Supplier Diversity Programs are a Building Block for Communities

April 24, 2024

The owners of BLK & Bold Coffee

Jill Lippincott was just starting her day at Principal Financial Group® with a cup of coffee from BLK & Bold, a Des Moines-based Black-owned coffee roastery. 

“As I was making my coffee, another employee came up to me and said, ‘I am so inspired by the fact we serve BLK & Bold here. I really love knowing we support them, and I just started ordering it for my home,’” Jill said. “That, to me, is what supplier diversity is about.”  

Jill is the program manager for supplier diversity & sustainability at Principal® who recently began offering BLK & Bold coffee for its employees. Additionally, Principal coordinated an event for employees to meet the owners.  

Jill Lippincott

She works closely with diverse businesses to provide technical assistance, advocacy, and support as they engage in procurement opportunities at Principal, as well as connecting vendors to opportunities that help strengthen and expand their business operations. 

Connecting these businesses with bidding opportunities and educating vendors on how to work with a client the size of Principal ensures that Principal is going above and beyond a standard commitment to supplier diversity.  

“Any company can say they’ve checked a box and move on to the next vendor,” Jill explained. “It’s when companies really embrace and support the vendors they're working with and connect them with employees, other markets, or other businesses that really speaks to supplier diversity.” 

The Evolution of Supplier Diversity Programs 

Supplier diversity programs have evolved from company mandates to spend a certain amount of money with minority-owned businesses. They are now intentional relationships that give opportunities to business owners that historically have faced barriers.  

The Principal supplier diversity program focuses on businesses that are at least 51% owned and operated by someone who belongs to one or more historically disadvantaged groups, which includes women, minoritized racial groups, LGBTQIA+, people with disabilities, or veterans.  

“Supplier diversity focuses on intentionally scanning the landscape to make sure we are sourcing from all of the audiences that are out there,” Jill said. “These vendors have historically had a difficult time accessing the market or may not be as far along in their business ownership journey.”  

Jill operates within the Principal Global Sourcing division, but the supplier diversity work often overlaps with the company’s focus on Global Inclusion and connecting employee resource groups with diverse vendors. These employee resource groups also introduce Jill to minoritized business owners so she can expand her relationships. 

From office supplies to consulting services to food services, Principal sources a wide variety of  products from vendors certified by a national, regional, state, or government level certification as diverse-owned and operated. Jill helps many businesses understand the certification process and the benefits of completing it.  

“We support businesses in helping them find a certification that will work for them and doesn’t require a huge financial investment,” Jill said. “Because of my background previously working for the state of Iowa to certify diverse businesses, I can assist them in understanding the process and the paperwork they might need for a given certification.”  

Source: Mapbox

Jill often finds business owners that may qualify for a certification are not aware of the benefits a certification can bring.  

“We were doing business with a woman-owned vendor, so I reached out to ask if they knew the value a certification might bring to their business,” Jill said. “I led them through their state’s process, and now they’re not only certified for us, but the certification sets them apart from their competitors.”  

Principal piloted a program last year that provided business education to their diverse vendors.  The program helped coach the companies in the program to build capacity and develop better business practices. 

“We can put out an RFP and make sure we get it in front of our diverse suppliers, but do they know how to respond to it?” Jill said. “Do they know how to support a company of our size? We realized we need to do a better job of educating vendors and explaining the expectations of what it’s like to work with us.”  

Supplier Diversity Builds Community 

Jill has a goal this year to establish a group of supplier diversity professionals from various corporations in Des Moines to come together to share in professional development. 

She is hoping for a professional network that can collectively support the diverse vendors in our community. 

“I’m hoping we can come together and say, ‘Hey, we all use similar vendors. We’d love to invest in some of the smaller businesses here in Des Moines in terms of education,’” said Jill. “Then we’d have a cohort of businesses we could all collectively utilize educated on how to respond to our RFPs.” 

Communities are much healthier when all kinds of businesses are thriving. But a lack of education and understanding of the benefits of a minority owned business certification often leaves opportunities on the table.  

“Companies of all sorts of sizes have all sorts of needs that you might not think about,” Jill said.  

Companies that utilize supplier diversity programs benefit internally, too. Jill says working with vendors from different backgrounds brings a diversity of thought to a business’s operations that elevates the companies to a higher level of performance.  

“Our demographics of our customers are changing,” she said. “Diverse vendors can help us look at our products and strategies in new ways and examine them in a new light. Diverse suppliers give you a brand-new way of looking at everything.”  

Source: Christina @

Jill encourages businesses who want to start their own supplier diversity programs to learn from other professionals already doing this work. Understanding what they’d really want from their programs is key to getting it started in an effective way.  

Once these businesses begin with a focus on work that strengthens the entire business ecosystem, they’ll play an integral part in building a supportive community with the ability to flourish. 

“People who are sourcing locally are developing business ecosystems and strengthening their communities,” said Jill.  

This communication is intended to be educational in nature and is not intended to be taken as a  recommendation. 

Insurance products and plan administrative services provided through Principal Life Insurance Company®, a member of the Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, IA 50392. 3482700-042024

CultureALL believes that sharing the cultural richness of our community with others will elevate our society and the quality of life for all.