Makeda Matthews: Championing Supply Chain Equity & Supplier Diversity at Delta Air Lines

The 05 Most Influential Women In D&I To Follow, 2023

Meet Makeda Matthews, the Senior Manager of Supplier Diversity at Delta Air Lines, where she is helping to build one of the industry’s best and most innovative supplier diversity programs. Her focus on excellence and innovation has made her one of “The 05 Most Influential Women in D&I to Follow, 2023”.

In addition to her work at Delta, Makeda is also a member of several professional organizations and serves as the Chief Network Director of the Black Career Women’s Network. She is a sought-after speaker and has presented at several conferences and events nationwide, including various Regional Partner Organizations of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), as well as WBENC’s National Conference and Business Fair. She has collected various accolades and has been featured in numerous publications. This cover story narrates Makeda Matthews’ journey, her contributions to Delta Air Lines, and her thoughts on success, innovation, and integrity.

Defining Success

When asked about her definition of success, Makeda Matthews notes that it has evolved as she has progressed in her profession. To gauge it, she questions herself, “Did I improve a process?”, “Did I make someone’s job easier?”, “Did I open a door for someone?”, “Has someone experienced growth or development with me being in their life?” and “Have I helped someone reach their goals?” If she can answer yes to these questions, she considers herself successful.

Matthews stresses that she and her efforts alone won’t be enough to measure results. She says, “The success of the people I serve is my success.”

Her outlook on this quality indicates her leadership style, which is predicated on serving others around her and improving the world. As she is helping to forge Delta’s leadership in the Supplier Diversity space, she envisions the company having the highest percentage of supplier diversity spend and building out new and creative best practices, initiatives and programs that can be used as a template for others in the industry.

Leading successfully is not easy, but Matthews believes that her creative, hard-working, and responsible approach to work sets her apart. She anticipates obstacles and thinks of multiple ways to solve problems. “Challenges make you stronger,” she states. For example, “when I was young in my career, I learned that not everyone communicates and learns as I do. I have an operations and finance background and tend to want to get straight to the point because the data supports it. But I learned that to inspire and motivate others; I’d have to flex to their communication style and give them what they need to take action.”

Building a Competitive Advantage with Supplier Diversity

Matthews joined Delta Air Lines to help build the industry’s best and most innovative Supplier Diversity program. Supplier diversity is a strategic business initiative that helps ensure supply chain inclusion and equity. She advocates that supply chain inclusion and equity should be used to create a competitive advantage that drives increased customers, market share, and, thus, augmented revenue. “Women support women-owned products and services. The BIPOC community supports BIPOC-owned products and services. Veterans support Veteran-owned products and services, etc. One of the best ways to gain customers of a certain population is to let them know you support them by utilizing their products and services within a company’s supply chain. Supplier diversity is much more than just ‘the right thing to do’; it’s a strategy to sustain and grow your customer base,” she explains.

Delta Air Lines in Brief

Delta Air Lines is a major American airline headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. It is one of the largest airlines in the world, operating over 5,000 flights daily to 325 destinations in 52 countries. Delta Air Lines has a fleet of over 700 aircraft and employs more than 75,000 people. The company is a force to be reckoned with in the aviation industry. Ranked as the best airline in the US, the company has been serving customers for over 90 years. Delta Air Lines is also recognized for its strong corporate social responsibility efforts, sustainability initiatives, and commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Makeda’s Life Before Delta Air Lines

Before joining Delta Air Lines, Makeda was employed at Grange Insurance Company and Lbrands (a major multinational retailer in Columbus, Ohio that owned Victoria’s Secret and Bath and Body Works prior to their split in 2021), where she started her career in strategic sourcing but always made sure to carve out a position for herself as a supplier diversity leader. Makeda attended the University of Cincinnati, where she received guidance and support from exceptional professors, mentors, and friends who helped her realize her potential.

Matthews credits a colleague, whom she now considers a mentor, for starting her supplier diversity career. “She was the first one in the workplace that I felt like I could be open and honest about what I wanted out of my career. Because of the safe space she provided, and her going to bat for me, I am now in this line of work. I always try to tell people to find a mentor, champion, and sponsor; luckily, she was all three.”

Responsibilities as Senior Manager, Supplier Diversity

Makeda Matthews’ role as Senior Manager of Supplier Diversity at Delta Air Lines is centred around four main pillars:

  • Supporting the enterprise to integrate diverse suppliers into the supply chain.
  • Partnering with external organizations to support the growth and development of diverse suppliers.
  • Driving innovation by creating a competitive advantage through supplier diversity.
  • Collaborating with stakeholders to identify new diverse suppliers and innovative solutions.

She conveys, “No day is the same.” She can be working on a strategic initiative, digging through data to get insights for internal customers, or connecting with diverse suppliers to help them understand how to do business with Delta Air Lines. Her role requires high collaboration and communication with stakeholders from various departments and teams across the organization.

Makeda Matthews on Her Businesswoman Recognition

When asked about her most noteworthy recognition as a businesswoman, Makeda highlights being named one of the top five most influential women in D&I to follow in 2023. This achievement is a significant recognition of her work promoting diversity and inclusion. Additionally, she was honoured to be named Millennial of the Year by the Black Career Women’s Network, the most prominent national organization that supports carer development of Black women.

Maintaining a Work-Life Balance: Insights from a Fempreneur

Makeda articulates her strategies for balancing personal and professional life. According to her, it’s all about structuring and routine. She emphasizes the importance of taking daily me time” to work out, read, write, pray, and meditate. For her, waking up early in the morning helps her feel grounded and settled.

To keep herself and her team motivated, she upholds understanding personal values and what motivates individuals. She recommends conducting an ROI (Return on Investment) exercise to evaluate how much time is spent, with whom, and doing what. It’s essential to analyze how one feels during these activities, the emotions can range from feeling good, inspired, or stressed. Individuals can achieve more by prioritizing activities that yield the highest ROI, even if it means saying no to other tasks. At the end of the day, personal happiness catalyzes effectiveness and, therefore, should be prioritized.

Leading Delta Air Lines into the Future of Supplier Diversity

Makeda Matthews has a clear vision for the future of the company’s supplier diversity program. She plans to make Delta a best-in-class supplier diversity program with the highest percentage of supplier diversity spent in the airline industry. Her goal is to build new and creative best practices that can be used as a template for others in the industry. By doing so, she envisions the brand’s supplier diversity program getting recognized as a strategic business practice that provides a competitive advantage for its customers and clients.

In her personal capacity, Makeda aims to continue positively impacting the lives of the people she serves. She aspires to learn more about effective leadership from her mentors and industry peers.

Makeda Matthews in one word!

This skilled professional describes herself as “CREATIVE” when asked to sum herself up in one word. Instead of viewing obstacles, particularly significant roadblocks, as barriers that hinder her or her team’s progress, she regards them as prospects to discover state-of-the-art and ingenious resolutions. Her ability to think outside the box has helped Delta Air Lines differentiate itself in the highly competitive supplier diversity airline space and by this, hopes to incrementally improve the customer experience over time.

Advice for Aspiring Businesswomen

According to Makeda Matthews, it’s imperative for women who want to succeed in business to stay true to who they are.

She recommends, “We often first build our skills and competencies to obtain a certain job or career before we’ve done the internal work to understand who we are and what we really want. We can waste a lot of time doing it this way. If you understand who you are and what you want, you can best align your career with your wants and needs.”

Makeda underlines the significance of not adjusting one’s values to accommodate the requirements of one’s employment but instead remaining consistent with one’s own values.