Four years ago, Marriott International pledged to nearly double its annual spend with women-owned businesses to $500 million by 2020. Last month, the company announced it is steadily nearing that goal and expects to surpass it by year's end.
In a recent interview with Northstar, Casey Oakes, Marriott's director of supplier diversity, said the hotel chain's $500 million dedicated spend covers a wide range of goods and services, including items such as linens from India for guest rooms, artwork for lobbies, responsibly sourced seafood and even tortillas made in the United States. Given that Marriott International currently has a portfolio of 5,700 hotels across its 30 brands around the globe, the long-term goal of increasing diversity in the supplier chain holds tremendous potential.
"The women-owned businesses we are working with are literally across everything we spend on the operational side for our hotels, as well as our corporate headquarters," said Oakes. "Some are startups, such as one we have recently begun working with that provides gluten-free pastry options to some of our hotels."
According to the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Business Owners, as of 2017 there were 11.6 million women-owned businesses in the United States, employing nearly 9 million people and generating $1.7 trillion in sales. Of those, half account for the 39 percent of all privately held firms in the U.S.
Marriott's commitment to supplier diversity is not a new business strategy despite the larger diversity and inclusion movement taking place in the corporate world. In fact, the company's mandated supply chain of inclusion dates back to the 1960s. According to Oakes, the company is now stepping up those efforts, particularly as it grows its footprint in emerging markets.
"We are looking to replicate our women-owned business-supplier chain around the world, and the first step is letting these businesses know there are opportunities out there for them," said Oakes. "We rely heavily on a network of nonprofit organizations to identify these businesses, and then our folks from procurement will do meet and greets to learn about their business and provide assistance in how to navigate our supply chain."
In March of this year, Marriott pledged an additional $100 million over the next three years to support the efforts of the New York City-based nonprofit Global Citizen's "She Is Equal" campaign, which aims to foster gender equality around the world. Half of that money, said Marriott, will be spent with businesses in developing countries like Cambodia, Belize and Rwanda. The combined new level of spend is more than double the $274 million Marriott spent in 2014 with 4,000 women-owned businesses globally.
"A diversified supply chain is important to us as a company because it reflects our culture of empowering people through opportunity," said Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott, in a statement regarding the company's pledge. "But these women-owned businesses aren't just supporting Marriott. They are contributing to the overall economy by creating jobs, renting commercial space, innovating new product lines, and serving as business and civic leaders. Their success is a win for everyone."