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4 Steps to Improve Diversity and Inclusion in Pennsylvania's State Government

Procurated Founder and CEO, David Yarkin, had the opportunity to “sit down” for a virtual interview with Curt Topper, Secretary of the Department of General Services (DGS) in Pennsylvania. Over the course of the hour-long conversation, Curt provided great insight into many of the most critical procurement challenges faced by the Commonwealth right now. During this post, we’ll explore how his team has worked towards improving diversity and inclusion within the procurement department’s people strategy as well as their state contracts. To explore the full interview with Curt, watch part one, The Commonwealth’s COVID-19 Response, and part three, Cooperative Purchasing through the COSTARS Program.  

“We have forever relied on and built systems that we have presumed to be fair. And as it turns out, those systems don’t deliver equitable outcomes.” 

Curt Topper shared this statement with our team nearly two months after the murder of George Floyd, the resulting protests, and nationwide demands for racial justice. For Procurement in particular, the ability to contract with small and diverse-owned businesses provides a unique opportunity to create positive and lasting systematic change. But for many offices, that system is broken.  
For Curt and his team, this reform process began as soon as he accepted the position under Governor Wolf in 2015. And as of March 2020, the percentage of the state’s suppliers that are small or diverse businesses has nearly tripled since 2015. 

While acknowledging his team’s work towards inclusion is far from over, Curt walked us through the steps DGS has taken get to where they are today:  


1. Create a baseline using empirical data 

The purpose of a disparity study is to objectively report on the suppliers that won contracts, and those included in the bidding process. For Curt, it took seeing the data from the state’s first ever study in 2017 for him to truly question their current system. 

All things equal, the state should have been delivering a 24% participation rate by small and diverse businesses in PA contracts. In reality, that number was 4%.  Watch the two-minute clip.  

“The study did more than just help us acknowledge this disparity gap,” Curt said. “It created for us the legal premise to more aggressively create solutions that would help us get closer to 24%.”  


2. Set specific, fact-driven goals

When it comes to setting goals, says Curt, an easy trap to fall into is setting uniform inclusion requirements across all procurements. While well-intentioned, this approach does not factor in the spectrum of diversity across variables such as industry and geography.  Watch the one-minute clip. 

Instead, DGS’s system sets a goal specific to each significant procurement. The team evaluates the market and sets reasonable goals based on the availability of small and diverse firms that can do the work. The result? As of March 2020 (pre-COVID-19), PA had nearly tripled diverse participation rate to sit at just under 12%.   


3. Expect and prepare for challenges along the way 

Working towards true diversity, inclusion, and equity will not be always be a linear path. Like any strategy, leaders need to be prepared to adapt to societal changes that disrupt even the best laid plans. COVID-19 is a devastating example of that.  

As a result of the looming fiscal crisis, Pennsylvania implemented a spending freeze for all non-essential, non-COVID-19-related expenditures. Curt worries about the small and diverse businesses whose revenues depend on that government spending. Watch the 90-second clip. 

To combat this risk to equality progress, DGS has been aggressively pursuing opportunities to engage small and diverse businesses within the COVID-19 response. The most recent example of that has been their commitment to securing a diverse facilities sterilization partner.  


4. Cultivate a culture built for where you want to go, not where you are 

In 2019, DGS conducted an employee survey to evaluate perceptions of physical and mental safety at work. The good news was that 86% of employees reported that they felt safe at work. The bad news? 14% reported they didn’t.  

To reach the inclusion-driven outcomes they wanted, DGS realized they needed to actively invest in their workplace culture. Creating a culture where employees felt safe to bring their full selves to work was key in Curt’s eyes to attracting and growing top talent. Talent that would continue to transform the procurement system his team had begun to move in the right direction. Watch the two-minute clip. 


Many, not one, avenues for improving diversity and inclusion in government

Curt and his team have made significant improvements to diversity and inclusion across Pennsylvania, from the high-level strategic vision down to the specific tactics that help drive more government buyers to use diverse suppliers on a daily basis. While Curt is proud of the work they have done over the last several years, he acknowledged that there is not one single avenue for improving diversity and inclusion within government, but many. Improving access for small and diverse businesses is a wonderful start, but the principles of inclusion, safety and well-being must also flow internally through DGS. 

To increase the number of MWBEs your government contracts with, you can follow in the footsteps of Pennsylvania and use Procurated to search for minority and woman-owned businesses in the goods and service categories you care about most. Join your peers in procurement on Procurated today!
  Bernadette Launi