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No more “plain vanilla” supplier diversity programs

Negocios Now exclusive interview with Jacqueline Gomez, executive director of Hispanic American Construction Industry Association (HACIA).

By Tara García Mathewson 

Jackie Gomez was recently appointed executive director of HACIA, the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association, and served as the director of supplier and workforce diversity for the Obama Foundation, where she was charged with, among other things, ensuring the foundation achieves transformative diversity and inclusion initiatives during the construction of the Obama Presidential Center. Gomez has been involved with supplier diversity initiatives for over 15 years and shared her thoughts with Negocios Now on the state of supplier diversity efforts in Illinois.

More than a program

 Gomez said companies should be held accountable for doing more than simply creating a supplier diversity program. Having a program does not necessarily mean a company is intentional about seeking out diverse suppliers and it does not mean it has equitable and inclusive procurement practices that lead to supplier diversity, she said. Those things take extra work and attention, and often advocacy.

 When Gomez first started working in this field, supplier diversity programs were simply known as affirmative action. “When I started in this space over 15 years ago, I look back and realize we still have a long way to go,” she said. “We are still fighting for many of the same things we were back then.”

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 When a business creates a supplier diversity program, it signals an intention to work with a broader pool of companies. It takes action, however, to achieve that. Gomez encourages people to ask what is actually being done to accomplish supplier diversity goals – things like achieving parity in contract language or payment terms with diverse suppliers and removing barriers for small businesses to compete.

 “We as stakeholders need to ask buying organizations for more details,” Gomez said, “such as does your company have minority business goals on all of its projects, do you report out on your achievements, who do you partner with to increase the diversity of your vendor pool? We have to ask the hard questions.”

 Legislative victory

 HACIA’s mission is to create a more equitable and inclusive environment for Latino businesses in the construction field. For over 40 years, the organization has been an advocate for its Latino business members, and that has long meant fighting for more inclusive state policies.

 HACIA recently shepherded two pieces of legislation into law through collaborations with elected officials. One, House Bill 453, requires local governments to be more transparent and inclusive about their procurement policies. Every government entity that levies more than $5 million in taxes, whether it be a school district, park district, county or municipality, now has to collect and report diversity data on their vendors and subcontractors. The other, House Bill 132, removes a layer of bureaucracy for small businesses, allowing them to skip a lengthy minority business certification application. Gomez said those applications have historically taken time small businesses don’t have to fill out as well as months to process.

 Looking ahead

 Gomez has big hopes for the role of Latino businesses in projects throughout the state. While being hired as subcontractors is an exciting accomplishment, Gomez hopes more Latino companies will get selected as prime contractors, turning those contracts into opportunities to hire from within the community, among Latino youth, and also opportunities to subcontract with other diverse businesses.

 The community of suppliers can’t make this change happen alone, however.

 “We need the public and private sector to be more intentional in creating audacious, inclusive and equitable procurement and supplier diversity policies,” Gomez said, adding that people at all levels need to constantly ask how to make those policies even better. “Let’s not settle for a cookie-cutter, plain vanilla supplier diversity program – we’re past that now.”