The Value in Reaching a More Diverse Base of Sub-Contractors
Shelby brings a personal touch to her job as a small business liaison officer, particularly her role in reaching out to communities that haven’t always been included. She’s seen the struggles that all small business owners face, and some of the more particular hurdles presented to people of certain backgrounds.
Her grandfather owned a small seafood and grocery delivery company and spent his days driving around Los Angeles County to make it a success. As an Asian American, Shelby said her family has seen the wonderful opportunities America can offer, but also the intense challenges minorities can face. Her grandfather was a boy during World War II and his family was sent to a Japanese internment camp. When he grew up, he joined the U.S. Army and won a Bronze Star fighting in the Korean War. He came home and started his business with his wife, Shelby’s grandmother, who had also spent part of her childhood in an internment camp. Those divergent experiences created the kind of unique perspectives that she wants to bring into Northrop Grumman’s supplier base.
“There’s so many people out there who want to do business with us. We’re part of a diverse world. Representation is very important,” Shelby said. “I’m a firm believer that everyone should and needs to be invited to the table.”
For decades, the Department of Defense has required large contractors like Northrop Grumman to subcontract with businesses that have historically required special support, such as those that are minority-owned, veteran-owned, woman-owned, or located in an economically struggling region. Members of the Northrop Grumman Global Supply Chain (GSC) team say that more than just filling a requirement, there is an incredible value in the bringing on board the diverse perspectives these companies provide.
“If we can have more hands helping us carry the load, who are interested and have good intentions like our suppliers do, why not reach out to them?” Shelby said. “We’re not alone in the world. And at the end of the day, we’re all the same team.”
In recent years, there has been a more targeted effort to reach out to more diverse small businesses. Northrop Grumman’s Global Supplier Diversity Program takes a three-pronged approach. Team members attend numerous small business council events promoting minority-owned, veteran-owned or women-owned businesses, such as trade shows, conferences and awards dinners. They also rely on word-of-mouth recommendations from suppliers that are already under contract, and even reach out to Northrop Grumman’s Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for recommendations. Finally, the team conducts searches of their own, and talking with small business owners who reach out to Northrop Grumman.
Don, a senior manufacturing engineer, suggests small business suppliers for certain projects based on the engineering requirements. In his role, he has developed relationships with a number of suppliers, and sometimes attends events to recruit more. He said he has experienced how a diverse supplier base has an impact beyond dollars and cents.
“A lot of these smaller businesses that are minority-owned are family businesses that definitely have a noticeable impact on the communities around them,” he said. “And I’ve found that veteran-owned small businesses tend to be more invested in the type of work that we do, for obvious reasons.”
With the past year’s national reckoning over racial disparities, and the uptick in hate crimes against Asian Americans, Shelby acknowledged it can be disheartening to think that some of the prejudices her grandparents and other minorities faced are still with us. She said that’s why she’s so passionate about Northrop Grumman’s efforts to extend opportunities to more and more people. While the Global Supplier Diversity Program can’t solve all the world’s problems, she said, it can make a difference.
“There’s a societal need to learn from the past and do better,” she said. “To know that Northrop Grumman is taking strong, bold steps to improve and do better, it means a lot. It makes me feel good.”
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