Using procurement policy to improve diversity

Inclusion and diversity are currently the unicorns of the engineering industry, sometimes glimpsed but hard to grasp and keep.

Yet, we are highly aware that diversity and inclusion could alleviate many of the skills challenges facing the industry, as well as improve innovation. For an industry struggling to achieve improved diversity and inclusion, procurement may provide a catalyst to change, making tangible action a priority for any company wishing to be on the supply chain. 

The current landscape of inclusivity in procurement comes from regulatory frameworks driven forward by the EU, making this an ideal time for the UK to further develop its own regulatory frameworks for diversity and inclusion in procurement.

In the last seven years the UK has adopted a more inclusive approach to procurement supply chains, through three key pieces of legislation - SME Agenda (2011), Equality Act (2010), and the Public Services (Social Value) Act (2012).

Unfortunately, these three policies are limited in scope as well as sector reach, making this a still vastly unexplored area of fostering diversity and inclusion in the UK.

Within the procurement supply chain, diversity and inclusion can have various meanings including the size of companies in the supply chain, the staff makeup of the company, as well as corporate responsibility efforts such as sustainability or public outreach. 

Aside from threshold statistics, all aspects of diversity and inclusion are difficult to document or quantify. This means that their incorporation into the procurement process requires careful consideration to avoid inappropriate elimination of those companies attempting to join the supply chain. After all, the point is to try and widen the pool of talent in the industry not reduce it.

The reality of using procurement in this way is currently being explored by the diversity and inclusion leadership group at the Royal Academy of Engineering, with the hope that within the next year clients as well as the supply chain will be able to leverage procurement to ensure diversity is properly addressed industry-wide.