Diversity in all areas of business can be a key strength in the economic fabric of the St. Louis region in the coming years. Many St. Louis businesses are finding that workplace diversity is essential in order to be competitive – broadening the reach and effectiveness of a business, reducing turnover, improving morale and helping them adapt to international markets. A workplace that mirrors the community and a stronger base of minority enterprises can help generate business and increase sales. The entire St. Louis business community will benefit from greater minority participation in the regional economy.
Strengthening both workplace and marketplace diversity can be a catalyst for St. Louis – to attract new residents, improve economic growth and revitalize the community. Inclusion for racial and ethnic minorities is a key challenge for communities in the new century, and the most successful companies will be the ones that move aggressively to find ways to make inclusion an everyday business reality.
What makes for success in corporate diversity efforts?
Companies that are having success or making progress in promoting diversity in the workplace and in purchasing share some important themes:
- Commitment – from the top down and shared throughout the organization
- Information-sharing – internally and externally with others committed to diversity
- Goal-setting – realistic and ambitious
- Measurement of progress – with accountability
St. Louis-area companies that are employing these strategies report that these initiatives are not only improving their performance in workforce diversity and minority purchasing but are also improving their organization’s ability to compete for top talent from all racial and ethnic groups. Additionally, these companies benefit from increased employee commitment and morale, the range and quality of available goods and services, and their overall ability to compete.
An Environment for Growing and Retaining Minority Talent
Increasing minority hiring is a crucial foundation for building a diverse workforce, but keeping and advancing minority employees is just as important. Talented minority employees will have opportunities elsewhere – and the key to keeping them is creating an environment where they believe they can progress and will be rewarded for good work. That is true of all employees, of course, but it is also especially important to create an environment in which minority employees feel comfortable and can see success modeled by other minorities.
Strengthening hiring and promotion of minorities in senior and mid-level managerial roles – within various business units and functions – provides visible evidence to other minorities that success for them is possible and that diversity is a company commitment, not just a promise.
Mentoring and coaching helps initiate active relationship-building between employees and senior staff, as well as purchasers and minority firms. Mentoring can serve the needs of all involved in helping them to find corporate support and build on purchasing opportunities. These techniques can work in either a formal program or informal relationships. Through regular meetings, in-depth information-sharing and hands-on practical counsel, both sides can better understand individual needs and capabilities, work out solutions to problems, and develop experience and trust on which a growing and ongoing relationship can be built.
Encouraging a work environment in which minorities feel comfortable and valued contributes greatly to minority- employee retention and satisfaction. Increasing numbers of companies are finding that minority affinity or networking groups within the company, and sometimes with employees of other companies, are valued by minority employees who may be exploring new paths within the company.
Companies that have achieved the best results in employment and supplier diversity are those in which diversity efforts have full support, active encouragement, and regular involvement by the CEO and other senior executives. This commitment – especially when communicated and demonstrated to all employees regularly and vigorously – supports formal diversity programs and makes clear that the company and its leaders are serious about diversity. This top-level commitment creates an environment for diversity to become a priority integrated into the culture and actions of the company.
Communicating commitment, by deed and word, is vital to helping employees and outsiders understand the company’s priority of maintaining a diverse workforce. Internal communication channels – newsletters, e-mail networks, staff meetings, award events – can underscore policies by focusing on minorities advancing within the company, diversity goals and progress, specific outreach programs, training opportunities and other activities that highlight workplace diversity issues. Regular reports on diversity progress and achievements, shared widely through meetings or publications, can provide valuable information, encourage action and reinforce commitment. And use of media or other outside communication opportunities to focus on diversity issues and diverse employees can make the company’s record and commitment known to potential employees and others who may be influential to them.
Goals and Measurement
Like other key business objectives, success in employment and supplier diversity comes from accountability, including establishing and monitoring specific goals. The overall goal set by many companies is a workforce and supplier base that mirror the communities they serve – up and down the organization. In many companies, diversity responsibility is assigned to a senior executive as well as to managers at various levels – in operating units as well as human resources departments – each sharing the goals. Goals can take many forms in order to fit an organization:
- Recruitment and retention
- Supplier diversity training
- Participation in minority business development organizations
- Overall minority employment and promotion of senior and mid-level management