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  • Writer's pictureFletcher Consulting

When good intentions meet bad systems

If you’re not seeing the results you hoped for in your DEI efforts, look to see if your good intent has been marred by your own processes. Systems that appear neutral on their face can still get in the way of well-intentioned DEI efforts.

Take, for example, the goal of diversifying your vendors and partners. I saw good intentions have a negative impact firsthand when I was among the many DEI consultants of color being approached to support organizations after George Floyd was murdered. It was wonderful to see so many organizations prioritize DEI work and be intentional about hiring people of color to do it.

The problem was that many of them issued long and involved RFPs. And they sent them to all of the BIPOC consultants that they could find.

So that summer and fall, many of us were spending a lot of time completing the RFPs. Most DEI consultants of color are solo or small operations. While we were taking on these burdensome proposals, we were also competing against each other for each piece of work. And when we booked a client, we knew that many of our peers had jumped through the same hoops without any return.

It’s a similar situation for a vendor that is required to sign a contract to do business with a large organization. The contracts are often long, with terms that favor the corporation—such as 90-day payment terms instead of the traditional 30 days, or ownership of the vendor’s intellectual property—and negotiation is discouraged or prohibited.

There is no explicitly racist intent here. But the system presents a barrier for a small business, and most minority and women-owned businesses are small. The end result is that people from traditionally marginalized groups continue to be marginalized.

I understand why many corporations take this approach. I used to represent procurement when I worked as an in-house lawyer at Lotus Development Corporation, and I remember drafting a one-size-fits-all contract that we would require all vendors to sign. It saved me time if I didn’t have to negotiate every arrangement.

But that kind of savings has a cost: it favors large, established businesses, which are much more likely to have white owners and leaders (and lots of employees, including lawyers, to navigate RFPs and contracts).

So, if you’re not getting the results you hoped for, take a look at your systems and see if they are having a disparate impact on the very people you are seeking to attract.


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