obviously a very large company, spoke about ConnXus during a presentation they gave at the Supplier Diversity Manager Conference just last week. Personally, I’ve been getting a lot of great information from ConnXus. I’ve been hearing a lot of good words from public corporations, and it has taken a load off of me. Working with ConnXus and the contract they have; they’re always there. That’s what I appreciate about them.
Q: What is the most difficult/challenging part of this job to you?
A: I would say the most difficult part is saying no to people when they’re not a match. Everyone thinks they’re a match. Letting them know we can’t work with them this time is disheartening for a lot of people, myself included. It was a challenge, but I always tell suppliers, “You might not get business with us, but give me your wish list. What corporations are you trying to get with? Give me at least ten.” They give them to me, and I’ll say out of the ten, I know four. So that challenge has become a positive for me.
Q: What advice would you give other supplier diversity professionals?
A: I’ve mentored several corporations throughout the country who are new to supplier diversity. The main reason I’m mentoring these other professionals is I want everyone to be on the same page. The one thing I tell all supplier diversity professionals, because I hear this all the time, is “Please speak to suppliers when they email you or call you.” As far as I’m concerned, this is your job. Please speak to them. If you can’t provide a contract or you don’t have opportunities, be direct and be honest. So the biggest thing I let all supplier diversity professionals know about is communication. All suppliers want is for us to communicate with them and to open the door.
Q: Going forward, what do you see changing about this industry?
A: The way I look at supplier diversity, personally, because I’ve been doing this for 30 years: supplier diversity will always be around. Unfortunately, people are just now opening their doors and allowing folks to come in and speak about their goods and services, getting outside their comfort zone. Some people are very comfortable with people they’re using and people they’re getting goods and services from. I see it, in the near future, being larger than what it is with the spend. At this time, several billion dollars are being spent. I see this program being around for a very long time and being very successful. I hope that it stays around, and people will just continue doing what they need to be doing.