Transparency in numbers: Federal contractors must be held accountable for their diversity efforts
COMMENTARY | A more diverse talent pool will result in government services—and access to those services—that are more reflective of the constituents those services support.
USA Today recently published two articles that looked at diversity data from federal contractors and determined that they are failing to fulfill the promise of more equal opportunity across all levels of their companies. The first article rightfully suggested that federal contractors—companies that provide goods and services across the government—should “work harder than the average company to ensure women and people of color have equal opportunities in hiring, training and promotions.”
The data, released following a lawsuit from Reveal News, unfortunately doesn’t paint a full picture, as many companies have refused to report their numbers, claiming them to be confidential, that the report is not accurate and therefore misleading, or that they have their own reports that provide a better snapshot of their diversity efforts.
However, as shared in the second article, written in collaboration by USA Today and Reveal, “Unlike subjective reports that can be manipulated to present a rosier picture of diversity, the data that federal contractors are required to submit to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shows the actual numbers of employees broken down by race and gender, for broad job categories like executives, professionals and service workers.”
As a federal contractor ourselves, we believe it is our responsibility to American taxpayers to report the composition of our team from entry level to executive management. Regardless of size, companies awarded contracts from the federal government must be held accountable for equal opportunity in hiring and advancement in an effort to be more reflective of America’s demographics. These numbers are not proprietary and do not affect our competitive advantage.
It is also the federal government’s responsibility to its constituents to mandate that contracted companies to file their reports and enforce the requirement. It should be a staple of every government contract with incentives built in for submitting the reports every year. This will require the government to change processes and to establish a culture that values diversity and equity. An example would be to incorporate hiring and advancement data in contract reports and suspend contracts for those companies that fail to comply.
While a commitment to diversifying the talent pool is critical to getting more people into tech jobs and narrowing the wealth gap, more importantly a more diverse talent pool will result in government services—and access to those services—that are more reflective of the constituents those services support.
We are a minority-owned business but that doesn’t mean we only hire or advance minorities. Several years ago we set a 50/50 goal, committing to more diverse hiring practices. By the end of 2024 we plan to have a population of 50% women and 50% BIPOC. This is tough and we’re not there yet, but setting the goal and publicly stating it helps keep us honest. Our diversity goals are part of our strategic plan: we talk about it, we plan for it, we measure it, we act on it. It’s more than a photo op—it’s good business and your competitive advantage.
We know we have work to do, which is why we’ve engaged with a black female-owned start-up, The Equity Brain Trust, to use their tool, EquiscoreBI, to better understand how equitable we are as a company, not just in who we hire, but in how we do business. This work provides a baseline for us to measure our progress and ensure we are creating conditions for more minorities to work for us and do business with us.
There is no shame in admitting where you are as a company. Following their stunning Game 5 defeat in the first round of the 2023 NBA playoffs, Milwaukee Bucks forward, Giannis Antetokounmpo, stated in a news conference when asked if the season was a failure, “It's not a failure; it's steps to success.”
It is the effort to improve with intentionality that demonstrates a company’s commitment to equitable practices.
John Foster is the COO of Fearless, a full-stack digital services firm based in Baltimore, Md. He can be reached at email@example.com.