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How to Encourage Workforce Diversity

February 2012

Build Your Culture of Value and Respect

Diversity is a hot topic in the workplace. More than ever, companies value diversity to stay competitive and foster better connections with customers. Diversity involves trying different ideas, reaching out to new customers or implementing new operational procedures. It’s how companies approach problems and reach solutions. Clearly, diversity permeates every aspect of business including strategic decision-making.

Diversity also allows those who might not normally contribute their input to feel more included in the corporate culture. After all, an enriched corporate culture has a forward-looking perspective, instead of the same old,
same old. I95 Business interviewed three experts about the subject of diversity: Cheryl Hickson, director for human resources and employee development at Harford Community College (HCC); Celebree Learning Centers’ corporate recruiter Celeste Wilhelm Flaherty; and Bowhead’s CEO and President Gerrie L’Heureux.

How does diversity benefit your business?

Hickson: Harford Community College is a welcoming environment that embraces diversity. It is our belief that diversity broadens the global perspective of the campus community. In a multicultural environment, employees and students may learn from each other, ultimately helping them become more open, accepting, creative and productive.

Flaherty: Celebree Learning Centers is focused very much on top talent within each center’s community area. This helps us in meeting the community needs of children and families. Each center is very reflective of the community they are part of and, in turn, provides the diversity of care for the children in those programs. Our centers are able to meet the cultural, ethnic or community specific needs of those children. Because they are aware of the differences of the communities, [the staff] can tailor the experience for maximum efficacy for all involved.

L’Heureux: Change is constant in our world. The business climate creates it, customers demand it, and our personal lives are filled with it. Along with change comes the responsibility of understanding it and the need for flexibility to manage it. At Bowhead (UIC Technical Services), we embrace diversity by recognizing the existence of many perspectives, seeking out new ways and valuing each other’s contributions. We know the value of diversity and the worth of each other’s experiences and opinions.

What ways do you promote diversity?

Hickson: At HCC, we respect individual points of view, embrace differences, respect intellectual freedom and promote critical discourse. The College is open and inclusive in its attitudes, enrollment policies and hiring practices. Harford promotes diversity by investing in professional development about issues of culture, cultural competence, diversity and equity. HCC also sponsors campus and community events highlighting global and culturally diverse themes. Many programs presented by or in collaboration with the College Life office incorporate aspects of diversity.

Flaherty: From a talent perspective, I’m looking for the best possible teacher, manager. Promoting diversity is a part of that process … anyone to be considered, male or female, whatever your background, can bring a new perspective from which we can achieve better results. The talent-sourcing venues are great areas for developing our diversity; all of the community colleges in the area and Goucher, Stevenson, etc., have an excellent talent pool of eager and innovative candidates. It’s the diverse mix of candidates, typically found at smaller niche liberal arts schools and community colleges, that has been our best source.

L’Heureux: We are fortunate that Bowhead is made up of many diverse cultures, and we take the opportunity to recognize, understand and celebrate our cultural differences. We actively recruit, hire and promote individuals based upon experience, competence and contributions. We celebrate an Alaska Native tradition of thanksgiving called Nalukataq. Bringing awareness of this culturally significant event to all of our employees helps us to better understand our mission as an Alaska Native organization.

What are the benefits of a diverse workforce and workplace?

Hickson: By maintaining a diverse workforce that includes men and women of different ages, races, colors, religion, sexual orientation, national origins, disability or any other characteristic protected by law or policies and practices of HCC, the College is able to attract, develop and retain well-qualified employees. HR has implemented a number of practices to ensure that diversity is valued in hiring employees. Those practices include identifying and contracting with employment advertising sources targeted at diverse markets, assuring diversity in search committee membership so that candidates receive a clear representation of how HCC values diversity, ensuring diversity in applicant pools before pools are released to search committees, and conducting a diversity review of applicants selected for interviewing.

Flaherty: It allows us to make sure that the needs of the entire Celebree “family” (children, families and staff) are being met. This is exceptionally important to this company, as we are an education-based company. Seeking diversity assists us in living our company values of “protect, educate and nurture” and ensures the focus remains on educational excellence and requires openness to new and more effective ways of accomplishing this for each child, family and team member. We have to maintain a diverse group of teachers and managers to allow fresh ideas, to be creative in the learning process, and to continue looking outside of the box to meet the needs of our customers and children. We are a diverse company because it is best for the children.

L’Heureux: The benefits of a diverse workforce cover all areas of employment: recruitment, development and retention. Recruiting a diverse workforce that appropriately fulfills the talent needs of our customers will keep Bowhead competitive and successful, and by fostering an environment in which all employees understand and value each other, their differences will help with retention. We provide equitable opportunities, together with a challenging environment that rewards new approaches, risk-taking and novel points of view, thereby creating a culture that values diversity.

Does diversity help you connect better and network better?

Hickson: Yes. The College supports its director for human resources through membership sponsorship and support of off-hour participation on the Board of the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources (NAAAHR), and employees are also members on the Harford County Women’s Commission and the Harford County Human Relations Commission.

Flaherty: If you have diverse “ears” listening or “eyes” seeing, you have the ability to take all of the ideas and perceptions together to formulate the most comprehensive and best possible solution. In doing so, we are better able to successfully move forward as a company.

L’Heureux: Absolutely. With a diverse and open culture we are better able to increase understanding, awareness and actions that can unite us in better understanding one another and serving our customers. Diversity furthers our understanding of the marketplace by valuing ideas and thoughts of all employees and other stakeholders in our business.

How does diversity affect your culture?

Hickson: Our culture is one of inclusiveness. HCC welcomes and supports a diverse student body as well as a diverse workforce. Throughout the year, the College plans events, activities and training to help educate members of the campus community as well as the general public about issues related to diversity. The College promotes international programs and joins academic institutions in the United States and countries around the world each year in celebrating International Education Week.

Flaherty: Diversity aligns with our culture: protect, educate and nurture … being diverse means that we are protecting, educating and nurturing our children in a manner that benefits the whole child on an individual level. It all goes back to what diversity means in a business sense – being able to have your finger on the pulse of your community and having that reflected in your company goals and values.

L’Heureux: Diversity is at the heart of our culture – to be open and flexible, team-based, trusting, respectful and to have uncompromising integrity. The culture of our company is built on respect for differences and similarities as well as trust of one another. One of our core principles is to “respect everyone and the environment.” Our corporate culture is highly influenced by the Alaska Native culture and beliefs. It is unusual that a company would have their code of business ethics and conduct (we call it our “Clean Umiaq”) be a factor in an employee choosing to work for a company, but at Bowhead, we have many employees who openly state that our “Clean Umiaq” values are unique and speak clearly about the culture we have within the company and the tone we set for respect and diversity. I95