As more and more companies are taking steps to increase their DE&I efforts, many are focused on diversity-owned staffing suppliers. The importance of these suppliers cannot be emphasized enough as they provide a pipeline of diverse workers — temp and perm — to a company via a contingent workforce program.
According to recent research by SIA, 64% of CW operations at large companies already have a program to ensure a certain percentage of their spend goes to diversity-owned staffing suppliers, and 30% of those that don’t say they plan to seriously consider establishing one within the next two years.
But moving the needle on DE&I within the workplace requires going beyond using diversity suppliers and getting diverse candidates. “As we look at current enterprise buyers, the conversation is ‘what more can I do?’” says Dawn McCartney, VP, contingent workforce strategies council, at SIA.
Many are looking at plans to align their contingent workforce with the company’s diversity goals. According to SIA research, 24% of CW operations have an effort in place, and 57% are planning to seriously consider one within two years.
In addition, organizations are looking at ways to attract diverse workers, creating an environment that serves diverse candidates well and keep them engaged.
Increasing Diversity. According to a report in Harvard Business Review, there is no single solution to increasing diversity, but there are steps firms can take. These include tracking data, testing technology for biases and using alternative complaint systems to ensure workers can raise concerns without going through a formal, legalistic approach through HR such as an ombuds office.
Lisa Gelobter is CEO and founder tEQuitable, an independent, confidential platform to address issues of bias, discrimination and harassment in the workplace. The Oakland, California-headquartered firm also provides ombuds services — a safe place where team members can come and figure out how to handle workforce conflict.
According to Gelobter, a majority of concerns brought forward include microaggressions and micro inequities. An example might include a Zoom call with numerous participants during which a manager speaks about a worker without realizing that he or she is also on the call.
More serious issues are handled as well. For example, if a boss makes a sexist comment to a worker. The ombuds would work to deal with the problem, Gelobter explains.
Ombuds work with the visitor to determine steps going forward and handling issues before they escalate.
Looking at ways workplaces can be more inclusive, including for contingent workers, Gelobter cites a number of steps.
“If equity and inclusion are in fact important values for an organization, step No. 1, leadership has to be bought in,” she says.
And team members should be treated as such without regard to their worker classification.
Pay equity is also an issue when it comes to inclusion; programs should ensure people are paid equitably regardless of level and race, gender or other identity.
When it comes to the question of increasing diversity hiring, “it’s really more about casting a wider net,” says Cecil Plummer, president of the Western Regional Minority Supplier Development Council.
Top firms can have a tendency to recruit from only certain colleges and universities, but economic disparities and biased acceptance criteria have prevented many groups from attending such institutions in large numbers. For example, firms shouldn’t focus on only Ivy League schools or top 10 schools to recruit. They need to look at locations such as state universities and historically black colleges and universities as well.
Another point: Firms seeking more diverse talent should put bigger emphasis on work experience. One person may have the “right” credentials and gone through the desired internships available via their networks; others may have taken a different path based on the circumstances they were born into. For example, a candidate who had to work their way through a college they could afford may have more work experience than a candidate who only had to work summers.
If someone has done the work and earned a spot at a top school, there’s nothing wrong with that. But hiring managers must not discount those with other experiences or who have taken a different path. The US can’t afford to leave millions of people on the sidelines because they don’t meet such narrow criteria, Plummer says.
To keep diverse talent engaged, companies might consider embedding coaching and mentorship into their operations. Assign diverse new-hires a mentor or coach who can provide advice, answer questions and help them navigate company culture. However, training mentors, coaches and hiring managers is important — including training in unconscious bias (those biases people may not recognize they have).
Dealing with unconscious bias is a critical concern in hiring as well as keeping diverse workers engaged.
“I think unconscious bias training is a critical part of helping the staffing industry increase their throughput of diverse candidates,” says Cecil Plummer, president of the Western Regional Minority Supplier Development Council.
NMSDC certifies suppliers, including staffing firms, as minority-owned. CW managers may be able to increase their throughput by using diverse suppliers. For example, minority-owned suppliers can play an important role in recruiting diverse candidates.
“Diverse entrepreneurs have an understanding of diverse communities, including the different paths that people take and the reasons they took those paths — and, most importantly, they know where to find diverse talent. It’s about the diversity of thought that such entrepreneurs can bring to the table.”
Sometimes, contingent workers can be treated very differently from directly employed workers — almost to the point of a class system, says Jennifer Coyne, co-founder of The PEAK Fleet, a consulting firm that works to create engaged workplaces. It’s headquartered in Chandler, Arizona, and Portland, Oregon.
The firm adds “justice” to the mix when it discusses DE&I, making it JEDI, or justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.
Coyne, who has a background in tech, says it is important to work to include contingents in events and make them feel part of the company.
Contingents may not be able to take part in everything at a large company as directly hired employed workers can for legal reasons, but there should be activities during which contingent workers can be included. For example, companies should consider inviting — though not requiring — contingent workers to participate in training and development opportunities that are provided to the employee workforce.
Day-to-day activity is important as well. “How do you make those folks feel like they are included in the right way and really being thoughtful about that?” Coyne asked.
Meetings are an example; often people may feel left out. Make sure you have a process to invite everyone’s input during meetings. Contingent workers may also not feel comfortable speaking up, or they might have more quiet, thoughtful personalities; it’s important to follow up with them during the meeting to make sure their opinions are recognized.
One challenge contingent workforce programs may have in establishing and maintaining a DE&I initiative is data, as workers may be wary of providing such information and how the data is used can open up the company to compliance issues.
CW managers would need ask their staffing suppliers for the data on candidate diversity going through the system, say Dawn McCartney, VP, contingent workforce strategies council, at SIA..
But data on diversity relies on candidates self-reporting, and some may be hesitant to do so out of concern the information could be used against them. With more and more CEOs discussing the importance of diversity, though, this concern may be waning, she says.
Another concern is about what the data will show and whether it could lead to legal risk of a discrimination or reverse-discrimination lawsuit.
In response, some CW managers are asking suppliers to send data only at particular times — such as after a candidate has already been brought on board, McCartney says. This gives information on diversity but helps prevent discrimination because the information only came to light after the hire.
On the other hand, some CW managers want the information as soon as possible before onboarding to ensure suppliers are providing a diverse set of candidates.
CW managers will also have to decide what to do with the data once they have it. If a hiring manager is found not to be hiring diverse candidates, the question becomes whether that has happened out of bias. It may also lead to uncomfortable conversations.
Looking at what to do with the data would also likely require bringing in other stakeholders such as HR, legal and DE&I groups.
Increasing diversity is not an easy path, but the task is of high importance to business and will remain so.
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