Podcast by InnovatorsBox®

Dear Workplace: Season 3

Why Diversity in Supply Chain Matters with Kristin Malek

Dear Workplace – a Podcast by InnovatorsBox®. Hosted by Monica H. Kang.

Reimagine how you thrive at work through conversations that matter. Hosted by workplace creativity expert Monica H. Kang, we’ll study the latest trends, changes, and challenges to untangle workplace people problems. We’ll talk with executives, innovators, and experts and visit different industries around the world so that you get first dibs into the changing workforce. 

Tune in on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or your preferred platform of choice!

In this insightful episode, host Monica H. Kang delves into the critical yet often overlooked world of supplier diversity. Joined by Krista Malek, a veteran with over two decades of experience in the field, the conversation explores the origins, significance, and future of supplier diversity in both public and private sectors. Krista shares her personal journey and professional insights, emphasizing how integrating diverse suppliers can drive innovation, create economic balance, and address some of today’s most pressing global challenges.

Listeners will gain a deep understanding of how supplier diversity started from federal mandates and evolved into a vital business strategy. Krista highlights the importance of not just measuring success by spend but by meaningful metrics like participation, utilization, and equitable payment terms. This episode is a must-listen for anyone interested in fostering inclusive economic growth and driving systemic change within their organizations.

Guest: Kristin Malek

Director Business Diversity - CDW

Kristin Malek serves as the Director of Business Diversity at CDW. In this role, Malek has firmly established an innovative business diversity strategy that aligns with CDW’s core values. As the architect of CDW’s diverse supply chain with more than 1100+ suppliers, Malek ensures CDW’s continued investment in diversity, equality, and inclusion within their businesses. She is responsible for the firm’s total spend with diverse partners that in 2021 alone reached more than $3Billion. Under Kristin’s leadership, CDW was inducted into the prestigious Billion Dollar Roundtable and was named a Supplier Diversity Excellence Champion by Gartner

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Episode Shownotes

1. Episode Title: Why Diversity in Supply Chain Matters with Kristin Malek

2. Host: Monica H. Kang, Founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox

3. Episode Description:

How does diversity drive value in business and the supply chain? Supplier diversity leaders offer a wealth of insights, yet this field often remains overlooked. Join me in the coming weeks as we explore key questions: Why is supplier diversity overlooked? How does it benefit companies and communities? And how can we lead more effectively? Our first guest is Kristin Malek, based in Chicago, a veteran in supplier diversity with two decades of experience. Kristin shares her journey, starting as a mother advocating for her disabled daughter, and now as Global Director of Business Diversity at CDW, reshaping perceptions of value, diversity, and innovation. 

4. Guest: Kristin Malek, Director Business Diversity – CDW

5. Key Topics Covered:

  • Introduction to supplier diversity
  • Historical context and significance
  • Economic impact and innovation
  • Local vs. global supply chains
  • The role of diverse suppliers in economic rebalancing
  • Challenges and solutions in supplier diversity
  • Future outlook for supplier diversity programs

6. Highlights

  • Kristin explains the origins of supplier diversity in the US and its expansion globally.
  • Discussion on how supplier diversity acts as an economic mobilizer.
  • Importance of considering payment terms and financial solutions for diverse suppliers.
  • Kristin’s personal journey and how it influenced her career in supplier diversity.
  • Strategies for fostering local diverse supply chains.

7. Quotes from the guest:

    1. “Supplier diversity is the best kept secret of procurement, of strategy, of business.”
    2. “At the core of it, supplier diversity is designed to create local economies to scale on their own.”
    3. “We need a collection of voices because we’re in a time of reckoning, a time of complexity.”

8. Contact Information:

9. Closing Thoughts by Monica Kang:

Monica emphasizes the importance of supplier diversity in driving innovation and economic growth. She encourages listeners to explore and support diverse suppliers in their communities.

10. Episode Length and Release Date:

Episode Length: Approximately 25 mins
Release Date: June 19, 2024


Monica H. Kang
Hey friends, welcome to dear workplace. In the next few weeks, I’m excited to navigate the world of supplier diversity. What is it, why is it important, and how do you become a leader in this space? You see, the reason why I wanted to do this is because when I first learned about supplier diversity, I was blown away. This seems so important and meaningful, and yet why is it still not so known, especially outside of the circuits of the communities and those who are actively involved, to explain it concisely? Supplier diversity is the effort of bringing diverse suppliers in your supply chain, which is key to bringing your businesses innovation. But it’s so much more by making sure that you intentionally note where you buy from and who you buy from means that you are thinking about the bigger socioeconomic impact and also welcoming innovation. 


Monica H. Kang
A new perspective. Because, hey, no matter how much you really like that burger place across the street, if you’re not taking the time to explore what are the other mom and pop shops around the neighborhood, you might be missing out on good quality food for yourself too. And if that’s how it feels from an individual consumer perspective, imagine the ripple effects from a bigger societal perspective when it comes to bigger mega global companies like CDW and all the major corporations you can think of. So supplier diversity has been around now for a while, but for some reason, we still need a bit more help in getting it more visible recognition to the greater world. So heres my case. 


Monica H. Kang
Wanting to navigate and better understand what is supplier diversity, and asking some leaders and veterans how in the world did they get to where they are? And why should we care? Our guest today is a great example. Krista Malek has been in supplier diversity for over two decades. And so while we’re worried about some of the transitions and conversations in diversity in business, she says, hang on there, don’t lose the fight. We got a lot of work to do and this has proven to be important for your innovation and development. So let’s dive into our conversation. Meet my friend Kristen. 


Monica H. Kang
So thank you so much for joining us, Kristen, I’m very excited to have you here. So much to explore. First, let’s talk about the big picture, supplier diversity. We’re diving into this whole theme, and. 


Monica H. Kang
I know we have a lot of. 


Monica H. Kang
Veterans, and I was surprised myself, as I’ve shared with you when we first met, how this is a whole world in a whole universe. Like, there’s so many people who’ve been here, been doing it, and yet, unless you were here, I feel it’s like sometimes the best kept secret we don’t know what it is about. So break us down. What is supplier diversity? Why are we keeping this a secret? 


Kristin Malek
Yeah. Well, it’s so good to be here, and I’m so happy for all your success. And you just keep trailblazing and you continue to innovate and you challenge us to better, think differently. So, you know, thank you for all your contributions and what you’re giving out into the world. Thank you for always rooting for you. I especially think, right. Having a podcast, having the opportunity to share time and voices. Right. Is really intentional right now, because we need a collection of voices, because it really seems we’re in a time of reckoning, a time of complexity, and I think contradiction. And I know we’ll talk through that a little bit, but you’re absolutely right. I think if you’re not doing supplier diversity work, you’re not sure of what it all means. 


Kristin Malek
And it is like, I agree, the best kept secret of procurement, of strategy, of business. I think at the core of it, how I kind of anchor supplier diversity is that it’s an economic mobilizer. So if we take major steps back, you know, supplier diversity started in the federal government. Two executive orders from President Nixon, right. Coming out of, you know, the Detroit riots, right? And we’re recording this in February where it’s black History Month. So it’s probably relevant, right? So if we go back to the riots in Detroit, 1967, we had Nixon come to office and wanted to have a solve, right? He was the party of business. So he gets these two orders saying, if you’re going to do business with the federal government, you have to include black owned suppliers. That was how the original order was done, right. 


Kristin Malek
You have to include small businesses. The second one was, if you are a contractor to federal government, then you have to also then do business and hire black owned businesses, small businesses. And that started with the IBM, Chrysler, Ford, who are all supplying to Department of Interior and DoD. And that’s how it started in corporate America then. So they came together. And so that was to create some economic balance, right. That we saw in that time in the late 1960s. It has since then cascaded, right. To include much more than black owned businesses. Right. We have a vast array of diverse suppliers and small business owners and entrepreneurs. At the core of it, though, what it’s designed to do is create local economies to scale on their own. If we go to some of the most underserved communities, what’s missing is money. Funding opportunity. 


Kristin Malek
The opportunity to work, earn contracts, make money for your community is the solve for this. That’s why I often think supplier diversity should be tasked to be a solution to economic divide. And we really need it at a current moment because the economic divide, in my opinion, has never been more exposed. And so that’s how I would kind of anchor how it’s a blend of coming from, you know, public sector and. Right, the enterprise sector, the private sector, right, it’s not one or the other. It’s not and it’s both. But it’s an inclusion of businesses to have an opportunity to make money, to make meaningful money, wages, right. Because then if we’re funding those marginalized communities, we’re putting moms and dads back to work. 


Kristin Malek
We have more diverse population going to higher education, who can afford college, then translates into a more diverse workforce, right. And the possibilities are endless. They don’t even think we’ve touched on them. 


Monica H. Kang
And that speaks volume, I think, especially from the innovation lens that we often speak about. At the end of the day, if you have group thinking going on, same people, same ideas, and how are you supposed to innovate? And what I admired and really appreciated as I was learning more about supplier diversity. And hey, I’m part of the cycle too, being as a diverse business owner who’s on the supplier providing service as a proud woman owned asian american owner. And one of the things, just the perspective of how diversifying supply chain. I think when people hear the jargon, they often think like, oh, well, what does that mean? And I realized that, well, it’s, at the end of the day, we’re all buying products and services as a consumer, as an individual, it’s not just the big companies who’s doing, quote, procurement. 


Monica H. Kang
It’s like as individuals, you decide what to buy every single day, where to eat, but you can also choose where to. And if you’re not being mindful, you might not realize that maybe you’re just eating the same sandwich, same location, but like, what if you maybe go around the corner, there might be an amazing place, but maybe because of the way they did a market, you didn’t realize. And that’s kind of the thing you’re doing on a higher level and a mega bigger scale, finding these businesses who happen to be diverse and talented and amazing and as a result creating those social economic impact. And I love that. Now, today, as we said, 2024, it is a global movement. It’s not just in the United States. I know folks tuning in. If you’re wondering about what it started in the US. 


Monica H. Kang
No, it’s global as well, which speaks volume two, hence where you are now. You’ve been doing this work for quite some time. Bring us back to maybe the first time when you started in CDW. How did you feel when you first started? So power, diversity and how do you feel now? 


Kristin Malek
Yes, I will answer that. I do want touch right. On the global impact. I read this and I just want to share it because, you know, I think that I’ve been doing this work almost two decades. And, you know, in my two decades of doing this work, there has always been certain time periods where groups organizations say that now is not the time, that DeI is a distraction, that business is a distraction. Right. Now is not the time for it. When actually the data tells you, the analytical data, the financial, even the head and heart data will tell you, Monica, that more economic, just systems frameworks around the globe can actually solve some of the world’s most pressing problems today that we are faced with. Right. 


Kristin Malek
If we let that split and think about the problems that you have at a global scale, more economic balance can solve for that, right? So this isn’t a distraction, right. It’s a true solution, but we have to be able to move past, right. Those headwinds that this is necessity, you know. So I’ve been at CDW almost seven years. Prior to that, I worked at another Fortune 100 organization for 21 years that I loved. And what I love being in technology at the core of everything. And so I love to be part of that. You know, I have one. I do carry fomo, right? I’m like, I gotta get involved in tech. Everything’s in tech, right? And what I love about the work at CDW, I can be honest, right? I get fomo. 


Kristin Malek
What I love about at CDW is that we’ve never measured success by spend ever. And if you look at some of our economic impact reports or any of that, you won’t actually find our spend number. Right now we’re members of the billion dollar roundtable and you can find our spend, or maybe, right, we can talk about it near 4 billion, almost 18% of our total procurement. But we don’t measure, we’ve never measured best by spend. Because I think when we finitely look at success just by spend, we’re missing some other things. Here’s what I think we’re missing, which I think if we are at a time of an intersection right now of re examining supplier diversity, which I would argue we probably are, right. There’s big words like there’s an attack on it, an assault on it. 


Kristin Malek
But if we could calmly say we’re going to re examine things right now, to have suspend just be the North Star alone, you can’t have it without you have to measure spend. But to be the North Star isn’t going to probably serve going forward, but also needs to be considered is utilization and participation. So what do I mean by that? How much are corporate companies spending in procurement? And what is that percentage going to diverse suppliers. We have some fortune 100 companies perhaps that can spend a billion dollars and that’s maybe less than 2% of their procurement. Not right or wrong, but that’s just is math doesn’t lie. So utilization measurements, I think would be a good indicator of the health of programs. 


Kristin Malek
And what I also think right now, in a time of living in an inflationary economy around the globe, is, you know, the payment terms that corporations have for their diverse suppliers, right? So I’m not sure. Right. If we have these top corps or number one companies or whatever the awards are going to be called, if we’re not including payment terms on some of those criteria. So I’m not sure you can have one of the best supplier diversity programs and pay your diverse suppliers at 120 days, right. 90 days is six payroll cycles. You know it best as a small business owner. Right. You need money today, capital today. And so we haven’t measured success solely on spend. It’s our payment terms, financial solutions, and then high utilization and high participation. 


Monica H. Kang


Kristin Malek
When we got into the billion dollar roundtable, we did with 411 suppliers. 


Monica H. Kang
And for those who don’t know what billion dollar roundtable is, could you share a little bit more? 


Kristin Malek
Yeah, I would love to. So the billion dollar roundtable is a prestigious procurement organization that’s been around decades. And in order to be a member inducted into the BDR, the billion dollar roundtable, at minimum, a global public company has to spend a billion dollars with certified diverse suppliers. That gets audited, amongst other things. You have to have a tier two program and have leadership support, top down support. Right. And a menu of things. But for a long time, the BDR membership for 20 years sat with members under 20. So think about it. Not even half the Fortune 100 sits in the BDR. And if we think back to 2020, 2021, when the small business ecosystem collapsed here in the US, imagine if we just had half the Fortune 100 doing this work. Maybe it would have been different. We’ll never know. 


Kristin Malek
But if we look forward to what we want to see, right, we could have more success. So that’s the BDR. It’s a collective group it’s group thinking of, how do we make this better? How do we be a North Star? But we are never just measuring by spend. It’s beyond spend. 


Monica H. Kang
I appreciate you raising these insights and also just making it tangible that, like, it’s not just the awards, it’s not just the numbers. There’s all these other numbers that we need to keep in mind. I still. I still want to go back to your beginning story because, like, I know, because you have been around and doing this for a while. Tell me a little bit more. If you can bring back to your first time when you started in so far, diversity, how was it? How did it feel for you? Because there might be somebody listening was like, I do want to start the career. What is it like to even start? 


Kristin Malek
Yeah, I’ll try to. I’ll go fast with it, because I think it starts right. If I’m going to be really transparent, I didn’t always do this work, right. And in my other organization, I’m a for profit leader. I chased EBITDA. I love to make money. I love to hit my sales number. I wanted my license plate to say EBItda. 


Monica H. Kang


Kristin Malek
That was, like, what I chased. I became a mom, though, 15 years ago to my daughter, Caitlin. Caitlin was born with down syndrome, and so it was then that I became part of the disability community, right? One in which we can join, anyone can join at any time. And it’s the only marginalized community that’s recognized globally is the disability community. My journey started when I was 28, being a mom to Caitlin, being Caitlin’s mom brought a lot of happiness, a lot of sadness, but an immense amount of frustration for frameworks and biases and systems that just weren’t designed for her. And then you have to double click that. 


Kristin Malek
And then I noticed it for veterans, I noticed it for women, right, for minority owners of these systems and frameworks that, like I said, just they were living in a world that wasn’t designed for them. And I just don’t have it in me to sit in the sidelines. I just don’t like my threshold for that. Those biases is probably lower than some because of Caitlin and my hyper awareness of it. And so that’s what, that’s where I had to make a shift, right? My professional life and my personal life had to collide in a really meaningful way. And it was in supplier diversity, because I still want to stay true to being a profit leader, right? I love working in for profit. I love, you know, making deals, having a sales number. 


Kristin Malek
But I also have to stay true, that if I want the world to be different for. For my daughter, for women, for minority owners, for veterans, serviceable, for LGBTQ community, if I want that, then I have to participate in the change. And for me, participating, it’s creating opportunities where they can make money and create economies of their own to scale. So that’s where it started for me. And then at CDW, what I’ve been really humbled with is that they really gave me a blank canvas and said, you know, guide us to how do we win? How do we serve our customers? Everything at CDW is centered around the customer. So we take on their supplier diversity missions and their goals. Right. And their aspirations. And then my job is to architect a solution so that we do it with them. 


Monica H. Kang
No, thank you for sharing that. And for those who do get to follow you and learn from you. I know how much you share about your love with your family and your daughter in particular, but also being honest about the challenges and as well as, hence, why this has to be changing and what we all can do. Let’s talk about briefly about the future. As you have pointed out, we are at an interesting. Interesting is the word choice I’m going to choose kind of a lot going on here in the intersection of how we think about diversity, equity, inclusion, and especially even in supply chain. But tell me a little bit more, like, what do you hope to see in the future? What needs to happen this year, for instance, that we hope to see in the future? 


Kristin Malek
Yeah. What I hope to see is a path forward for this economic rebalancing, because I do think that the divide is so great right now between the economic classes around the globe. Right. There is real hurt out there. There is real pressure out there. And so that is my hope. Right. But we can’t live off just hope. How? I think supplier diversity can kind of get away from the target that’s on them right now. Right. I think that’s fair to say. The headlines, you know, are pretty clear. We have all these open letters swirling, you know, and so all the open letters, the call to actions. Right. I love the voices being heard and the ideas being risen. 


Kristin Malek
But what I do think needs to happen is to re examine that supplier diversity programs in the public and private sector can probably do a better job of bringing local suppliers with them. So I live in Chicago. So the city of Chicago should be hyper focused on Chicago suppliers. Right. Diverse local suppliers so that we’re not giving a city of Chicago contract to a supplier in Virginia. Right. Like, let’s do local economies. I don’t think we can lose if we stay focused on local supply chains. Local diverse supply chains. Excuse me? Because that is where we’re seeing such disconnect. We’re seeing even companies be able to, like, have headquartered, you know, maybe here, where I’m in Dallas today, here in Texas, but then spending all their procurement money to a company headquartered on this side of the country. 


Kristin Malek
So I think that could be a re examination if we really get hyper focused on local, diverse supply chains. And it would force leaders like me and our companies who have to vet and build diverse supply chains, to not just keep using the same over and over again, but force us to get in the communities, meet new suppliers and build a base that can. That can go to market with us. And I think we have to get better at financial solutions right now in payment terms. Right. The inflationary pressure is pretty great for the diverse supply chain and small business owners. And so I don’t have all the solves for that. 


Kristin Malek
But I do hope in this time of reckoning and seeking balance and stopping the feuds, that financial solutions does come into play because we see that a lot in the chain of how much capacity can they have, right. A $10 million, you know, CDW order. Right. And then they’re on credit hold or whatever it’s going to be. And that stop and start just doesn’t keep business moving. 


Monica H. Kang
Thank you so much, Kristen. Really appreciate you sharing all these wisdom and, you know, specific action steps that we could start, do look into, learn from. There’s probably a lot of listeners here from coming from different parts of the chapter, whether they’re new to supplier diversity or just an innovator who wanted to be inspired. What’s a piece of advice that you want to share with them and wherever they are in their journey? 


Kristin Malek
I would say to not be intimidated right now, but to be really inspired, right. To dig deep and be inspired and to not feel confused in the chaos right now or the contradiction that we’re in, but to feel challenged and confident because we have 50 years behind us of this work and there is a lot more work to be done and there’s always going to be noise. But I know if we go together, then we’ll grow together. So we have to stay. 


Monica H. Kang
So beautiful. Thank you, Kristen, for sharing that. Can’t believe how fast time has gone by. We’re so grateful you are here and sharing quality time with us. I know our listeners are probably appreciating all the wisdom you’ve shared. What’s the best way the final question is what’s the best way folks can stay in touch with you? Because I know you have a very busy schedule at all times. 


Kristin Malek
I would love that, I guess. I work at CdW volleyball club mom, cheerleader mom, like all the good things that life has blessed me with and so I feel very fortunate. But I do love to connect. I’m a collaborator at heart and I’m much better in person so I hope to meet you guys in person. I’m better in 3d. So LinkedIn. I’m hyperactive on LinkedIn. My email can, you know, be shared as well. Of course. Kristenmallicdw.com I do want to hear from everybody. I don’t have it all figured out, but I do want to participate. 


Monica H. Kang
Love it. Thank you so much. And folks, you know the drill. We always put all the information in the show notes at our blog. So find [email protected] again. If you ever lose it. Send me a quick [email protected] but we will continue this learning and exploring of soporidiversity. So tune in again for another story very soon and we will talk and connect. Thank you so much, Kristen. We’ll see you later. 


Monica H. Kang


Kristin Malek
Thank you. 


Monica H. Kang
I must also add, in case you haven’t seen her bio, she does a lot. In addition to the community services and the leading work that she does at CDW, she plays a key leadership role in serving how we rethink about supplier diversity and for her business success. She is currently responsible for over 2 billion plus annual supplier diversity spend initiatives and is the architect of CDWs diverse supply chain at CDW, the mission to provide exceptional technology solutions that help their customers thrive in a changing world. Aligned very much to her mission to want to change the world for good and fight these systematic wrong impressions. So I hope this has inspired you to rethink about your journey as well and being curious about this world of so diversity. 


Monica H. Kang
Next week were going to meet another guest who’s in supplier diversity but in a different space and got here in a different way. So tune in and ill see you next week. You’re listening to Dear Workplace by InnovatorsBox. I’m your host Monica Kang. Have a great day and I will see you soon. Hey, thanks so much for tuning in to another episode at Dear Workplace by Innovators Box and your host Monica Kang me. I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation. Today’s episode is possible thanks to a wonderful team who has dedicated their time and making sure you hear the quality research that you heard today. Want a shout out? 


Monica H. Kang
To audio engineering and production lead by Sam Lehmart, Audio Engineering assistant by Ravi Lad, website and marketing support by Kree Pandey, Graphic Support by Lea Orsini, Christine Eribal, Original Music by InnovatorsBox Studios, and executive producing, directing, writing, researching, and hosting by me, Monica Kang, founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox. Thank you so much. Your love and support and sharing means the world to us. Please send us any questions and thoughts you have and what you want to learn more or next and we’ll dive right into it. Thank you and have a wonderful day. See you soon. 

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