Apr 13 2022

How Local Governments Can Elevate DEI Principles in Procurement

Agencies should strengthen diversity throughout their contracting base.

One state CIO put it bluntly: “If you think diversity, equity and inclusion requirements for a state government contract are ‘fluff,’ you are going to be sitting at home while another contractor does the work.”

He was speaking to a breakout ­session at last year’s annual meeting of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. States are not alone in their advocacy for DEI ­requirements in contracting; local ­governments are truly leading the ­movement. As the nonprofit Municipal Research and Services Center notes, “Hiring and contracting ­policies are a necessary focus of attention when addressing long-term structural issues that result in the disenfranchisement of people due to race, ethnicity, ability or sexual orientation.”

Local governments, after all, consist of those public officials closest to the communities they serve. Local diversity initiatives draw individuals with a v­ariety of backgrounds and a fresh mix of skills and perspectives, notes the International City/County Management Association. And inclusion requires ­support for environments that welcome and fully integrate the participation of any individual or group, ICMA adds.

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How ICMA and Deloitte are Improving Equity and Inclusion

ICMA and Deloitte have developed particularly handy resources for local governments to expand their DEI efforts. Let’s explore a few of the key recurring ideas promoted by their expertise.

In the ICMA Equity & Inclusion Toolkit, ICMA makes key recommendations applicable to all efforts to support DEI. Simply put, those recommendations call on local officials to weigh the impact of DEI on program development, and then build relationships based on trust around diversity.

ICMA further advises local governments to review current policies and adopt equitable compensation practices, then follow up by establishing training programs and DEI leadership. Throughout it all, cities and counties should maintain an open, welcoming dialogue with new and existing stakeholders.

ICMA highlights Asheville, N.C., and its appointment of an equity manager to promote access, equity and diversity throughout the city’s procurement processes.

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Asheville's Implementation of the Equity Activation Model

In 2020, Asheville reacted to a 2018 study that found the city awarded only 0.5 ­percent of city contracts to ­Black-owned businesses. The city ­council shifted municipal policy from a “race-neutral” to a “race-conscious” approach for minority business ­contracting, also setting ­measurable goals for diversity in awards.

Deloitte spotlighted the city’s effort in explaining its new government equity activation model, which ­identifies three spheres of influence: workforce, vendor ecosystems, and communities and society.

New and creative approaches to sourcing may overcome previous i­nequities in procurement, Deloitte ­says. Few change agents are as ­powerful as money, and contracting agencies can use government spending to foster diversity.

In discussing additional steps local governments might take, Deloitte ­summarizes the experience of public officials in Boston. In 2016, the city set ­contracting targets for minority- and women-owned businesses. Boston streamlined contracting processes for more transparency and ­provided more assistance to small businesses, which are often minority- and women-owned.

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Seeing Diversity in Action Across the Nation

Updating policies and laws will ­produce more ­equitable outcomes in contracting and diversity in the vendor community. The Philadelphia Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion ­succinctly framed the matter on its website, emphasizing that contracting may support diverse neighborhoods and an inclusive city: “An equitable Philadelphia is one where all thrive. It requires city g­overnment’s policies, services and ­distribution of resources to account for the distinct histories, challenges and needs of different communities it serves.”

Edwin Tan/Getty Images

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