Our Insights

A Conversation with Grace Hastings, Oncor Electric Delivery’s Supplier Diversity Manager

June 27, 2019

Grace began her career with Oncor, formerly known as TXU, in 1988. She previously held positions in Customer Service, Procurement, Materials Management and Corporate Contracts. Grace joined the corporate supplier diversity organization in 2000 as a supplier diversity coordinator. In 2008, Grace was promoted to Supplier Diversity Manager for Oncor. As manager, Grace directs Oncor’s Supplier Diversity program with full support from executive leadership. Alignment of Supplier Diversity within the supply chain organization provides opportunities for inclusion of diverse suppliers throughout the company.

Under Grace’s leadership, Oncor was recognized as the DFW Minority Supplier Development Council Corporation of the Year in 2015 and Corporation of the Year by the Women’s Business Council – Southwest in 2015 and 2016. Since the onset of Oncor’s supplier diversity spend reporting in 2007, total expenditures with diverse suppliers have exceeded $1.9 billion dollars through 2018.

POWER: Why is companywide support so important for a supplier diversity program in the utility industry? 

GRACE HASTINGS: Companywide support for supplier diversity must begin at the top before spreading throughout the company. Oncor has a statement from the CEO and a statement in our policy manual reaffirming our commitment to supplier diversity—it’s the most effective way to get the message out to all employees across the organization. As supplier diversity representatives, we can spread awareness, but we need champions to communicate the message across the company.
Regulatory requirements for spend and reporting vary by state or by federal contract requirements. In some instances, companies start programs because of these regulations. Oncor doesn’t have state requirements–we do supplier diversity because we want to reflect the communities we serve and our diverse suppliers make Oncor a better company. We have wonderful suppliers, some who have grown their business tremendously and become key suppliers for Oncor.

It’s important to support supplier diversity events. By reaching out to different leaders across the organization and inviting people from groups like IT, distribution and construction are then able to meet the suppliers themselves and build relationships. Eventually, they become champions who help spread the word. You can only be so many places at one time as a supplier diversity professional. Through building a network of supplier diversity champions in the organization, we see success and benefits throughout the company.

POWER: What is the most common hurdle you see companies face when they are embarking on a supplier diversity program, and how can they clear it?

HASTINGS: Awareness. We must make people in our organization aware of successful suppliers.
Another hurdle can be the preconceived ideas about capabilities diverse suppliers bring to the table. When people think about what diverse suppliers can offer, they think catering, janitorial, paper goods. Some people don’t realize these companies do major-category industry work. We have diverse suppliers who provide fuel services and technological tools for construction inspection. There’s highly critical work that needs to be done in that arena. A diverse supplier brought us a unique tool, and we expanded that program. We have suppliers who provide distribution transformers and do distribution construction work. It’s important to break that stereotype or preconceived notion of what diverse suppliers can do.

POWER: How can diverse suppliers best position themselves to enter the utility market?

HASTINGS: Get to know the customer: what certifications are needed, what diversity categories we track, what insurance requirements we have. This helps you become ready for business. Suppliers really need to know about how different supplier diversity can be regionally in the electric utility industry—Texas is different than California or New York. Be aware of specifications we need, and how our business works. Oncor is strictly a transmission distribution company. Suppliers should not come to the table offering us generation capabilities and services. If they do that means they don’t know the customer.

Understand trends and emerging technologies in our industry- this could include smart grid technology, new technology around smart appliances and remote meter technology. For utility needs the technology needs to be cutting-edge and constantly at the ready. Suppliers should be the experts in their fields.

Diverse suppliers need to be patient in building relationships for long-term opportunities. It may take a couple years for an opportunity to come around, depending on the category and sourcing cycle. Take time to build relationships not just with supplier diversity representatives, but with sourcing folks and technical leads. If an opportunity becomes available, be ready to step up at a moment’s notice and take it. For example, there is a MWBE firm that I’ve been introducing to our security and facilities folks over the last three years. They’ve been sharing their capabilities and talking through potential scenarios. For years, it wasn’t the right time to partner with them. We just signed a contract together last month for the new security technology they provide. Remember that “no” doesn’t mean “never;” it may just mean “not now” because the timing isn’t right.

Suppliers need to come to the table with solutions. Oncor is going to look at your service or product and say, “That’s really great, but how do we incorporate that into what we’ve got?” Understand your customer. Oncor employees are engaged with supplier diversity and active in minority and women’s business councils. Continue networking and build relationships, not just with procurement but other Oncor employees out in the community. If you attend a Texas IT conference, there’s probably someone from Oncor there. Any opportunity to be where Oncor is can be an opportunity for a new connection.

POWER: How can utilities and their prime partners can be advocates for diverse suppliers?

HASTINGS: Oncor requires Tier II reporting from major primes. We encourage them to be supportive of diversity organizations as well. If you’re really looking for diverse suppliers in your supply chain in support of Oncor and others, your company can participate in diversity council events. Listen to and take time to meet diverse suppliers – they may have something you need. They could even bring a solution to you that will help you grow your business. We look for suppliers who are aligned with our commitment to supplier diversity.

POWER: What’s the best way for diversity advocates and diverse suppliers to get involved in the greater supplier diversity community?

HASTINGS: Companies should make connections through The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council and National Minority Supplier Development Council, whether local, regional or national. It’s one of the best ways to engage and connect with the community of diverse suppliers. There is value in the certifications they provide—the certification process for both organizations adds to the integrity of the Oncor supplier diversity initiative. We do require third party certifications through either agency, because that’s how we know these firms are truly women or minority owned.

Engagement with other organizations like the Edison Electric Institute, which has a diversity committee and an outreach event for the utility industry, is also a good idea. Their annual Business Diversity Conference helps connect diverse suppliers with utilities and prime partners focused on the electric utility industry.

POWER: Any final words of advice?

HASTINGS: It takes a village—everyone who participates in supplier diversity, one way or another, makes a difference. Some folks might think their part doesn’t impact supplier diversity growth; every single opportunity we have to connect truly makes an impact, whether it’s economic, educational, networking with a buyer, end user, or supplier diversity professional.

It starts at the top, but everyone in the organization truly makes a difference and a positive impact for successful growth of the diverse business community.