The Case for Considering Contingent Workers in Your Diversity & Inclusion Strategy

Contingent workers are now sitting more firmly in the driver’s seat of their careers and are being selective in where they share their talent. While pay is still a significant driver, the culture and work environment of a business are also becoming important factors, similar to those seeking full-time employment.

Organizations develop diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs designed to foster teamwork, acceptance and creativity within their full-time employee populations. Given the increased profile of contingent workers within organizations, is it reasonable to expect that this part of the worker population be considered when developing initiatives for the organization as a whole? While there are not definitive answers that can be applied to each organization equally, below are three ideas to be explored as a part of this conversation:

  1. Review the long-term strategy for the contingent workforce program. From a total talent perspective, what role will contingent workers play in meeting organization goals? One could argue that the amount of effort an organization puts into inclusion with its contingent worker population should be reflective of the size and impact of those workers. If they represent 1% of the workforce and are mostly in administrative roles, it may not be worth the effort. However, when (a) contingent workers are in high contribution roles sitting on a team along with full-time employees (b) the organization is experiencing high worker attrition or (c) contractor satisfaction feedback is below target, it may be worth the investment to ensure maximum ROI on contingent engagements.
  2. Examine your organization’s current D&I culture. Understand the spoken and unspoken drivers to how the company approaches inclusiveness among its worker population. If inclusion is part of the organization’s core values, and leadership openly supports it and creates strategies to support growth, everyone that works at that company should reap the benefits. Consider a policy that allows training and participation in company initiatives for contingent workers.
  3. Assess risk of any contingent worker policy changes with legal/risk and compliance representatives. Full disclaimer: we are not providing legal advice. That being said, there are legal experts who contend that there is little legal reason to believe inclusion of the contingent workforce increases co-employment risk to the organization. Ultimately, co-employment risk is driven by the nature of the work, control of the work and the architecture of the benefit plan.

Client organizations and staffing agencies participate in unique ways in the procurement of talent, and as expected, each organization’s unique culture creates a different dynamic for engagement. Ultimately it is the client culture that drives the selection of the staffing partner, thereby creating different candidate pools.

The good news is that most organizations are in the initial review and analysis stages of inclusion practices for their contingent workforces. As discussed above, the consensus is that there is little co-employment risk created through the inclusion of the contingent workforce in relationship with the FTE workforce. Cross-functional project teams and “think tanks” comprising FTE and contingent workers representing diversity of age, gender, socioeconomic status and more create opportunities to capture diversity of thought in a robust and meaningful approach.

Finally, here are some takeaways for creation of an inclusive supply chain and contingent workforce:

  • Ensure sponsorship and communication of inclusion practices by executive and senior-level leadership
  • Roll out inclusion initiatives in alignment with business objectives, with expectations and benefits clearly defined
  • Socialize the defined culture and inclusion practices within the supplier community
  • Review performance against targets and adjust strategy as needed on a regular basis

Kanita H. Brown is managing partner at K.H. Brown Solutions, a consultancy that provides procurement and contingent workforce program management advisory services. Leslie Marsh is a procurement strategist for Hire Talent, a provider of contingent talent supporting the diverse inclusion efforts of its clients.

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