From Supplier Diversity to Supplier Inclusion – Embracing Supply Chain Diversity at The Hershey Company

Hershey Vice President, Chief Procurement Officer Susanna Zhu writes about the company's progress in supplier diversity and its work to help women participate in the cocoa agriculture economy.

At The Hershey Company, being committed to Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) isn’t just a project or a set of numeric goals embedded in the HR department — it’s a way of operating our business every day. This “inclusion imperative” is closely connected to our mission of bringing goodness to the world and to our employees, communities and business partners. In fact, being a global leader in D&I is one of our company’s primary goals.

As a professional woman who was born and raised in China, and who today holds a leadership position in a U.S.-based Fortune 500 company, this authentic company commitment to diversity and inclusion is particularly meaningful and deeply personal to me.

Leading a large and complex global procurement operation gives me the opportunity to ensure we put our D&I commitment into action here in the United States and around the world as we work with thousands of suppliers globally. And today, our supplier base has become an integral part of our diversity and inclusion journey.

Like many companies, we had the requisite supplier diversity program. But a few years ago, we took a hard look at our Supplier Diversity program and decided to overhaul and relaunch it in 2016. With our new program, we are investing substantially more dollars and resources to ensure we are operating a truly robust and effective Supplier Diversity Program. Some of the steps we are taking include:

  • Broader outreach to diverse suppliers that are minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned and LGBT-owned as part of our new supplier recruitment process.
  • Substantially increased inclusion of diverse suppliers in our new RFP (request for proposal) process so that diverse suppliers have access to opportunities at Hershey.
  • Implementing a reporting requirement from our key suppliers to understand the percentage of diverse vendors involved in supplying Hershey. This gives us visibility upstream into the true diversity of our supply chain.

Since launching our program, our diverse supplier spend has grown by double digits. For me, this investment is a real demonstration of commitment to diverse suppliers by the company.

Hershey’s heartfelt dedication to diversity doesn’t end with our tier-one and tier-two suppliers. It extends broadly across our vast sourcing supply chain. Cocoa is one of the most important commodities that my team sources from around the world. And it’s important to us that we work to support the communities where that cocoa is grown. But prospering communities isn’t just about the farmers and their families — it’s about including everyone in a growing economy. Research from the World Bank and the United Nations has shown that when women thrive, economies grow. However, in many of our cocoa growing communities, women face unique challenges.

We are proud of our work progress to help women participate in the cocoa agriculture economy. We create and fund cocoa sustainability training programs in West Africa and are pleased to report that more than 33 percent of the farmers participating in our cocoa programs in Ghana are women. That’s a very high percentage for an industry traditionally dominated by men. We specifically focus on creating an environment where more women farmers can join and become successful business owners, providing income for their families and households while earning the same respect as their male counterparts.

We know that women need to be empowered throughout the cocoa supply chain. They need to be connected, engaged and inspired to take leadership for themselves and generations to come. That’s why we’re also committed to helping women in cocoa communities expand their economic participation by improving their access to financing, job-focused resources and life-skills training that improve their chances of finding formal employment. In October 2017, I was extremely honored to host the annual Women in Cocoa and Chocolate (WINCC) meeting in Hershey, Pa. A global group of women leaders from cocoa farmers to processors, NGOs and government agencies developed plans to continue driving women’s empowerment in the cocoa and chocolate industry.

Another agricultural industry in West Africa where women have the opportunity to participate and earn much-needed income for their families is the production of Shea nuts. Once again, the challenges women face in a male-dominated culture can limit their success in the Shea business. A few years ago, we stepped in to provide financial support and resources to Ghanaian women in the Shea-producing region. We built a warehouse in the northern part of Ghana to empower them to store and manage their harvest, bypass middlemen and sell directly to international buyers. As a result, they are now able to increase their incomes to support their families. This initiative has already:

  • Trained 700 women on warehouse management including leadership training for 47 women, record keeping, contract negotiation with buyers, accounting procedures;
  • Trained these women to develop a cooperative including benefits, registration procedures and governance; and
  • Trained 80 women leaders on aggregation/sales including access to finance, warehouse receipts, stocking, weighing procedures, price search, sales and profit sharing.

We believe our business is stronger and better when we embrace and encourage the diversity that reflects the world in which we live. We are able to better understand and respond to the changing needs of consumers, customers and all stakeholders. We also know that these diverse perspectives fuel innovation and great ideas. By bringing employees, suppliers and partners from different backgrounds, we spark ideas and insights that aren’t possible through a homogenous organization.

Our investments in Supplier Diversity and women’s empowerment in our supply communities are just two examples of how we are bringing our belief in D&I to life in our business. They also reflect our core value of “Shared Goodness.” It reflects why, at Hershey, we say: “We bring goodness to the world.”

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