Using Supplier Diversity in Air Carrier Supply

Are you a small business, woman-owned-business, minority-owned-business or veteran-owned-business?  If you are not making use of your customers’ supplier diversity programs then you could be missing out!

I attended a great airline panel at this year’s ACPC, and one of the topics discussed was supplier diversity programs.

I have always known that falling into certain criteria can provide some contracting advantages, but I did not recognize some of the hidden value that can come from an airline’s supplier diversity program.

Ruby McCleary spoke at the airline panel and I had an opportunity to chat with her about her job after the panel as well.  Ruby is the Director of Supplier Diversity for United’s procurement group.  She explained that United has always sought diversity because it s the right thing to do, but that in the modern era, diversity also presents a competitive advantage. United seeks out relationships with large corporate buyers (IBM was the example she used in our discussion) in order to secure their transportation business, and those buyers have supplier diversity programs as well.  United’s diversity helps to give the air carrier a competitive advantage when marketing to those customers.

So diversity is more than just a good idea for an air carrier – there is pecuniary value as well.

Knowing that a company like United really wants to maintain their diverse supplier base, what are they doing to maintain it?  New suppliers that meet a diversity criterion can contact the Ruby.  Her supplier diversity team will help guide the potential supplier through the ins-and-outs of United in order to make sure that you are speaking with the right people to get the business.  But their involvement goes deeper than that.  Because supplier diversity is part of United’s strategy, Ruby revealed that it was a consideration during the recent merger with Continental.  As the air carriers chose which suppliers to retain where there were multiple suppliers, they used a variety of factors to make initial cuts.  Any companies that were proposed to be cut, and that were also part of the supplier diversity program, would be given a second look to see how their removal might affect supplier diversity.  While this second look would not guarantee a that a supplier might be retained, it at least gave the diverse supplier a second chance to be retained.  Ruby explained that at the end of this process, the merged air carrier had a higher percentage of diversity than either of the predecessor air carrier had enjoyed, because diverse suppliers from both carriers were retained in order to reach that higher percentage.

United uses the following categories when it is looking for supplier diversity:

  • Women-owned business
  • Minority-owned business
  • Veteran and service disabled veteran-owned business
  • Business enterprises owned by Persons with Disabilities
  • Small business enterprises
  • Lesbian-, gay-, bisexual- and transgender-owned businesses

A few of the supplier diversity programs in the air carrier industry include:

Know about some other ways that suppliers can make use of the supplier diversity programs?  Let me know!

Ruby McCleary, whose explanation of United’s Supplier Diversity program was very helpful, can be reached at (872) 825-2684 or by email at

About Jason Dickstein
Mr. Dickstein is the President of the Washington Aviation Group, a Washington, DC-based aviation law firm. He represents several aviation trade associations, including the Aviation Suppliers Association, the Aircraft Electronics Association, the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association and the Modification and Replacement Parts Association.

One Response to Using Supplier Diversity in Air Carrier Supply

  1. Hi Jason: Thanks for calling out Supplier Diversity in your column above. Diversity Information Resources (DIR) has been in the supplier diversity industry since 1968. You can learn more about our clients, seminars, publications, and online supplier diversity data management tool on our web site ( We also have a blog where we talk about the business case for supplier diversity, and the economic return on investing in a supplier diversity program. SD isn’t the right thing to do, it’s the bright thing to do! Regards, Betsy Gabler, Sales and Mktg. Mngr. at DIR

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