By Melissa Lowery
Wassel Lewis, director of strategic sourcing at Aflac Inc., is on a mission to welcome more LGBT-, women- and minority-owned businesses to the insurance company’s supply chain. He is responsible for category management and sourcing activities, with an emphasis on information technology, operations and group insurance. He also leads various business process outsourcing and managed services partnerships and is responsible for managing and defining strategy surrounding the company’s supplier diversity program.
Aflac’s commitment to supplier diversity led Hispanic Enterprise Magazine to include the insurance giant in its annual listing of the Top 50 Corporations for Supplier Diversity. Black Enterprise magazine cited Aflac as one of the 40 Best Companies for Diversity and LATINA Style Magazine listed the company as one of the 50 Best Places for Latinas to Work for in the United States.
While Aflac has always welcomed LGBT-owned firms into the supplier portfolio and encourages LGBT owners to compete for business, Lewis said that the number of LGBT-owned suppliers is below the company’s goal.
“We often face a challenge in identifying LGBT businesses,” Lewis said. “Often, these firms fail to self-identify or submit LGBT-certification status to Aflac, which is a very important part of the process. If suppliers do not self-identify or divulge their minority status, it’s tough for Aflac to categorize and count the business we do with diverse suppliers.”
The company’s onboarding site allows suppliers to upload minority certifications and self-identify in order to identify as minority-owned, in addition to providing information about the business’s capabilities, scale and history.
“We want to partner with qualified minority suppliers, but first, we need to be able to identify them as such,” Lewis said. “Aflac welcomes all suppliers to compete within the supply chain — whether it be ethnic minorities, women-owned businesses or LGBT businesses.”
Aflac hosts Supplier Diversity Summits throughout the year, in which diverse suppliers are invited to present their products and make their pitch to high-level executives who may need their services. Lewis pointed out three particular areas for suppliers to focus on when preparing to compete for opportunities at Aflac.
“My advice to LGBT suppliers — and all suppliers in general seeking opportunities with Aflac — is to understand what we do and the nature of our needs,” he said. “Once you understand that, then one should approach us with an emphasis on how your firm can provide value. I also recommend that you become certified.”
Lewis reiterated that simply being certified as minority-owned does not guarantee Aflac’s business, but it can help get a foot in the door. Certification and self-identification allow procurement executives to easily identify diverse suppliers and give attention to their proposals.
“In my opinion,” Lewis said, “while many minority businesses are proud of their diversity status, they understandably want to be recognized first for their business practices.”