The desire for organizations to create more inclusive and diverse workplaces continues to gain momentum as business leaders expand the scope of internal programs beyond their workforce into communities, corporate partnerships and supplier strategies. In fact, some organizations are finding that diversifying their supply chain holds some of the greatest potential in driving social and economic impact.
Take Denny’s, for example. The international restaurant chain — which has been in business for more than 65 years — releases public annual diversity reports, the most recent of which states that its constellation of more than 1,700 restaurants is 90% franchised-owned and just over 49% minority-owned, including 22% women-owned and 5% LGBTQ-owned. But Denny’s growing diversity across franchise-ownership is only one means the company uses to increase equity across minority populations.
The company also maintains a track record of spending over $2 billion for diverse and disadvantaged suppliers, since beginning its Supplier Diversity program, which Denny’s Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, April Kelly-Drummond, is particularly proud of. Denny’s diverse supplier spending has exceeded 10% every year for the past decade. “We stretch our goals every year,” Kelly-Drummond says. “In 2019, diverse spending represented 14.1% of our purchases, one of the highest in the industry.”
These statistics are the result of a long-running philosophy at Denny’s to influence economic empowerment for the employees and customers in the communities it serves. Denny’s workforce of more than 9,000 people identifies as 68% minority, including 52% above the management level. Their board of directors is also 44% minority and 33% female.
“It’s about all of us being able to have a seat at the table, knowing that we can help eliminate barriers not just within our company, but also support what’s happening in our communities,” Kelly-Drummond says.
Community partnership is a main focus of Denny’s everyday DE&I programming, not only in terms of supplier diversity and franchise ownership but also engagement, in the form of their Hungry for Education scholarship program and Denny’s Mobile Relief Diner — which sends employee-volunteers to communities affected by natural disasters who set up emergency charging stations and feed families and first responders.
“Just like our employees, franchisees have to be a reflection of what our country looks like, because we’re ‘Denny’s, America’s Diner’,” Kelly-Drummond says. “It’s important for us to have a diverse franchise network, because our customers need to see that.”
And they continue to push forward.
Since John Miller became CEO of Denny’s in 2011, he has remained committed to Denny’s DE&I effort across all levels of the company. When he mandated unconscious bias training for employees, he did so for himself, as well. “We’ve done unconscious bias training since we signed the CEO Action pledge,” Miller says. “It was great for our board. We decided that we wanted to take this to above store leaders, and then to our whole franchise system.”
Miller was one of the original CEOs to sign the pledge with CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion — a coalition of more than 1,400 CEOs and university presidents who have committed to take action to address DE&I issues in their organizations and communities — when the coalition first launched in 2017. “The ability to hook up with a group of other CEOs and share best practices was a really big step for us,” he says. “There is accountability in this partnership, this group of people, these groups of companies.”
Miller also serves on the Governing Committee at CEO Action for Racial Equity, a fellowship the coalition launched to harness talent from more than 100 signatory companies to advance racial equity through public policy. Focusing on education, healthcare, economic empowerment and public safety, the fellowship was formed to identify and develop both sustainable public policies and corporate engagement strategies that will address systemic racism and social injustice.
And while Miller’s commitments to equity set a tone for the rest of the company, he is not the only leader at Denny’s to devote their talents and influence to the fellowship. The CEO also elected Kelly-Drummond to participate in the fellowship alongside Gail Sharps Myers, SVP and General Counsel and Ramon Torres, Vice President of Operations Services at Denny’s.
“We have to confront the brutal facts in our society,” Miller says. “There are policies and biases that hold people back: education, welfare, participation in the economy, business ownership, the level which people of color participate in upper-management boards and business ownership, access to bank loans. All those things, factually speaking, indicate we have a long way to go.”
While Denny’s actions span a far reach, Miller invites other business leaders to engage in DE&I practices to drive change in whatever capacity their resources allow.
To CEOs who are looking to increase equity, Miller has some advice, particularly for those who are intimidated by the scale and complexity of the systems that stand in the way of nationwide equity: “Be focused where you have impact. Focus on what you can do today, and get after it. Hold yourself accountable, and then, reach out and join CEO Action, where you can get access to great best practices and a group of CEOs that will help you.”
PwC’s new series, Why I Act, produced in association with the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion
This article was paid for by PwC and co-created by RYOT Studio. HuffPost editorial staff did not participate in the creation of this content.