The focus on diversity-owned suppliers is growing as more and more companies are taking steps to increase their DE&I efforts. 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 the 30% of those that don’t say they plan to seriously consider establishing one within the next two years.

Current state. So, what are CW managers doing to move the needle on diversity? It involves going beyond just 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. A report in the Harvard Business Review said 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.

A majority of concerns brought forward include microaggressions and micro inequities, Gelobter says. 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 the 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.

A Wider Net

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.

Part 2 of this article will discuss methods for keeping diverse contingents engaged as well as challenges managers might face in collecting data on their workforce.