What tune will you play?
In music, there is a compositional structure called the sonata allegro form. A theme, or melody, is introduced, it goes through a development of different keys, the scales around which the music revolves, and re-emerges, always changed having gone through its journey. What does that look like for Procurement? For several years, Procurement has had to do more with less. To an already complicated “tune” came the pandemic, protests over racial injustice, a conga line of hurricanes, a burning west coast, and other upheaval. The “development” of this song seems only to become more layered and intertwined. On one hand, it’s difficult to process and reflect when one is in the midst of a crisis. On the other, there is no guarantee that we will emerge to clearer times. While submerged in these maelstroms, what are we learning and how can we incorporate our insights to do procurement better?
Procurement may be realized in new ways, but public procurement activities are still based on our pillars of public service, public trust, and justice. Our “why” remains the same. These pillars are verbalized through our values and guiding principles of accountability, ethics, impartiality, professionalism, service, and transparency. They are now incorporated into NIGP’s Pathways curriculum in courses such as Mission & Public Benefit; Ethics, Integrity & Transparency; Social responsibility; Transformation and Vision Creation; Driving Change, Innovation & Agility; Communication Strategies; Problem Solving & Critical Thinking; and Relationship Management.
What has changed and expanded is our perspective, resilience, and resourcefulness. Procurement resilience and resourcefulness were covered in the August-September article. But what of our expanded awareness? According to a July 15, 2020, Washington Post article, “When the pandemic struck in mid-March, American companies cut back sharply on hiring for jobs related to diversity and inclusion…” Two months later, following protests in response and in reaction to the murder of George Floyd, “Diversity & Inclusion postings rose 50 percent in June on Glassdoor, the largest percentage increase over a four-week period since January 2016…”
In 2012, the City of Knoxville’s previous administrator, Mayor Rogero, challenged the Purchasing Department to be more inclusive in its outreach to diverse suppliers. The City also adopted a 3-pronged approach to equity and inclusion, which is being continued by current Mayor Kincannon, and established an equity committee composed of upper management and frontline staff to discuss diversity and inclusion. The Committee is working towards implementing systemic change within the city to improve the environment for employees and their supplier network. The City’s 3-pronged approach includes:
- Departments being intentional with recruitment to create a diverse workforce.
- Human Resources being intentional in creating programs that make all employees feel comfortable and valued.
- Stakeholders being intentional to increase supplier diversity.
In 2016, the city intensified its contracting efforts by adding Assistant Purchasing Agent Pamela Cotham to the Small Business and Diversity Outreach Office. Intentionally is key. In her position, Cotham builds relationships with diverse business enterprises. She works internally with client departments, responding to their needs, e.g., requests for PPE, by providing supplier names and contact information from her database of minority- and women-owned businesses. Cotham also works externally to expand the database, reaching out to the State of Tennessee, Utility Board, Housing Authority, and others for referrals to minority- and women-owned suppliers.
In 2018, the City of Knoxville, in conjunction with East Tennessee Purchasing Association (ETPA), an NIGP chapter, and eight member agencies formed the ETPA Diversity Business Alliance. This alliance consists of The University of Tennessee, Knoxville Utilities Board, Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation, the Public Building Authority, Knox County Government, Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority, and the City of Knoxville, and meets monthly to network, collaborate, and share information with the goal of engaging diverse suppliers in the procurement process. This collaboration resulted in the creation of the Diversity Business Expo in March 2019. The expo targeted minority-owned, woman-owned, and small businesses, and invited each agency’s procurement card holders, requisitions, warehouse inventory clerks, and decision makers (rather than procurement officers) to work the booths to facilitate them meeting face-to-face with new diverse suppliers.
We may eventually emerge from these crises or we may be called upon to continue functioning even as we are battered by ever-mounting challenges. As we move forward, we have an opportunity to be intentional, to compose a more resonant song. The City of Knoxville has seen minority-owned business spend increased from $1.9 Million or 3.05% in FY 12 to $4.3 Million or 5.71% in FY 20, and from $4.4 million or 7.03% in woman-owned business spend in FY 12 to $7.5 million or 9.84% in FY 20. While these results are encouraging, the City plans to expand its outreach to diverse suppliers in the hope that it will continue to increase their participation.
What is your entity doing structurally and systemically to increase participation by diverse suppliers?
Pamela Cotham works in the Small Business and Diversity Outreach Office in the City of Knoxville. Lisa Frank is NIGP’s Program Content Manager.