Associate Inclusion Can Make a Big Difference for Retailers

Discussion
May 11, 2012

I suppose by now, since it is the 21st century, we’ve all been through at least one round of diversity training, and I imagine many of us have been through several rounds. In my experience, this training has revolved around gender, race, creed, ethnicity, etc. that are paired with sessions on how workers would feel if or when someone did this or that to them. In other words, it’s all about what not to do.

Just as important, according to Rich Brandt of the RDR Group, who presented a session on this subject at the recent FMI (Food Marketing Institute) 2012 convention, is creating an environment of inclusion. According to Mr. Brandt, 80 percent of the population growth in the U.S. is now multicultural, over half of college graduates are women, and 70 percent of new hires are women and/or multicultural.

The message: workers need to adapt to change to survive. Rather than thinking about what not to do, we all need to connect and create positive bonds with people who are different than we are. Although the easy thing to do is associate with people who are like us, the benefits of connecting with those who are different are immense. For retailers, positive bonds among different types of employees make teamwork easier to achieve and help all employees connect emotionally to a variety of types of customers. When there is a disconnect between groups of employees, it leads to apathy, resentment, and ultimately turnover and higher costs.

With 95 percent of senior leadership in Fortune 500 companies being white males (according to Mr. Brandt), there is a sameness at the top of organizations that leads to "group think". He suggests "reverse mentoring" as a partial solution to this problem, where on a regular basis senior execs pick out a young employee to ask for feedback on their decisions. In a world where 80 percent of the population is non-white (and trending towards 90 percent), and 90 percent of the world’s wealth is in the hands of the top 20 percent, Mr. Brandt says it is key to calibrate one’s approach to take into account cultural and ethnic differences. And, for companies, it is important to train their associates not to show or even tolerate disrespect based on stereotypes, but to expect the best and act on it.

The bottom line is that we all know it’s a different world than 10, 20, or 50 years ago, but we still tend to act inappropriately at times, even if it is in a subconscious way, or only behind closed doors. Broadening our horizons seems a far better thing to do.

Discussion Questions: What are best practices for getting employees of different backgrounds to work together for the good of the company? What are the best ways to train employees to interact with an increasingly diverse customer base?

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6 Comments on "Associate Inclusion Can Make a Big Difference for Retailers"


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Ryan Mathews
Guest
10 years 15 days ago
Great question and a provocative piece. First of all, let’s face facts. This approach isn’t just about “doing the right thing” for employees, done correctly it will strengthen an organization over time and may even improve non-HR areas such as customer service. Respect is, after all, contagious. That said, here are a couple of “starter ideas”: (1) I’ve found it useful to look inside a company at the “real” critical questions impacting its future, both cultural and operational such as what is the impact of being a family-owned business; what does have “local” presence mean beyond the marketing claim; how do employees really learn “the rules”; and who are the real competitors and organized teams to work on them — teams, by the way, owners and/or top managers are banned from participating on or with until their conclusions are finalized. (2) Reverse mentoring is a good idea but, again, moving beyond HR to customer service. I remember working with a California retailer who has a heavily Hispanic workforce and customer base. He was very happy… Read more »
James Tenser
Guest
10 years 15 days ago
While we might ironically observe that this advice about inclusion is being delivered by a privileged American white male, this makes his message no less valid. In an ideal world, true diversity would be as effortless as breathing. This is an area of human resource policy that requires conscious effort, however. Our population is diverse but not uniformly distributed. Opportunity is not uniformly accessible to all groups. And some decisions made by people with power (even among those of us who think we have good intentions) can at times be tragically unfair. This is challenging to address in society at large. Within organizations, however, we have seen that thoughtful policy and conscious practice can begin to offset some of the unconscious unfairness. The rule of merit is a good place to start, with one caveat: Be sure to define merit in terms that are not culturally biased. Here is one area where including people of different cultural background in the process can lead to better policy and outcomes. Organizations that attain a reputation for the… Read more »
Carlos Arámbula
Guest
10 years 15 days ago

Corporate buy-in is critical — and it’s not just holding seminars or having a diversity policy in place.

This is a leadership by example issue. A company can preach diversity and tolerance, but if from top to bottom the company ranks do not reflect the policies, it’s not believable.

John Locke said it very well: “I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.”

Adrian Weidmann
Guest
10 years 15 days ago

The best way to get employees (or candidates) of different backgrounds to work together is to create and/or identify unique projects that have a defined set of objectives, deliverables and a timeline and let them deliver on a specific project. Nothing provides better insight and learning than actual hands-on action.

C-level executives should be mandated to take a percentage of their time every month to spend time with direct contact with their customers. Only then can a company begin to bridge the cultural and communication gap in a meaningful way. The shoppers are diverse; understanding and experiencing that first-hand will facilitate meaningful changes.

Roy White
Guest
Roy White
10 years 15 days ago

The article is a very pointed one for retailers, whose store associates are increasingly “multicultural,” and this is on top of the long-standing challenges of high turnover and low motivation, quite apart from the issue of diversity. Store associates are a retailer’s point of contact with the shopper base and serious investment in better management practices, and now diversity awareness, is long overdue.

The article correctly focuses on diversity and the importance for all to recognize differences and demonstrably show respect for these differences. But the issue is really a larger one: How does a retailer create a working environment in a store that motivates the associates and creates an efficient team that will present a very good face to customers? Addressing the challenges of diversity are vital, but retailers probably should fold that issue into building an effective workforce that makes stores hum and keeps customers coming back.

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
10 years 14 days ago

Most efforts at diversity training focus on accepting diversity. This is not enough. Only when we truly embrace diversity and internalize the positive impact a truly diverse workforce has on both the employee and customer experience, and therefore results, can we maximize diversity’s potential.

Senior leadership owns the solution through demonstrating their values through word and action — in promotions, hiring decisions, formation of project teams, etc.

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