Remembering the Past, Shaping the Future: Moving the Needle in Supplier Diversity
By Rakhi Agarwal, Global Head of Supplier Diversity
My passion for supplier diversity stems from my own experiences growing up as a young girl in India, and also from earlier on in my career. I experienced firsthand how a lack of inclusion can impact a society. At that time in India, women were not empowered to pursue an education and advance themselves. I was fortunate though, to have a father who inspired me and saw my passion, independence and entrepreneurial spirit.
I moved to the U.S. in 1998 to attend college at Michigan State University, which was highly regarded for supply chain, and became the first woman in my family to receive a college education. I have always been fearless and found myself excelling in my negotiation and contracting classes. I chose to major in supply chain and later secured internships in procurement and process excellence, leading to many future career opportunities in supply chain.
There were many personal and professional challenges along my path to Sanofi, working in Supplier Diversity. Like many other women of color, I’ve faced discrimination throughout my career. I can recall numerous occasions of being told by leadership to not speak during meetings, or to keep my opinions to myself. I recall being asked to expedite a contract disregarding clauses that were extremely important for the company from a liability and indemnification perspective. I also remember being asked to keep quiet when I found the numbers being reported to senior leadership were incorrect. I knew then that I needed to use my voice to be heard, and to speak up in saying what was right and wrong. I am pleased to see that the business environment is evolving and these types of issues are improving.
As a leader, my goal is to make sure the companies I choose to work for share my same values surrounding diversity. After 23 years in supply chain, I feel very lucky to be at a company like Sanofi that is giving me the opportunity to focus solely on supplier diversity, which is quickly becoming imperative for all businesses across the globe. My goal for Sanofi is to create a supplier diversity legacy program and establish Sanofi as a leader in this space. While many companies are paying attention and talking about supplier diversity, I want to focus on how Sanofi can really move the needle and work to create unparalleled socio-economic impact on communities across the globe.
In addition to my work furthering Sanofi’s role in supplier diversity, I am also committed to and engaged in improving representation in the general supply chain industry. In 2019, I helped launch DISCOVER – Diversity & Inclusion in Supply Chain – and currently serve as the organization’s president. DISCOVER is a non-profit, cross-industry organization with a focus on leadership development and advancement of people of color in supply chain. DISCOVER’s mission is very close to my heart, which drove me to help get the organization off the ground and get it formalized.
Early on in my career, I had very little support and faced many challenges. Without any guidance or mentorship, it was very difficult to make the right decisions or have career-related discussions. Now, at this point, I want to help other people of color connect with senior leaders and mentors in supply chain, and hopefully get a boost in helping to propel their careers forward. I encourage everyone starting out in supply chain to reach out and build relationships. Talk to senior leaders about what your career aspirations are. Those conversations can help you determine your development needs and grow as a person, professionally and personally.
I feel so proud to have had my efforts recently recognized by the USC Marshall Global Supply Chain Excellence Summit, where I received an award for “Women Leadership in Supply Chain.” This recognition has given me a great sense of accomplishment and will help to further the many initiatives I am spearheading on behalf of Sanofi Supplier Diversity and DISCOVER. I truly believe nothing is impossible. If you can dream it, you can achieve it. Sometimes, the road might be windy and bumpy, but if you are true to yourself and focused, you can achieve all that your heart desires.