Workforce Diversity Amid Adversity
The economy can pose challenges to firms' commitment to diversity. Here's how some are responding.
Employment and labor law firm Ford & Harrison in Tampa made partner Dawn Siler-Nixon a voting member of its executive committee. “We thought it was that important,” she says. [Photo: Mark Wemple]
They also helped Blue Cross to its seventh consecutive appearance on DiversityInc.’s list of the top 50 companies for diversity in the nation. More important, says Ed Gallegos, Blue Cross vice president of cultural competence and diversity systems, they advanced the insurer’s mission of providing better service to its members and healthcare providers and mirroring its Florida market. “It is the right thing to do. It’s also the right business thing to do,” Gallegos says.
With the economy in shambles, diversity advocates in Florida are having to push at some companies to keep their commitments to diversity as the recession leads to cutbacks in recruiting and fewer HR people to devote to the diversity mission. Meanwhile, layoffs impact diversity as more recently hired employees are let go.
In February 2008, Florida’s civilian labor force averaged 9,214,000. Of those:
81% were white
15% were African-American
21% were Hispanic
(Percentages don’t add up to 100% because Hispanics are included in several race categories.)
Some insights from leading companies in implementing diversity in Florida:
Diversity goes beyond race and ethnicity. Blue Cross Blue Shield is working on adding a faith-based resource group, says Ed Gallegos (above), the insurer’s vice president of cultural competence and diversity systems. [Photo: Kelly LaDuke]
» Build the business case. “When we think about diversity, we think about it in terms of opportunity,” Ryder’s Campbell says. “If you leverage it correctly, it’s a tremendous business advantage.” Ryder believes diversity is a key to reaching fast-growing segments of the population and fast-growing women- and minority-owned businesses, she says.
» Make it matter. Darden’s 5,000 managers of culinary service or other areas within its restaurants take a one-day online training course in diversity and inclusion. Its 1,700 restaurant general managers take a two-day classroom course, and more senior managers and executives get three days of training. At Blue Cross, diversity goals are part of employees’ overall compensation. Ryder evaluates managers on effectively managing diversity.
It wastes time and money to recruit people to bring diversity to your workforce just to have them quit. Labor and employment lawyer Dawn Siler-Nixon of Ford & Harrison in Tampa recommends companies conduct a cultural assessment, gauging whether employees feel valued, part of a team working toward a common goal, believing there are opportunities for advancement and so on. “One of the ways companies drop the ball is they don’t have a good handle on what the culture in the company is to begin with,” Siler-Nixon says.
» Recruit in new places. Siler-Nixon at Ford & Harrison says organizations that say they can’t find qualified applicants are “looking in the wrong places.” Participate in associations and groups dedicated to minorities to help find recruits, she says.
» Inclusion is on a par with diversity. “Diversity is the who, and inclusion is the how,” says Campbell. “Inclusion is making the mix work.” Ryder requires all employees to go to “inclusion journey” training — eight hours for salaried employees, four hours for hourly workers — in which they learn what’s not acceptable and to be aware of different views people bring to the workplace and tools to overcome misunderstanding. Darden’s Fowlkes agrees, saying inclusion is taking diversity and leveraging it to affect decisions reached.
“If you leverage it correctly, it’s a tremendous business advantage,” says Catherine Campbell, Ryder’s director of
diversity and inclusion. [Photo: Terry Townsend]
» Diversity goes beyond race and ethnicity. One of Blue Cross’ employee resource groups is for Generation Y. The company is working on adding a faith-based resource group, Gallegos says.