Since its first flight in February 2000, JetBlue has worked to provide superior service at a low cost. Named the No. 1 domestic airline in Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards 2021 readers’ survey, the New York-based airline is known for in-cabin comfort, in-flight service, customer service, and value.
Now JetBlue is setting a course for supplier diversity. With help from supplier.io, the company implemented a new program and has successfully established a process to include at least one diverse supplier in every RFP and increase its diverse supplier base.
Workplace diversity is part of JetBlue’s DNA. A 2021 survey by industry publication FlightGlobal identified JetBlue as the most diverse executive team, with four out of the six C-suite roles surveyed held by women. Looking ahead to the future workforce, the company created JetBlue Gateways, a suite of education and training programs designed to create a pipeline of new pilots and maintenance technicians from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences.
Spiros Kallinikos, a senior analyst at JetBlue, said that while the company has always valued diversity, prioritizing and formalizing supplier diversity is a recent focus for the airline.
“Diversity is something JetBlue always focused on internally with our hiring and the resources we provide for crewmembers. We selected business partners that were a cultural fit, and sometimes they were diverse, but we didn’t have a good grasp on supplier diversity, especially at our inception,” he said.
With internal diversity, equity, and inclusion well established, it was time to look outward. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it became obvious that a supply chain realignment was needed, which was an opportunity to work with more diverse business partners.
“We realized that we needed to have more of a focus on diversity externally, and one of the best ways to do this is to make our supply chain more reflective of not just our customer base but our communities,” Kallinikos said.
First, JetBlue aligned with the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), third-party agencies that advocate for minority- and women-owned businesses. It was while interacting with other corporate members that Kallinikos heard about supplier.io.
“While talking with other members of both organizations about their own paths toward supplier diversity, supplier.io came up as a valuable resource,” he said. “People across the [supplier diversity] industry were talking about it in a way that was credible.”
Strong internal DEI and collaborative internal efforts are key to success.
A successful supplier diversity program hinges on support from leadership. When the C-suite is committed to inclusivity, meeting other challenges becomes much easier. JetBlue has an unusually diverse leadership with four of the six executive roles held by women and eight of the highest-level roles filled by diverse individuals who have, in turn, prioritized supplier diversity.
“Leadership support is No. 1,” Kallinikos said. “Including growth goals in our leaders’ objectives is key to supplier diversity success because then it becomes everyone’s responsibility. Those goals trickle down and get absorbed by everyone within the organization.”
JetBlue’s leadership is actively engaged in the supplier diversity program. Kallinikos hosts touchpoints twice a year with eight leaders with meaningful spend, including technical operations, airports, HR, and so forth. Using data tracked with supplier.io tools, he provides information that helps each business organization tell its own supplier diversity story.
“We sit down with our CFO and the vice presidents of different business organizations and give them a snapshot of what they’ve achieved, upcoming opportunities for increased spend with diverse suppliers, and where we are in terms of meeting our goals. It’s been amazing to see everyone be so engaged and wanting to support JetBlue’s supplier diversity in meaningful ways,” he said.
Kallinikos also partnered with JetBlue’s DEI team to maximize the company’s supplier diversity program. The two teams work together to educate internal stakeholders about supplier diversity initiatives and progress.
“Collaborating with our DEI team means that we are both able to reach our respective goals more effectively,” he said. “The stronger the DEI program becomes, the more they’re able to help JetBlue achieve its initiatives.”
JetBlue commits to consistently increasing diverse supplier spend.
Once JetBlue’s leadership decided to focus on supplier diversity, the airline took a two-pronged approach to increase diverse spend. First, the company set a goal to grow its underrepresented business base by 5 percent year over year.
Second, at least one diverse business partner must be included in each procurement selection process, except for certain specialized items such as engines where there are a limited number of suppliers.
“Inclusive sourcing begins with the RFP, which is why including at least one diverse supplier is a requirement for every RFP,” Kallinikos said. “Everyone, including our internal stakeholders, is aware of this initiative. Sometimes finding the right potential supplier requires more of a collaborative effort, which is where I come in. I can help research and identify those small and underrepresented businesses.”
Data helps identify new partners.
Identifying diverse business partners is one of the most common challenges cited by supplier diversity professionals. With supplier.io’s Supplier Explorer tool, JetBlue is able to research potential business partners and get meaningful results.
“supplier.io carves out what businesses can supply because going on Google isn’t the answer when we’re searching for something fresh and new,” Kallinikos said. “By segmenting what suppliers offer and using keywords to search for underrepresented companies for potential partnerships, we can find something for every project. The visibility that supplier.io has into suppliers is invaluable to the decision-making process.”
Motivated by the success of JetBlue’s supplier diversity program so far, Kallinikos is already looking ahead to the next goal: expanding the company’s Tier 2 program.
“We are taking a deeper dive into Tier 2 reporting,” he said. “We’re looking at some of our top business partners, like Airbus and Verizon, to see what their diversity efforts look like and how we can implement our own Tier 2 program with supplier.io’s help.”