Bid Management

What’s in a name? Diversity and Public Procurement

By 16th February 2018 No Comments
Should you reflect diversity in your tenders?

Diversity and Public Procurement

A very interesting question about diversity and the use of CVs in tenders came up when we were working with a group of SMEs recently. An individual asked us if submitting CVs that have the names and genders removed is acceptable. It was the first question in some time that stopped us in our tracks! It also challenged us to step back and think about this as a potential future trend for procurement contests.

When we discussed this more with the individual, what quickly became apparent is that their company is very ethical and conscientious. So, they tend to submit anonymised CVs because they do not necessarily know who would be actually be available at the time should they win the work. This question was easy to address as it is a known issue in tendering. The guidance we tend to give people is:

  • Submit in good faith the best team, with the best experience, that mostly closely matches the requirements of the tender; and
  • Include a proviso stating that should an individual become unavailable (for whatever reason), you will propose an alternative with equivalent experience. It is important not to abuse this however! You should only move people in and out of a bid team for sound reasons (they leave the company, become unavailable because of other client commitments etc.).

While this deals with the immediate issue, the initial question raises wider diversity-related issues.

Diversity and meritocracy

The workplace is becoming more diverse ethnically. In addition, there are global calls for increased recognition and merit-based promotion in jobs. So, should the evaluation of individual CVs become anonymised in public tenders? The explicit aim of doing so would be to make sure a person’s ethnicity cannot be a factor in the decision process. Having reflected on this, we think (from a technical point of view) that the case for doing so may not be very strong. There is no doubt that it could work, and work well, some of the time. Where it works, it would be hard to think of circumstances where this wouldn’t result in greater meritocracy.

Our reservations are about the way tender processes are designed to work. Rules need to be applicable across an entire end to end process. In this scenario the goal of anonymised CVs is to remove the potential for cognitive bias from evaluators. In practice, this will be difficult to achieve. We can think of two clear issues:

  • Individuals already known to an organisation may be identifiable based on work history, qualifications and other relevant experience;
  • The team becomes identifiable where there is a presentation stage. When they are in the same room as the evaluators, anonymous CVs become redundant. There is no tender process where the possibility of a face to face meeting, conversation, supplier briefing or presentation is precluded from taking place.

Can public procurement bring about better diversity?

So where does this leave some of the wider issues arising from the #metoo / #timesup movement? And how does it affect potential calls to bring about better diversity through public procurement contests?It is possible that movement on this will happen regardless of the technical observations we make above. Somewhere like Trudeau’s Canada or New Zealand could look at this based on their current policy trajectory. The SNP in Scotland brought in provisions around the payment of a living wage as being a beneficial / advantageous criterion in contracts for areas like catering services and they could look at this also.

Positive discrimination and ear marking contracts for specific communities is not a new idea. It already exists in many parts of the world (e.g. Aboriginal and First Nations contracts in Canada). That is not what we are discussing here. We are not looking at fairness were expenditure is ring-fenced for specific communities. Instead, we are discussing how general procurement guidelines may evolve to achieve wider societal goals.

Procurement inevitably reflects broader changes in society

EU procurement processes are set in law and they support openness, transparency and fairness. They specifically charge contracting authorities with ensuring processes are fair to all bidders. This is why this topic is both interesting and challenging. There are also social, environmental and economic provisions that EU members are meant to address in their procurement systems. This topic falls under the social pillar which covers universal labour and employment norms. It is not very clear which EU directives it might fall under. In our view, there is little to stop any EU member from adopting guidelines that promote diversity as long as they do not disadvantage anyone. It is also fair to say that if all CVs are anonymised, it is hard to see how anyone is being materially disadvantaged.

It may well be that in the future, some evaluations choose to use anonymised CVs as by convention. These reservations are simply technical and we know that there are strong arguments both for and against concepts like this.

Ultimately, this shows how procurement systems often reflect society at large, and the policies and priorities in a given country at a point in time.

More ‘Top Tips’ on tendering

We have lots of great advice on how write tenders.  So check out our Bid Management services to see how we can help with tender and bids. You can also search for ‘Bid Management‘ articles on our blog. We are also proud to be a part of the team that delivers InterTradeIreland’s award-winning Go-2-Tender training to SMEs across Ireland, and you find out more here.