Procurement with a Purpose: Kendra Burris-Austin Shares her Passion for Supplier Diversity
Transforming Communities, Business
In honor of Black History Month 2022, Centene highlights diverse employees who are making an impact to advance diversity in the workplace. Kendra Burris-Austin joined Centene in 2020 as Director of Procurement and launched Centene’s Supplier Diversity Program. Learn more about Kendra, her commitment to protecting the earth, thoughts on the significance of Black History Month, and the importance of advancing equity in the communities where we live, work, and serve.
Q. Tell us about your background and your current role at Centene?
A. I am from a small town in Oklahoma. My father was self-employed in construction, and my mother was a nurse. I have four siblings. I went to Langston University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) and have spent the last 25 years in various forms of procurement. My last 13 years have been in supplier diversity. My two-year anniversary at Centene will be in March, and I was hired to start the corporate Supplier Diversity Program. We are infusing supplier diversity into how we buy, how we sell our services, and how we partner with the community in not just ensuring we are investing in our members’ health but the wealth of where we provide services.
We’ve also started the Vendor Sustainability Program. We are calling it Procurement with a Purpose. If we think about what we buy and the impact we can have through our vendors, we can influence so much more. If we are intentional, we can make purchases that can impact business development, the environment, our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, and increase the wealth of communities wherever we serve. We have those options today, and we can all play a part in making an impact bigger than our purchase.
Q. What is the most meaningful part of your job?
A. Helping Centene be a better partner — to our clients, our members, and the environment. The opportunity to drive this type of change and impact is such a huge honor.
Q. Who influenced you most during your career and why?
A. I grew up on a farm, so I understand the importance of having viable earth, water, and air for our livestock. Sometimes our garden was my family’s only source of food and so I understand why it so important to protect. My father was self-employed, and I saw firsthand how difficult it is for minority people to succeed when there is no visibility or desire to have an equal playing field. These two influences crafted my need to ensure equity, not just for minorities and underserved people, but for the earth. I am a tree-hugging procurement professional who found a career that combines my passion with purpose. I find joy every day in what I do and can’t believe I’ve found a company where I can practice in purpose.
Q. How do you feel about Centene's approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion?
A. Centene is not just committed. We are determined to make sure that equity is a part of how we operate. This was a huge draw to me for this position. That commitment will translate into the world being a better place. And having a role in that transformation is thrilling.
Q. What is the importance of allyship to you, and how can individuals be better allies?
A. Understanding that everyone has different perspectives and experiences will allow for empathy. That empathy affords conversations that can improve how we work together. I think that listening with the purpose to understand can help us all to be better allies.
Q. What are your thoughts on the significance of Black History Month?
A. Highlighting Black history is a fantastic beginning. When you look at the significance of what has been contributed by Black inventors, engineers, and thought leaders, it is unbelievable that we are still where we are when it comes to equity. But, we have to do more to create space for all to enjoy the reality of parity. We’ve got a lot of work to do. And I’m up for the challenge.