Diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives remain critical to talent and customers, who expect companies they engage with to foster DE&I within their workforces and communities. But what many organizations don’t realize is that their DE&I efforts need to extend beyond their internal workforce to include independent talent.

US job openings outnumber those unemployed, and among our highest-skilled population, a labor gap yawns larger with each passing year. Companies are increasingly turning to the independent workforce to get things done, and while the population — 64.6 million strong and growing — is happier and more in control than ever before, enterprises have a long way to go before achieving equity and inclusion with their independent worker populations.

In fact, independent professionals today are filling businesscritical roles that were once considered employee-only. These workers must not only fit the role but also align with team/company culture. Enterprises are facing a critical issue as they consider how to best align the needs of all workers, not just FTEs, as well as how to develop an approach that attracts and retains talent to enable status not just as employer of choice but client of choice as well.

But that doesn’t mean that this population isn’t equally important to your workforce, nor does it mean that they can be ignored as part of your diversity, equity and inclusion policies and initiatives.

A framework that can help organizations evaluate their current practices and opportunities for change is “see, support, scale.”

See. To effect change, begin with measurement. The foundation of any strategy begins with an evaluation of what your business currently offers to contingent workers as well as measurement of its diversity in size and scope. From here, organizations can support and measure spend and help suppliers grow.

Examples of good “see” initiatives include surveys to measure worker satisfaction as well as a basic capture of the diversity of one’s current supplier population. From here, goal setting can begin as well as benchmarking on a regular basis to measure growth.

Support. A foundational program begins with education, support and possibly even certification to create and empower more diverse independent business owners/workers and to address obstacles to success among this unique cohort of diverse suppliers.

Such support often includes community building and outreach initiatives — including regular cohort engagement, dedicated independent content and education — and creating an independent brand or “independent professional value proposition” for your organization.

For example, one can make great change by leveraging your direct sourcing program to allow small (one-person) diverse-owned businesses an opportunity to view and respond to your open projects. This on-purpose act of inclusion sends a powerful message that your company is interested and willing to invest in businesses that may be traditionally overlooked. It also enables you to tap into a wealth of talent and creativity that can help your business grow.

In general, enterprises should aim to develop programs that attract and curate diverse independent talent, much as they do on the FTE side. This can include specific branding initiatives, declared benchmarks for talent percentage mixes or even marketing initiatives aimed at attracting underserved populations.

Scale. Naturally, growing a program is always considered a metric of success, but for the purposes of this exercise, you’ll want to dig deeper. These tools will vary per enterprise but may include community nurturing programs, dedicated outreach and set-asides for building specific populations of diverse business suppliers.

This could include setting a goal of growing a program in number of suppliers of certain backgrounds by a dedicated percentage each year, specific funding for diverse groups or even educational grants for independent re-skilling. A dedicated program partner can help organizations think strategically about how to best drive impact while maintaining compliance.

So, if you’re looking to make a real impact with your or your client’s DE&I strategy, don’t forget about independent professionals or microbusinesses. Like any journey, the hardest part is taking the first step. But venturing into DE&I with open eyes and strategic intent is a plan that boasts significant upside for enterprises and only increases their positioning as a client of choice.