By Melissa J. Anderson

Until recently, corporate supplier diversity efforts have been centered mainly around ethnic minority or women-owned businesses. But now LGBT businesses are coming into focus as a key segment of supplier diversity.

Last week Out & Equal hosted its monthly Town Call on the topic of LGBT supplier diversity. Speaker Dawn Ackerman, President and CFO of OutSmart Office Solutions, said increased awareness around LGBT supplier diversity has helped her business grow. “I’ve been a business owner for fifteen years, and I used to be afraid to come out to my customers… Now I get business because I come out to my customers.”

The call’s speakers explained why companies should be sure they are reaching out to LGBT suppliers as part of diversity initiatives, and how they can do a better job of it.

LGBT Supplier Certification

One way that corporations can reach out to LGBT suppliers is through the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which has set up an LGBT certification program. According to NGLCC Vice President of Corporate Relations and Supplier Diversity Victoria Fulkerson, “The majority of focus up until now has been on minority or women owned businesses,” but, she said, many top corporations are now viewing LGBT-owned businesses as well when it comes to supplier diversity.

The certification program is the NGLCC’s leading program, and the NGLCC is the only organization that certifies businesses owned by LGBT individuals.

Fulkerson said the certification process is not difficult – business owners need to qualify as LGBT (by showing a professional paper train of being out, a letter of reference, domestic partnership documentation, or similar), and prove they own at least 51 percent of the company. The NGLCC then performs a site visit and the application goes before the national approval committee for approval.

The group has over 120 corporate partners that recognize the certification – companies like IBM, JP Morgan Chase, American Express, and more – and consider certified LGBT-owned businesses as part of their supplier diversity program.

Pepsico’s Trung Tieu, Project Coordinator, explained how LGBT supplier diversity works from the corporate side. He said that the NGLCC certification is very similar to other kinds of supplier diversity certifications, so it is easy for companies to roll it into their existing processes.

A leader within the company’s pride group, Tieu said his employee resource group is working to communicate the value of LGBT business-owners to purchasers within the company, like members of administrative teams. “Being able to educate the decision makers with Pepsico has been our biggest boon,” he said.

Benefits to Working with LGBT Suppliers

“Really, I think what we’re seeing in the marketplace is a change in the way people think about supplier diversity overall,” Fulkerson said “We’re moving from a perspective of compliance and regulation and just doing what you have to do to something that really helps your business be competitive.”

Because supplier diversity is now a measure scored on the HRC Corpirate Equality Index as well, working with LGBT business owners is a way for companies to show they are “talking the talk and walking the walk on all fronts – not just one area or two areas of diversity initiatives.”

She said that companies are working to ensure that their supply chain mirrors the demographic make-up of the marketplace, and their workforce.

According to an NGLCC survey of LGBT business professionals, Fulkerson said, 76 percent of LGBT individuals are likely to stop purchasing from a company if they learned they were non-supportive or anti-LGBT. Sixty-two percent of LGBT business owners were extremely likely to stop purchasing from a non-LGBT supportive company.

Additionally, she said, “Supplier diversity programs are a great way to find new companies that are hungry for the business.” Diverse companies are known for providing more creative solutions to problems.