An Interview with Dionne McLean of RTI International: Inspiration from a Supplier Diversity Expert in the Triangle Region


​The Triangle Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity Alliance is committed to supporting work that contributes to making the Triangle region the most diverse, equitable, and inclusive business community in the country.  This month, we highlight Dionne McLean for her work in Supplier Diversity. 
Supplier Diversity refers to a business strategy of incorporating diverse-owned businesses, suppliers and vendors into a company’s supply chain and business practices. Serenia Parsons, DEI Coordinator, met with Dione to discuss her work, her passions, and her goals.  

Introducing Dionne McLean

​Dionne McLean is the Senior Manager of Supplier Diversity at RTI International. In her current role, she is charged with developing partnerships with communities, corporations, foundations, and entrepreneurs to foster diversity in business-to-business partnerships that are mutually beneficial. She manages two diversity initiatives that support diverse subcontractor and supplier inclusion and engagement by business units and general and administrative departments. She also supports international subcontractor business development opportunities for diverse contractors.
Dionne is an impassioned advocate, coach, and mentor with a background in education. She was an education specialist and center director with Communities in Schools of Wake County, where she supervised operations and oversaw education initiatives, mentoring, and community relations programming for two learning centers. In that role, she cultivated partnerships with local colleges and universities, civic organizations, and the Raleigh Police Department to bring resources and programs within Raleigh’s housing communities.
Dionne is associated with numerous professional organizations including:

  • Leadership North Carolina Class 29
  • RTP DEI Collective
  • North Carolina Chamber
  • Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce
  • Chair of Diverse Business Engagement for RTI International’s global equity diversity inclusion and belonging leadership council

What brought her to supplier diversity?
Dionne was practicing her supplier diversity skills before she knew what it was. When she saw an opening for a supplier diversity manager position at RTI International that spelled out what she had been doing and what she wanted to do, Dionne says she went for it and didn’t shy away from a change in industries from education to business.

What is Dionne’s “Why”?
Dionne has a strong family lineage that supports her and sets high aspirations for her future. Her father was a Vietnam Veteran who implemented a ridged military life – this is where she learned to take up space. Her mother always taught her to use her words to make connections and taught her the importance of knowing her lineage and understanding what they endured to survive. Through their efforts, Dionne was given an opportunity, and believed that everyone should have an opportunity to succeed in life. Her work in supplier diversity is her saying “Thank you” to the people in her family, like her 92-year-old grandmother, who raised seven children and worked tirelessly to give her those opportunities.

How does she integrate the principles of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity into your supplier diversity work at RTI International?
Dionne believes that Supplier Diversity and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity work hand in hand. Her work is about partnering collaboratively with the community to make the business stronger. She does this by searching for contractors, subcontractors, and vendors who are representative of the community. She is cognizant of the importance of diversity in a business as she said, “the most innovative, creative dynamic teams are those that have a diverse makeup of thought, practice, experiences, and that includes race, gender, ability.”

According to Dionne, to collaborate with diverse groups of people, you have to understand who and what is missing from the conversation when searching for partnerships. Dionne states that she works to challenge perspectives and thought processes to facilitate these partnerships and remove barriers to entry. Doing so allows the business to grow and become economically responsible, while sparking economic mobility for underestimated groups. 

A photo of Dionne McLean speaking on a panel about Contract Pathways for Small Business Owners at Headshots and Business Opportunities.Picture

Dionne McLean speaking on a panel about Contract Pathways for Small Business Owners at Headshots and Business Opportunities event.

What developments does she see on the horizon that could affect the future of supplier diversity in the Triangle Region?
As a self-proclaimed hopeless optimist, Dionne believes that the work being done in North Carolina by Governor Roy Cooper and the Department of Commerce Secretary Machelle Sanders has created opportunities for economic development and more jobs. This growth has allowed small businesses to “create their own footprint and generational wealth and opportunity,” while maintaining the family-oriented feeling of the Triangle region. Dionne believes we should embrace policies that create opportunity so “we can continue to forge ahead and be better.” She has hope for the new generation coming into the workforce and believes they will continue to do the work of supplier diversity.
What is one of Dionne’s proudest career accomplishments?
Dionne has accomplished many things throughout each pivot of her career. In her current role, her proudest career accomplishment was hosting the Black Vendor Fair at RTI International in 2022. Over 100 businesses came from near and far to work with RTI International. She also brought in project leads to have walk-in interviews with contractors. Four companies received contracts from the vendor fair.

She recalled how she ran into one person from one of those businesses at the onsite RTI International cafeteria. He called out to her and told her he did such a good job on the contract he got from the Black Vendor Fair that he received another contract. He told her she was “the truth” and that he tells people everywhere he goes that she’s a woman of her word. This moment meant everything to her. It shows that every tear, stress, and “I don’t understand” was not in vain. All that mattered was that they got the job. Dionne shared that the individual’s company is still growing to this day.
What advice would Dionne give someone looking to get into supplier diversity?
Dionne believes that the path to success in Supplier Diversity is a marathon, not a sprint. Building early success takes time. However, once you find out what success looks like to you, you may need to flex and pivot. It’s important to keep trying and know that a “no” might be a temporary no. Lastly, continue to have conversations and be inquisitive.

Conclusion and Key Takeaways
Dionne’s journey has been inspirational, and she is working to continue giving opportunities to those who are underestimated. She is a critical player in making the Triangle region the most diverse, equitable, and inclusive business community possible. She showed us that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity are pivotal in creating longevity in our communities, organizations, and businesses. She also urges us to remember where we came from, as it is key to where we are headed.

We hope you enjoyed our blog spotlight!  Thank you to all of our investors, partners, and supporters!

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About the Author

Kassie Hoffman
Kassie pens down all the news from the world of politics on ANH.