Milwaukee-based WEC Energy Group seeks to promote diversity with not only its workforce, but also through a long-standing initiative to diversify its group of suppliers.
Danielle Bly, vice president of supplier diversity, is a leader of those efforts. Bly was promoted in January to the position, which includes managing human capital as well as fostering relationships with suppliers and contractors, area businesses and local governments.
“It’s my role to work with companies and ensure that we are seeking out diverse businesses,” including those owned by women, minorities and disabled veterans, she said.
Bly said WEC Energy Group partners with other companies for construction, IT consulting, utility poles, engineering and cleaning services, among other services. She said each utility within WEC Energy Group has its own set of supplier goals based on variables such as previous-year spending and the work to do in the coming year.
In 2019, the group spent $282.6 million with diverse businesses, $126 million of which was directed to businesses in Wisconsin, according to Bly
“We want to ensure that in the communities we serve we’re creating lasting economic impact,” she said, adding that having a diverse group of suppliers “fosters competition, enhances job creation, and it really is the right type of business to do.”
She said partnering with diverse businesses – many of which are small businesses – is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many business owners are losing work and closing up shop due to an economic slowdown and stay-at-home directives.
Bly said WEC Energy Group has built up a sizable group of diverse suppliers over the past 20 years, but it continues to seek out new partner companies.
For example, Bly planned to attend the Chicago Business Opportunity Fair in May. It was cancelled due to the pandemic, but the fair is an example of how WEC Energy Group reaches out to businesses.
“That’s an opportunity for us, my team, to showcase our utilities, specifically in Chicago Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas, to showcase who we are as a utility, what services we’re looking for, and from a strategy perspective, identify new suppliers that we can bring back and introduce them to our business leaders,” Bly said.
WEC Energy Group, having made supplier diversity a focus for nearly two decades, has learned some lessons along the way.
“I think what we learned through having a successful supplier diversity program is it requires sustained effort,” Bly said.
That commitment starts at the very top, she said. And even though the company has been at this for years, Bly acknowledged there are opportunities to improve and learn best practices.
“It’s not just something we talk about,” she said. “We talk the talk, but we also walk the walk.”