7 Actions Procurement Leaders Can Take to Improve Diversity and Inclusion
So far in this series on diversity and inclusion, we have explored a historical perspective on supplier diversity in the enterprise, tips to improve it, and how the supplier community can leverage their diversity status. Now we will discuss how procurement leaders can incorporate diversity and inclusion into their team management strategies.
2020 is a year that will live in infamy. The wrath of COVID-19 has been felt worldwide, with no population spared, triggering shared experiences of traumatic events not seen since World Wars I and II. This global pandemic started in 2020 as an invisible enemy and continues making its mark in 2021. But this wasn't the only thing that brought trauma to our doorsteps in the United States and beyond. George Floyd's death and the racial unrest that followed highlighted the disparities that exist despite the global growth of economies. The need for a meaningful dialogue on diversity and inclusion is well overdue.
Added to this are the hate crimes against Asian Americans of all types and ethnicities. These hate crimes demonstrate that not having an open dialogue on racial disparity and biases at our schools, work and communities is no longer an acceptable option.
Our actions and the changes we make toward meaningful progress will determine our legacy. We still have an opportunity to shape what history will say about us and our roles if we take meaningful actions.
Starting the Dialogue on Organizational Diversity
Change takes time, but maintaining the status quo is no longer a viable option. Many organizations are beginning to identify and measure diversity and inclusion practices that have historically fallen short.
Systematic and conscious biases have been attributed to “company culture” when it comes to hiring, promotion and retention decisions. I’ve personally witnessed this in my career in the Finance and Procurement functions, and I am grateful for the recent study by Gartner that raises awareness.
As an Asian immigrant woman leader, I am sharing experiences that shaped my professional outlook in the United States and may help others explore ways to improve diversity and inclusion.
Prevalent and Normalized Biases in Enterprises
The World Economic Forum did a fantastic lens on the cognitive biases that perpetuate racism at work that encompass:
1. Moral licensing
2. Affinity bias
3. Confirmation bias
These biases create a conformity mindset or groupthink, predominately portrayed as "the network" or "alignment." This ends up being the root cause of a lack of diversity and inclusion if the network is associated with providing strong moral licensing, affinity and confirmation biases.
This network effect ends up being the catalyst to others experiences. One can have a fantastic experience, while another may not, leading to disparate experiences in the same organization or team. The task at hand is to better understand why and who is responsible for contrasting experiences and how we can shape them to allow everyone to feel included.
Our Responsibility for Diversity and Inclusion
Regardless of our experience levels or titles, each of us has a role in making our work environment better and making decisions with diversity and inclusion in mind. People managers and teams help shape and define our collective experiences. Suppose those are shaped by someone who lacks self-awareness on diversity and inclusion or interacts with their teams from a place of fear or biases? In that case, unfortunately, those experiences will forever haunt their team members until better experiences come along to replace them.
Our responsibility is to be a better team member, lead by example, be willing to self-reflect, become aware, and create a safe environment for a dialogue on challenging issues like diversity and inclusion. We have to champion processes and be willing to provide or accept the tools necessary to engage in a dialogue that otherwise is too easily swept under the rug.
Seven Actions to Improve Diversity and Inclusion
It’s clear that leadership on Diversity and Inclusion initiatives have fallen short. So, what can we do to change this? There are seven key fundamentals actions to improve diversity and inclusion that I have observed. I hope this helps others to make a shift.
1. Create a Safe Environment - Draw quiet team members into the discussion and recognize that just because someone is quiet doesn't mean they don't have anything to contribute. From leading by example to not penalizing people for their differences, we can help create a safer environment for our teams.
2. Praise Publicly – Public recognition of the contributions that our teams make, regardless of ranks or titles, is an essential element to allow people to feel appreciated for their hard work. Actions always speak louder than words, so create simple programs by working with your HR teams to recognize anyone in the organization that may have contributed to your success, even in a small way. These small tokens go a long way to create a positive balance towards team culture.
3. Coach Privately - If you publicly praise your team members' contributions, you will be granted the privilege to coach individuals privately. Too often, leaders jump to coaching in the guise of mentoring without having acknowledged contributions or thanking team members. Such tactics do not work, so it's essential to recognize that a debit balance of praise is needed before a withdrawal of coaching can be made.
4. Sponsorship and Not Mentorship is the Key - Many leaders jump on the bandwagon to mentor diverse and underrepresented team members. But more often than not, they need sponsorship and tools to learn and grow. So, support your diverse and underrepresented team members by sponsoring them, praising their contributions and getting to know them so that we may earn the privilege to coach them.
5. Embrace Transparent and Data-Driven Decision-Making - Reset the organizational mindset by creating transparent and quantitative criteria for hiring, retention and promotion decisions based on skills, performance and meritocracy that are consistently applied across the organization. When decisions are not transparent and lack consistency, it creates distrust that leads to an unhealthy organizational culture.
6. Create More Than One Seat at the Table - Recognize that diversity and inclusion isn't about hiring that “one” seat to check the box, but instead creates an environment that reflects the communities in which we live and work. Regardless of levels, we need to start having a conversation around having qualified individuals who deserve the seat, regardless of their race, gender, religion or other previously defined parameters. It shouldn't be limited to just that one token seat, so let's increase the number of seats at the table to reflect diversity and inclusion.
7. Invest in Training, Learning and Development - Aptly captured in a recent Global Procurement Excellence survey from McKinsey & Company, most Procurement organizations have historically lacked budgets and support. As to why that is, I would invite you to read my previous article on this topic on making "The case for changing the Chief Procurement Officer role." We must insist on having adequate budgets to train our associates for the tools they need to succeed in their jobs and diversity and inclusion to grow stronger as a team.
The tide is finally turning on diversity and inclusion in procurement, and I remain optimistic that the future will be better. With awareness finally starting to build around the need to evolve the procurement and our interactions with suppliers, we have an incredible opportunity to improve diversity and inclusion in our organizations, functions, teams and among suppliers.