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Fostering workplace diversity

9 best practices for developing a more inclusive workforce

American Family Insurance has tried to improve its culture and overall inclusive environment with programs and outreach for gay and lesbian workers and the prevention of workplace bullying.

American Family Insurance has tried to improve its culture and overall inclusive environment with programs and outreach for gay and lesbian workers and the prevention of workplace bullying.

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From the pages of In Business magazine.

Back in the late 20th century, businesses thought of diversity in terms of quotas and goals. In the still emerging 21st century, they are beginning to think more broadly about the business benefits and necessity of both diversity and its sometimes forgotten companion — inclusion.

Whereas quotas focus on punishment for not reaching numerical goals, the new thinking focuses on the business benefits and rewards of diversifying your workforce and developing more inclusive corporate cultures.

Marketing expert Nigel Dessau is the author of Become a 21st Century Executive: Breaking Away from the Pack, which contains a chapter on diversity and inclusion. He says diversity is really about two things: reflecting your customer base and improving your business operation.

“Having a diverse workforce is best achieved by looking like where you live or where you do business,” Dessau explains. “If you live in a certain area or you reach a certain market, your workforce should look like that market. Your mix of ages and races and religions and colors and creeds should look like your market because you want to understand your market.”

A diverse workforce is something that a diverse collection of customers picks up on and is likely to reward, and it can completely change the way you go about your business. Dessau used the example of a health club where the tendency might be to hire young, fit, and attractive people to encourage other young, fit, attractive people to patronize the business. The reality, however, is that one of the biggest markets for such a club could be retiring baby boomers who prefer to join a health club with a diverse mix of members.

“By hiring some people who look more like the rest of the population in your area, by age or by color or by creed, you’re more likely to have them think about things that make sense to their generation or their race or their group,” Dessau notes. “That might encourage new business.”

In Dane County’s increasingly tight labor market, diversity and inclusion are becoming a business necessity, according to Thomas Osting, director of human resources for Environment Control of Wisconsin. After experiencing a growth spurt, Osting says the company is going through a rebuild of its diversity efforts and has hired a bilingual (Spanish and English) recruiter.

The company believes an improved diversity program can be a differentiator in terms of recruiting and retention. “There was a time when I started 24 years ago when about 40% of our company was under 20 years old and that number has dropped dramatically,” Osting says. “We are looking to get a better mix.”

To help your organization “mix it up,” we interviewed several diversity experts on how they diversify their workforces and they offered the following nine best practices tips.

Best practice #1:

Don’t delegate everything to HR

Since diversity and inclusion must be viewed as a long-term, constantly evolving initiative, it must be directed and supported from the top, not delegated to a department like human resources. Unless HR is very powerful within an organization, Dessau believes its only tool is to set quotas; in contrast, organizations that make diversity a line-management practice tend to be more successful because a quality management team understands and appreciates the value of having a diverse workforce.

In so doing, “D&I” becomes a strategic goal. According to Angela Russell, manager of diversity and inclusion for CUNA Mutual Group in Madison, incorporating diversity and inclusion as parts of your corporate strategy is important because that means they have high-level support. She notes that one of the first things CEO Robert Trunzo did when he took over in January 2014 was add D&I as one of CUNA’s corporate values. “That sent a very, very strong message,” Russell states. “He wanted to make sure that CUNA Mutual is a place where all employees can contribute, advance, and build value, and we have that not only with Bob Trunzo but also his executive team.”

Rather than farm it out to his department (HR) and perhaps create a divide, Osting says Environment Control of Wisconsin will have its recruiters work hand-in-hand with operations managers in order to “feel their pain” and add that level of motivation to the recruiting process.

Dr. Ruben Anthony, CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, suggests that numerical goals have a place in holding members of the executive suite accountable for diversity. “If companies are seriously trying to diversify their workforce and they really want to make it happen, the leadership at the top has to be committed to making it happen,” he states. “When the president of that organization says we want a diversified workforce and they hold different divisions or different parts of their organizations accountable, with a metric (for diversity), they can make it happen.”

Executive leadership is important but so is embedding diversity throughout. Even though Russell and a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) consultant are the primary diversity staff people at CUNA, people throughout the organization are making it work. A D&I Council, comprised of executive leaders, sets the tone and the agenda for diversity and inclusion, and they take it back to their business units to infuse it and embed it throughout the company.

In addition, a D&I Employee Advisory Committee, which is more of a grassroots group, “bubbles up” ideas for consideration. “You’ve got a D&I Council pushing things down and the Employee Advisory Committee pushing things up,” Russell notes. “I call that the big squeeze in terms of cultural change.”

Best practice #2:

Revamp recruiting

If you always recruit from the same place, you’re always going to hire the same kinds of people. Whether it’s trusted employment agencies or a LinkedIn network or the same colleges or universities, companies define their workforces by where they find employees. They need to broaden their horizons by taking stock of the demographics of the communities they operate in and diversifying their recruiting accordingly.

This means broadening the publications where company job openings are posted, expanding advertising markets, and having each employee diversify their social and professional networks. “Don’t always think the same way; otherwise you end up with the same type of people,” Dessau advises. “The number one thing that organizations can do [to diversify] is change the way they recruit.”

To recruit employees ranging in age from high school students to retirees, Environment Control of Wisconsin is going into high schools, many of which have students from a mix of cultures, and it’s reaching out to churches of all denominations because religious leaders are looking to help members of their congregation find employment. That includes people who have made a move and are willing to take a “transitional” job to start their local careers. “It’s really just being more proactive with our recruiting and going out and finding people rather than putting up advertisements and postings online and on job boards and waiting for people to find us,” Osting says.


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