A straightforward game plan can help procurement chiefs develop a diverse workforce
“To attract more professionals from Black, Indigenous, people of color, women, and other under-represented groups, procurement directors must have a clear strategy grounded in why diversity is important to their organization and their profession,” says Kay Formanek, founder of Diversity and Performance BV, which advises government agencies, including the U.S. Foreign Service, as well as for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. She is also author of the forthcoming book “Beyond D&I: Leading Diversity with Purpose and Inclusiveness” (Palgrave Macmillan 2021). Formanek has more than 20 years of experience working with leading global organizations to take diversity and inclusion into the strategic roadmap of the organization.
Formanek says a winning formula features a credible diversity strategy underpinned by clear policies, supporting behavior, commitment and metrics. “Without it, younger generations will assume that any diversity efforts are merely ‘window dressing.’ They either won’t join your organization or if they do, they’ll become disengaged and cynical on the job.” Research has shown, Formanek explains, that under-represented groups wish to have clear policies in place tied to zero tolerance on discrimination and a strong focus on de-biasing recruitment and talent advancement processes. She adds that prospective recruits will watch to see if procurement departments have blind screening processes and bias-free evaluations and promotion decisions.
Formanek offers managers a little advice on techniques that can boost diversity and inclusion throughout the hiring process in local-state government procurement offices: “Employers won’t benefit from diversity unless their diverse talent perceives that their environment is inclusive and trusts their leaders to actively ‘walk the talk’ of inclusive leadership.”
She says research shows that the perception of a leader being inclusive contributes 70 percent of the perception that an overall work environment is inclusive. “And therefore, many organizations—including procurement organizations—are looking at how to imprint an inclusive leadership capability in their organization. This needs to be present in recruiting, hiring, onboarding and training.” She adds that every talent-touching process needs to support the inclusive leadership goal, enabled by technology where possible. She lists the following parts of the process:
- Job and role specifications that include a section on inclusive leadership.
- Recruitment interviews that focus on inclusiveness by asking candidates to talk about what inclusiveness means to them. Candidates should also be presented with case studies of toxic situations and explain how they would handle them.
- Succession planning that requires an evaluation of the inclusiveness of leaders and whether they would support the advancement of inclusiveness within their new role.
- Performance management that includes assessment of leaders on the inclusiveness axis where the outcome impacts executive compensation.
- Training and development that includes training and coaching; this can assist leaders on becoming excellent inclusive leaders.
Where can managers find the next generation of talent? Formanek suggests that leaders develop partnerships and alliances with organizations that provide a community for underrepresented people. She cautions, however, that these partnerships cannot be opportunistic; they must be forged on shared inclusivity. In a true partnership, she says leaders would “reach out to a community and develop common objectives. This could include having a longer-term view of the relationship, such as supporting the development of talent through development projects.”
Formanek’s conclusion: “Diversity is not a flash in the pan. It is a long-term journey. And it cannot be achieved alone. So, the better that organizations are in forging long-term partnerships around talent access and development, the better equipped they are for this diversity journey.”
Formanek says cooperative agreements have a role to play in overworked and understaffed local government procurement departments. “Cooperative procurement contracts may help to save time and boost staff efficiency under certain conditions, such as where the department lacks resources or skills sets, completes infrequent purchases, or has insufficient volume leverage, etc.” She adds: “The use of cooperative contracts should never be the reason to stop looking for the new generation of procurement professionals, who are diverse and eager to participate.”
Formanek says the COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected public procurement staffing levels and workloads. “Underrepresented talent has been more negatively impacted by the pandemic. The post-COVID world will require organizations to be better prepared for virtual work and for inclusively dealing with the unequal constraints that talented people face.”
Michael Keating is senior editor for American City & County. Contact him at [email protected].