I was lucky enough to spend a week in Washington, DC in mid- November as a guest of the Nielsen Company’s Diverse Leadership Network. A lot of companies talk about a commitment to diversity and inclusion, both internally and with suppliers; I learned that with Nielsen it is much more than lip service. They walk the walk. Every. Single. Day. As a diverse supplier who has been encouraged to register in hundreds of supplier portals I always looked at them as black holes (I know I am not alone in this!) and never saw the value until this opportunity arose.
A few months back Paragon received an email from Nielsen Supplier Diversity with an application attached asking: ARE YOU A DIVERSE SUPPLIER LOOKING TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS? Well, yes. Yes we are! The offer? To let our teams of highly-skilled, rising leaders from our Diverse Leadership Network compete to provide you with the best business solution to address a key business problem. Nielsen had invited every diverse supplier who was registered in their portal to complete an application for the opportunity to have their business problems analyzed by a team of up-and-coming, diverse leaders who would be competing to present the best solutions. Without wasting a minute I consulted with colleagues and completed the application. Then we waited…
After receiving close to 100 applications from diverse suppliers across the United States, Nielsen chose Paragon as one of two companies to present one of our business problems to teams of up-and-coming diverse leaders, tasked with devising solutions and pitching them as part of a competition. I was excited for the opportunity but had absolutely no idea what to expect. What I got was a trip to Washington, DC to participate alongside participants in the Diverse Leadership Network’s 18 month leadership development program. In addition to the program participants were company executives who were part of coaching the participants for the duration of the program.
Before I arrived, everyone had been briefed about Paragon. Joining the group for dinner the first night I got a lot of, “Oh, YOU’RE Marina!” The next day the pitch competition kicked off and I gave an overview of the company and the problem we were looking for help with, followed by a general Q&A with the participants. After lunch I made my rounds, meeting twice with each team for additional questions that had arisen during their brainstorming. They all kept working late into the night, and the next morning we were up bright and early for a day on Capitol Hill. We were greeted by freshman Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi who shared his own excitement as well as his belief that anyone who has ever gotten help, as his family did from the government, has the obligation to reach back and help pull others up. Next we were briefed by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who chairs the Privacy and Data Security Working Group, about issues of cyber security. We had a number of other briefings that morning from lobbyists and others working on issues of data security. After lunch Senator Lamar Alexander’s office had one of their interns take us on a tour of the Capitol, including a ride on the underground tram. We had some great “celebrity” sightings along the way, including Senators Bernie Sanders and John McCain! After a long day on the Hill, we headed back to our hotel. After a lovely dinner, the participants grouped together to finalize their presentations.
I can’t begin to tell you how impressed I was with the presentations and how different they all were. Each group had listened to our needs and took a different approach to offering solutions. Ultimately, the winning team set themselves apart by offering some simple, yet brilliant, ideas that were practically free and could be implemented right away. Big shout out to team Homeland! Some of these ideas will be popping up on Paragon’s website in the coming months, so keep your eyes open.
Sometimes, when a corporation asks you to register in their supplier portal, itisn’t just lip service. Every once in a while, supplier diversity professionals reach out to registered suppliers with an unbelievable opportunity. And when that opportunity presents itself – grab it and take it as far as you can! I want to express our sincere gratitude to everyone at Nielsen who made this incredible experience possible, especially Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Matt Hanzlik, Supplier Diversity rockstars, Shirelle Magee and Lamont Robinson, Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, Natasha Miller Williams, and Chief Diversity Officer, Angela Talton. I am looking forward to sharing the pitch decks with my team and using some of the innovative solutions developed for Paragon!