Changing the Face of the Workplace

Oct 4, 2021 | Career

Mayari Castañeda has worked for WireCrafters as a welder since December 2017.

The 2020 Census has shown that the United States is becoming increasingly racially and ethnically diverse. People of color now make up 43 percent of the total population. Of course, diversity is not only about race and ethnicity. An industry that has been historically male-dominated becomes more diverse when women are hired and retained. LGBTQ+ individuals are part of the diversity discussion, as are veterans and people with physical, mental, and/or learning disabilities. The population isn’t made up of just one kind of person, and more and more companies understand that the workforce needs to reflect and mirror the population.

The benefits of diversity

There are some who think making workplaces more diverse, equitable, and inclusive is just to give people “Kumbaya” moments and make them feel good momentarily. But there is ample research showing that diverse groups of people with diverse experiences and backgrounds make for better problem-solving. A diverse group of scientists, for example, is going to ask more and deeper questions and come up with a larger range of creative ideas for a research project.

“Diversity means we will be a better company. We have to reflect our communities, our clients, and the world,” says Kelley Bright, Kentucky and Indiana office leader at Mercer, a consulting firm founded in 1937 with a Louisville office of 650 employees and a global workforce of around 25,000. “Our clients are expecting us to be diverse and seeking organizations that can bring diverse solutions.”

Andrea Ghooray, patient experience manager at Norton Healthcare, says she appreciates Norton’s culture and diversity survey, which allows employees to offer not just ratings but open-response feedback.

By the numbers

While efforts toward diversity and inclusion are happening, there is still much that needs to be done in terms of making the workplace equitable, especially when it comes to pay. According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2019 labor report, “Hispanics and Blacks continued to have considerably lower earnings than Whites and Asians. The median usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers in 2019 were $706 for Hispanics, $735 for Blacks, $945 for Whites, and $1,174 for Asians.”

For individuals with disabilities, even finding a job can be difficult. Another report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that “In 2019, 20.8% of people with a disability either were employed or were looking for work. In contrast, the labor force participation rate for people without a disability was 68.7%.”

GE employees celebrate International Women’s Day.

What diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) looks like

There is not one way to do DEI, although companies tend to have similar threads that run through them. Hiring, training, retaining, and promoting a diverse workforce tends to be pretty common. The Water Equity Task Force is a collaboration of various utility companies that includes Metro Sewer District (MSD) and Louisville Water Company (LWC). “Most of our utilities [including electric and transit] are facing a large tsunami of individuals who are retiring. On the water side, 52% nationally. [We are focused on] how we ensure we have diverse individuals prepared for those opportunities,” says Sharise Horne, MSD’s director of community benefits and partnerships. MSD has been working with Jefferson County Public Schools’ Academies program to ensure young people know there are opportunities at the utilities. “You can make a great livable wage right out of high school right here locally by going into our various utilities,” she says.

Procurement is another area where large companies can and do make DEI a priority. A business like PNC Bank has its own workforce but also hires companies to do things like build a new branch, pave a parking lot, or provide paper for the receipts that PNC gives to its clients. “We work closely with getting diversely-owned businesses registered inside our supplier portal. When we send out a request for proposal (RFP) we can send it to them. PNC is working to always increase the percentage of diversely-owned businesses we engage as vendors,” says Andrea Kinser, a commercial banking relationship manager at PNC who also serves as diversity and inclusion supplier chair and a women in business champion for the Kentucky and Southern Indiana market. A small business may not even be aware that they can connect with a large company like PNC Bank as a contractor or vendor or that specific certifications are required in order to do this. Andrea says PNC Bank connects small diversely-owned businesses to certification agencies so that they have a better shot at opportunities.

Many companies also have in-house business resource groups (BRGs) which are networking and support groups for employees who share similar characteristics, needs, or goals. Republic Bank has several BRGs, including NIA for Black associates, a caregivers group, and Conexion for Hispanic associates. Their work and conversation helps improve not only the workplace culture but the offerings the company has for its clients. “Through our BRGs, we have introduced quarterly listening sessions where representatives from the six BRGs can provide qualitative feedback and raise/discuss suggestions with senior executives on ways to build an even more inclusive culture, internally and externally,” says Ashley Duncan, vice president, director of inclusion and diversity. One tangible result of the Republic RBGs is the True Name Debit Card which allows transgender and non-binary individuals the ability to use their chosen name on their card without having to go through a legal name change.

Taking part in the Derby Diversity Business Summit.

The need for allies

One of the things that becomes clear when discussing DEI efforts with companies is that allies are essential. BRGs do not exclude individuals who aren’t Latino or Black or veterans. A BRG for LGBTQ+ employees, for example, frequently includes cisgendered and heterosexual colleagues who want to learn from and amplify the voices of the individuals who do identify diversely. If a DEI effort only includes a narrow band of employees they end up, to borrow a colloquialism, “preaching to the choir.” “Men are part of our Women Connect group,” says Andrea. “If women talk to women and we support each other, it’s only half of the population. You’re only getting half the lift.” Even though she doesn’t identify as LGTBQ+, Andrea is a member of PNC Proud because she wants to support her colleagues.

A group of GE Appliances’ employees celebrate International Women’s Day. The Company was recently named one of the 2021 Best Companies for Multicultural Women by Seramount (formerly Working Mother Media).

The challenges of DEI

Big companies with layers of executives may have an easier time with DEI efforts simply because of their size, a luxury that small businesses may not have as a matter of survival. “We’re not a huge company that has high-level policies. We’re mostly just running with day-to-day problems and solving them as we go along,” says Anne Valois, human resources manager at WireCrafters, a local company that is a leader in wire partition products. “We’ve got a very diverse workforce in terms of national origin, but like a lot of manufacturing companies there’s a lack of females in the workforce.” WireCrafters has worked closely with Pleasure Ridge Park High School’s welding program to increase the pipeline of workers and has had several female students participate in co-ops. “We currently have three female welders working for us out of a total of 45. We would willingly hire more, but they are a rare breed!,” Anne says.

Any company, large or small, has to be intentional about its DEI efforts. There has to be buy-in from the top as well as accountability and metrics to measure whether DEI programs are successful. DEI has to become a habit, ingrained in the fabric of the company. PNC’s Project 257 is one such intentional program. According to Craig Friedman, vice president of regional media relations, this initiative is intended “to reduce the estimated 257 years it will take for women to catch up to men economically.” PNC is partnering with SheEO in a three-year, $1.257 million project that will help women access credit, something that is frequently a barrier to entrepreneurship.

Taking part in the Derby Diversity Business Summit.

Why it matters

People want to work where they feel respected and valued and where their unique experiences and backgrounds are seen as assets. “I’ve been at Louisville Water for 22 years. Until six years ago, Louisville Water didn’t have a Vice President of Communications so my job was elevated to be part of our executive leadership team,” says Kelley Dearing-Smith. In general, women only make up a little over 20% of the utilities workforce, but having female voices and “mom” voices is important when it comes to water cleanliness, affordability, and accessibility issues.

DEI matters to Keisha Smith, associate director for health equity Louisville Community of Opportunity and Population Health Strategy at Humana. “One of the key programs I participated in and benefited from was a mentoring circle led by a senior leader at Humana. We learned about key operations, talent management, and worked with our members based on the organizations they lead. This direct link to senior leadership proved invaluable in networking and supporting my career development path,” she says.

As patient experience manager at Norton Healthcare, Andrea Ghooray listens to feedback from patients and their families to ensure that the organization is meeting people’s needs and exceeding their expectations; she knows firsthand how critical it is to listen to what patients have to say and take their concerns seriously. She appreciated Norton’s culture and diversity survey which allows employees to offer not just ratings but open-response feedback. “That was very reassuring to see that the organization wants that direct feedback. And they’ve acted on that feedback, which is really empowering,” she says. “We’ve seen a lot more education about race and health equity.” A willingness to listen, have conversations, and make changes based on feedback is essential for any business that serves a wide variety of individuals from every walk of life. It’s good for employees; it’s good for clients; it’s good for the community at large.

P.S. Learn how to make your voice heard in business meetings and gain confidence.

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