United Stationers, a leading North American wholesale distributor of business products, considers diversity and inclusion a part of the definition of what the company is, and its efforts extend to those it interacts with – the internal workforce, prospective employees, customers, suppliers, investors, and communities across the country.
These audiences are broad, making the potential impact of diversity and inclusion efforts significant as well. United Stationers has some 5,500 associates working in administrative offices and distribution centers across North America. It distributes products from approximately 1,000 manufacturers, through 25,000 resellers, into the hands of millions of end consumers.
A Broader Perspective
Historically, the company has always had a strong focus on diversity, knowing that people are different and striving to provide equal opportunities for all. This includes understanding and being aware of visible and invisible differences. The emphasis has shifted, however, to also encompass the idea of Inclusion – ensuring individuals feel accepted and understood in a way that leverages all the value they bring to the table. United Stationers believes that diversity and inclusion have to go hand in hand.
“Weaving diversity and inclusion into the fabric of our company culture is a strategic business imperative that will support our efforts to grow as a high-performance organization with a purpose and consequently differentiate us as an employer and business partner of choice,” said Cody Phipps, United Stationers President & CEO. “Success in this arena will enable us to attract, engage and retain talented associates, nurture the different perspectives that spark creativity and innovation around products and services, tap into new markets, drive continuous improvement within internal operations, and more fully address the needs of our diverse customers, suppliers, and our community.”
Diversity at United Stationers is defined as recognizing the many characteristics and experiences that influence the perspectives of its associates, customers, suppliers, and the community. These characteristics can include race, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education, religious beliefs, work experiences, military experience, physical attributes, and many others. Inclusion involves having a culture that engages all associates and leverages their diverse experiences and ideas. It also means reaching out to customers, suppliers, and the community to understand and incorporate their unique perspectives.
Key Diversity Initiatives
Various initiatives have sprung from United Stationers’ commitment to diversity and inclusion. One is recruiting and hiring talented individuals who represent a diverse perspective. “If we want to strive for innovation, creativity, and new routes to success, we have to be sure that our associates truly represent the customers we serve. Diverse experiences, personalities, and individuals are what will truly make us the best we can be,” says Jennifer Collison, who leads the diversity and inclusion efforts for the organization. Several United Stationers associates have been recognized as part of DiversityMBA Magazine’s “Top 100 Under 50 Emerging Leaders.”
Another exciting initiative that the company has launched is Associate Networks (ANGs). These are company-sponsored groups comprised of associates who share common traits and interests across both visible and non-visible dimensions of diversity. The development and maintenance of ANGs are designed to enhance associate engagement and leverage diverse experiences and perspectives. These groups also provide opportunities for networking and help to ensure that the rich and unique backgrounds that associates bring to the company continue to be a key component of our “formula for success.”
Currently there are six Associate Networks at United Stationers, with growing interest for others to be created:
- Latino Business Council
- Young Professionals Group
- United Black Alliance Group
- Armed Forces Associate Network Group
Another area in which diversity and inclusion is reflected at United Stationers is the recent addition of a new role to its Public Sector Management Group. The Public Sector group addresses business products needs of schools and governmental agencies and links resellers with emerging opportunities. The new role, Business Development Manager, is designed to work with United Stationers suppliers and reseller customers to develop joint opportunities to tap growing government and commercial demand for purchasing from certified minority-, women-, and service disabled-owned businesses.
Supporting Diversity Outside the Company
United Stationers encourages its reseller customers to consider diversity in their businesses. For example, resellers can look to new places from which to recruit new people to their business, such as local colleges or universities. This can bring entry-level people into the sales organization from diverse backgrounds who have fresh perspectives and unique knowledge of diverse consumer segments. United Stationers includes information about diversity and inclusion in its Talent Track program, which helps resellers recruit new talent.
In order to qualify as a diverse business, a reseller will need to meet one of the socioeconomic statuses identified by state and federal governments (ex: veteran-owned, women-owned, minority-owned), so the first step would be to become certified. The next step would be to bid on government opportunities. The federal government sets aside a specific budget allocation for these businesses. For instance, the set-aside for certified small businesses is approximately $23 billion. For those dealers who do not meet these criteria, there is an opportunity to partner with the smaller socioeconomic dealers through Tier 1 relationships. United Stationers Public Sector Management Group has the expertise to utilize information such as this to assist resellers with new opportunities.
With regard to supplier diversity, United Stationers aims to increase its purchases from diverse suppliers, and also to link them with specific opportunities generated by the Public Sector group so that suppliers and resellers can generate solid partnerships while also tapping into consumer demand.
The demographics of the United States are changing rapidly. Businesses that want to grow and expand their customer base and product portfolios must pay attention to who is buying products – and why. As the end customers become younger and more diverse, the businesses in the business products industry that want to grow will need to follow suit. There will continue to be more awareness of the changing environment, and it is United Stationers’ hope that more diverse businesses will enter this industry and be successful.
With its internal and external commitment to diversity and inclusion, United Stationers is primed to be a force for change and opportunity.