More than just buzzwords, diversity and inclusion are proven to improve workplace outcomes. However, concerning the contract management profession, there is still more work to be done.

It’s easy to say that an organization’s workforce is diverse when you walk into a room and see people from all walks of life working together to achieve a shared mission. However, have you stopped and thought about what levels of access each of these individuals have in making organizational decisions and being a leader? Who is being promoted? Who is being hired for the leadership roles?

Some may feel that discussions of diversity and inclusion may be unnecessary—as there are so many working professionals of different racial groups, genders, religions, and other diverse characteristics. Yet diversity workplace statistics[1] show we have a long way to go to reflect the diversity of the nation. As the latest figures shown in FIGURE 1 demonstrate, fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace should be a priority.

In the 21st Century, more organizations are becoming increasingly aware of the importance—and significant benefits—of diversifying their workforce, as well as their leadership. But what does making an organization more diverse and inclusive entail? What are the tangible benefits of doing so? And what strategies are proven effective in transforming an organization?

 

What is Diversity and Inclusion?

Does being more “diverse” merely mean promoting more women or members of other minority groups into leadership roles? Does touting that your organization has just one person in a leadership role to represent an entire Underrepresented Minorities (URM) population mean your organization is “inclusive”?

Diversity may be summarized as a concept that requires an understanding that everyone is unique and that individual differences—including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, physical abilities, and/or ideologies—are to be recognized and accepted.[2] It means that, for example, the 15% to 20% of people in the United States that have some type of disability are accepted as valuable assets within the workforce, and ensuring we are mindful that 70% of them are disabled with blindness, cognitive challenges, or chronic disease—not all of which are externally visible.[3]

Inclusion may be summarized as a concept where an employee’s opportunities to excel within the workforce are on an even playing field with everyone else—regardless of race, gender, etc. It means that, for example, the 46% of LGBTQ employees at most U.S. organizations have the “peace of mind” that they will not be discriminated against, mistreated, or denied opportunities when disclosing their orientation.[4]

During a discussion with a colleague, I asked: “Do you always feel comfortable disclosing your authentic self?” As my colleague shared:

 

Oftentimes, I gauge the “temperature” of the room first. However, I do not lie about who I am. I appreciate seeing how some organizations are becoming more inclusive, such as gender-neutral restrooms and participating in Pride. I feel we are making some progress, but there is still work to be done.

 

Benefits of Diversity and Inclusion

There are many benefits to having a diverse and inclusive organization. However, to reap the benefits, an organization should first create a culture and community that is welcoming and inclusive of all people. If any diverse team members do not feel included within this culture and community, then they may not be able to contribute in the same way as other members that are included.

Consider, for example, the benefits of multigenerational diversity. Research has proven that multigenerational diversity can improve overall organizational performance, as well as improved individual performance and lower employee turnover. According to Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP:

 

A workplace with Millennials, Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation offers a unique opportunity for varied perspectives and approaches to day-to-day work.[5]

 

Similarly, a study by McKinsey Global Institute suggests that:

  • On average, gender-diverse companies perform 15% better; and
  • On average, ethnically diverse companies perform 35% better.[6]

 

Other benefits include the following:

  • In the United States, companies that increase racial and ethnic diversity on senior boards see an average annual earnings increase of 0.8%; and
  • Employees are 80% more likely to rank their employer as “high-performing” when the organization is perceived to be diverse and inclusive.[7]

 

A Look at the National Contract Management Association

To better understand whether the contract management profession itself is diverse and inclusive, it is helpful to take a look at the National Contract Management Association (NCMA)—an association dedicated to this profession. NCMA is an organization with over 20,000 members. NCMA does not obtain information on their members’ race, age, sexual orientation, or disabilities; however, anecdotally speaking, when walking onto the Main Stage at NCMA’s 2019 Government Contract Management Symposium in Washington, DC, the attendees of the event—made up of both members and nonmembers, but all of whom work within the contract management profession—appears exceptionally diverse.

In terms of leadership of the association at a national level, NCMA has a rich history of diversity, beginning with:

  • First female NCMA executive director/CEO: Emily Hiestand (1980–1985) (previously served as Editor-in-Chief of Contract Management Magazine (1978–1980));
  • First female NCMA national president: Ann H. Watson (1989–1990);
  • First person of color to serve as NCMA national president: Elliott B. Branch, Fellow (2012–2013);
  • First female of color to serve as NCMA national president: Penny L. White, Fellow (2015–2016).[8]

In total, NCMA has had 11 women leaders and three people of color serve as national presidents over the course of its 60-year history.

 

How to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in Contract Management

For a diverse and inclusive work environment at all levels of contracts management, especially the executive-level management “C-suite,” organizations should put the following plans into action.

 

Implement Unconscious Bias Training at All Levels and Ensure It’s a REQUIRED Training. Training on unconscious bias (also known as implicit bias) helps teach people to manage social stereotypes about certain groups of people formed outside of their conscious awareness. Unconscious bias training requires self-awareness, understanding the nature of bias, and taking opportunities to have discussions with others (specifically from unfamiliar groups).

To address unconscious bias effectively, all organizations should:

  • Develop concrete, objective indicators and outcomes for hiring, evaluation, and promotion to reduce standard stereotypes;
  • Develop standardized criteria to assess the impact of individual contributions in performance evaluations;
  • Develop and utilize structured interviews and develop objective evaluation criteria for hiring; and
  • Provide unconscious bias training workshops for all constituents.[9]

 

Promote “Being Your Authentic Self” and Provide Tools on How to Use “Authenticity” to Move Up the Ladder

Are you familiar with the term “code switch”—and more important, have you ever felt like you had to do it? Strictly speaking, code switching is a term for the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation, but in the context of this discussion, it means gauging a situation and presenting a different “you” that others might deem most appropriate for the given context. These adaptations include body language, gestures, tone, etc.[10]

If more organizations promoted “authenticity” within their workforce, and provided the appropriate tools to cultivate acceptance, transparency, and vulnerability perception, this may allow many aspiring leaders to take off their protective “masks” and inspire them to establish genuine relationships without concern for being disrespected or stereotyped. Supporting “authenticity” promotes open dialogue to discuss differences and educates everyone on inclusive language (see FIGURE 2).

                          2    Cups of Open Mind

                          2    Cups of Respect

                          1   Cup of Listening (without crafting a response in your head)

Bake on 200 Degrees. Be patient. Ask questions respectfully. Add your special ingredients as they are successful. Share the recipe.

 


Promote Networking and Sponsorship of Highly Qualified URMs 

I asked Angel Davis, immediate past president of the Tysons Chapter of NCMA: “What suggestion would you have for a URM trying to advance in contract management?” She stated:

 

Network, network, network! Within our community there are resources you can tap into that will support your professional growth and advancement. Regardless of your gender, age, sexuality, or ethnicity, we have so many unknown commonalities and oftentimes we are working in support of the same mission. It’s important that we do our part to make an impact and be change agents in the evolution of inclusion and diversity. I would also suggest finding a mentor or a sponsor that will support your professional endeavors.

 

Mentorship goes two ways and can create an engaging environment. Mentors play an instrumental role in career development and progression. According to Dr. Eli Joseph:

 

Effectively established relations with mentors require URMs to understand the pyramid of their networks and degrees of connection. Mentors should be selective and are often second-degree associates that provide first-degree advice. Sponsors should be selective because they make up 1% of your network. These are professionals that can advocate for you when you are not in the room.[11]

 

Are We Diverse and Inclusive at All Levels of Contract Management?

If we look at the diversity of contract management through the lens of NCMA, there is diversity reflected in by not only its national leadership and chapter leadership, but also within its 20,000+ members. However, the profession would be remiss if we did not continue to reflect the diversity of the organization in leadership by encouraging more URMs to volunteer up to the national leadership level.

Take a hard look at your organization and ask yourself this question: “Are we diverse and inclusive of all people at all levels?” If your answer is a resounding “yes,” celebrate all successes and continue to encourage growth by building connections! However, if you believe your organization still has work to do, know that organizational change begins at the individual level—start the ball rolling, have the conversation, begin the work today to ensure contract management is diverse and inclusive at all levels now and in the future.

 

Endnotes


[1] See Bailey Reiners, “Diversity + Inclusion: Definition, Benefits and Statistics,” Builtin (2019), available at https://builtin.com/diversity-inclusion.

[2] “Definition for Diversity,” Queensborough Community College, City of New York (CUNY) (2019), available at http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/diversity/definition.html.

[3] See Michael Schulz, “How Organizations Can Become More Inclusive of People with Disabilities,” Opensource.com (last updated December 22, 2017), available at https://opensource.com/article/17/12/diversity-and-inclusion.

[4] See, e.g., Janice Gassam, “How to Create An Inclusive Environment For LGBTQ Employees,” Forbes.com (July 29, 2018), available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/janicegassam/2018/07/29/how-to-create-an-inclusive-environment-for-lgbtq-employees/#3cfe9995bb51.

[5] Lori A. Trawinski, “Leveraging the Value of an Age-Diverse Workforce,” SHRM Foundation Executive Briefing, (2020), available at https://www.shrm.org/foundation/ourwork/initiatives/the-aging-workforce/Documents/Age-Diverse%20Workforce%20Executive%20Briefing.pdf.

[6] Vivian Hunt, Dennis Layton, and Sara Prince, “Why Diversity Matters,” McKinsey & Company (January 1, 2015), available at https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters.

[7] See Reiners, note 1.

[8] Information obtained via NCMA.

[9] Derived from “Strategies to Address Unconscious Bias,” University of California, San Francisco, Office of Diversity and Outreach (2020), available at https://diversity.ucsf.edu/resources/strategies-address-unconscious-bias (internal citations omitted).

[10] Jalen Sherald, “The Buzz: Dear White People (and everyone else), Let’s Talk About Code Switching,” The Inclusion Solution (August 2, 2018), available at http://www.theinclusionsolution.me/buzz-buzz-dear-white-people-everyone-else-lets-talk-code-switching/.

[11] As quoted within Janice Gassam, “The Key To Diversity And Inclusion Is Mentorship,” Forbes.com (September 26, 2019), available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/janicegassam/2019/09/26/the-key-to-diversity-and-inclusion-is-mentorship/#1122e6597fbd.