When DEI Includes External Workers, the Entire Organization Wins

Diversity Fist Bump

In this guest column, SAP Fieldglass CTO Vish Baliga writes that the growth of the contingent workforce requires employers to rethink how they approach diversity.

A lot has changed in the past decade. Phones are slimmer and smarter, streaming services are replacing cable TV, but one recent change—the proliferation of remote working—has only gained steam, particularly as the COVID-19 world grappled with working from home. This trend to remote, gig and external work increases productivity and provides flexibility to employees, challenging companies to rethink their strategies on how to engage and appeal to workers across categories.

Recent years have seen a dramatic shift in the composition of the workforce, with only 58% of workforce spend dedicated to full-time employees. The external workforce (comprising independent contractors, contingent workers, freelancers, consultants and temporary staff) devote crucial capabilities in times of uncertainty. According to Gartner, 32% of organizations are hiring contingent workers as a cost-saving measure.

Guest column: @SAPFieldglass CTO Vish Baliga says the contingent workforce's growth requires employers to rethink how they approach diversity. #HR #HRTech Share on X

All of this suggests that the emergence of the external workforce has replaced the traditional arrangement of hiring only full-time employees, and brings the concepts of diversity and inclusion to the forefront, demanding that businesses develop a strategy to compete for this unique talent pool.

Unlike the procurement of products, external workforce management involves the procurement of talented people for a set duration, sometimes followed by possible extensions or conversions into permanent roles. Knowing that the services are delivered by people who are going to spend a minimum of months or years with an organization, shouldn’t the complete integration of external workers and full-time employees be considered vital for your organization’s effectiveness?

Diversity, equity and inclusion goes beyond race, religion, age, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. It also extends to talent diversity. With organizations shifting gears to leverage more contingent workers to ensure business continuity, these workers have access to confidential information about the projects they are involved in and at times contribute to organizational strategy. And don’t forget, since these are not permanent employees, they switch from one company to another upon completion of projects, with a wealth of information up their sleeves. Should, then, the kind of experiences they have with an organization and their encounters with other workers matter? I imagine it does for the brand to remain and become more attractive to potential talent, customers, partners and shareholders.

It trickles down from the top management: a straightforward attitude of treating external workers with basic respect and dignity. Every program and policy must be built with this principle at its core, so that every category of worker feels safe, welcomed and valued. The principles practiced internally reflect the reputation of the company externally—ensuring the image of the company reflects purpose, respect and empathy. It is fairly common for an external worker to become a full-time employee and vice-versa, which further calls for ensuring consistency.

Organizations with robust DEI policies are known to perform well financially, innovate, cultivate creativity and increase productivity. By putting aside the apprehension of including external workers, DEI-focused companies can reap all the above benefits by bringing in systemic change within the organization and driving better business outcomes.   

It Begins With the Recruitment Process

First and foremost, when curating profiles of external workers, businesses can choose to anonymize candidates to avoid bias. This enables them to identify candidates based purely on skills and expertise—not by their name, gender, race or ethnic background. Amplifying and conveying the company’s DEI policies during the onboarding process will educate external workers about the company’s values and make them feel included from the very beginning. Encouraging every new hire to focus on DEI can lead to noticeable changes in culture across the organization and on the balance sheet.

Choosing the Right Partners

By partnering with organizations that value and practice DEI policies, external workers are bound to have the experiences that more closely mirror a full-time employee’s, directly benefiting the business through high engagement. Companies that lack DEI programs may find it challenging to appeal to, and engage with, more inclusive organizations since there are usually multiple options to work with.

Setting Expectations

During their assignments, organizations must establish clear and authentic communications to external workers about what they can expect and what is expected of them. If something is irrelevant to their jobs, it must be communicated with a logical rationale rather than setting out unexplained restrictions.

Access to Technology

External workers must be provided with the necessary technology, tools and equipment to enable them to do their jobs without impediments. Additionally, if an external worker does not require access to specific tools for their job, the onus is on the supervisor to share the reasons for this rather than denying access or simply saying it’s because they’re not a full-time employee.

Creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce is every individual’s responsibility and an ongoing effort. Every leader in an organization must be willing to embrace an inclusive culture and lead by example. When contingent workers are separated from full-time employees, a company unnecessarily creates silos, fracturing its own culture and undermining DEI programs. However, by addressing inequities and expanding inclusion, organizations can focus on progressing policies that matter to every individual connected to the organization.

Vish Baliga is the chief technology officer of SAP Fieldglass and plays an integral role in establishing product strategy and overseeing the application’s design, development, testing and delivery.  

Image: iStock

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