In the 30+ years I have been in retail, I have heard the words diversity and inclusion many times. It came in waves, often times prompted by something in the news, a new HR leader or a frankly, a lawsuit.

With the recent racial challenges that our country is facing, diversity and racial equality is once again in the headlines.  Social media was flooded with a renewed commitment to do more and be better across many industries, but especially, retail. 

In this post, I am speaking to two different retail audiences; corporate and stores.  Both play a role in making diversity alive in the organization.  

Definition of Diversity

Let’s begin by grounding ourselves in the definition of diversity:
“The inclusion of individuals representing more than one national origin, color, religion, socioeconomic stratus, sexual orientation, etc.”.

Make 2020 the Year you Take a Stand

Retail CEOS, Executives and Board of Directors, as leaders of organizations, we need to dig under the covers and assess where the organization stands on equality, diversity and inclusion.  Not just the strategy, but assessing if it is being lived out.  If it isn’t, then there is no time like the present to set the expectation and hold people accountable to more than strategies, but to action.

This commitment to racial equality within organizations cannot be the flavor of the month, or even the year. Ask yourself, what has to change in my organization to make it stick? To make it permeate every fiber of the corporate and stores organization.

Are Diversity Teams Enough?

Many companies have “Diversity and Inclusion” teams. These teams work hard to bring awareness and training to the organization. I worked for a large company who was very proud of the work they did. It wasn’t just about race, it was sexual preference and equality for women. Even with all the resources spent on these efforts, there was still a shortage of diversity on teams.

If your organization has mastered diversity, I want to congratulate you.  I encourage you to share your success strategies with peers so we all can learn and apply tactics that work.

If your organization does have room to improve, let’s talk about how to start correcting the issues.  This isn’t a “check the box” activity.  It requires diligence, measurement and ongoing focus.  

Assess the Organization

To truly understand the condition of diversity in your organization, start by assessing these 4 categories.  Then ask yourself…what do I see? Is there diversity? If the answer is no, ask yourself why.  

  • Executive leadership team
  • Functions across the corporate office
  • Brand Marketing / Social Media strategy
  • Store Teams

Many brands are doing a nice job with diverse marketing and it cannot stop there.

Truth is, this won’t change overnight. It happens when the bottom demands change and the top makes it happen. It means recruiters are actively looking for diverse talent and educating teams on how to do it. Diverse job fairs, colleges, communities, job boards are all ways to find more diverse talent than you might have today. Start filling the pipeline with this talent and before you know it, you won’t just have a talented organization, you will have a DIVERSE organization filled with talent.

Out of the Office and Into Stores

Let’s transition from corporate to stores.  How does diversity show up in your stores?  The best way to know the answer to that question is to step out of your corporate headquarters and visit stores in different parts of the country. Talk to the district managers, store managers and sales associates. They will tell you what the challenges are and support they need to do better.

So many companies have diversity and inclusion strategies, but often times they are words on paper. By visiting stores, you will get a sense of if and how it is coming to life and where the opportunities still lie.

How diverse are the teams? If you stand outside the store and look in, what do you see? Regardless how amazing your HR team’s efforts are to educate, stores are where the rubber meets the road.  

The Beauty of Diversity

I have seen store managers who  understand how beautiful it is to have a team that represents your community. When people see people like themselves in a store, they want to shop there. And when they don’t, they don’t! Simple as that.

The Head of Stores and Regional Managers really own keeping this alive with every store visit. Recognize teams who are doing it well. Educate teams who are not and fire people who refuse to value its importance. When it becomes who we are and how we operate, diversity becomes ingrained in the culture.

Some store managers may say they would happily hire more diverse people if they applied for jobs. Here is the thing…store managers might have to work harder to find the diverse candidates but once you have a diverse team, it gets easier. Potential candidates will see themselves working at your store and apply for jobs. In the meantime, let’s support store managers with training on how to find diverse candidates.

Justice did this well

I saw this happen first hand when Justice started including islamic tweens wearing a khimar (headscarf) in their marketing.  This inclusion drew not only new customers but diverse job applicants.  Justice didn’t do it to be politically correct or increase sales, they did it because it was the right thing to do.  It began to attract a new customer.

When customers see themselves in your brand, they want to shop and work there.  

This isn’t about Quotas

A call out, this cannot be about hiring a token diverse person.  Nor should someone be hired based solely on diversity. Talent and a passion for the customer and the brand should still be a prerequisite. Potential applicants must fit the standards and expectations of your organization.

Recruit Diverse Talent

To help field leaders polish their diversity recruiting skills, here are some tips on how to intentionally find diverse talent for your stores. 

  • LOOK IN THE MIRROR.  What do you believe about the importance of diversity?  Talk to diverse friends, colleagues, peers.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  They will love to answer them and share their perspective.
  • TALK TO YOUR TEAM ABOUT IT.  Talk with your entire team about your commitment to hiring diverse talent.  They need to know where you stand on the matter and likely know people they can recommend to join the team.
  • RECRUIT FROM DIVERSE TALENT POOLS. Be strategic with your diversity recruitment! To find diverse talent for your stores, recruit where diversity thrives. College campuses are a great place to find diverse populations so partner with the schools that have higher minority populations.
  • ADVERTISE YOUR JOBS THROUGH DIVERSE CHANNELS. Ask your company to share their diversity statement or strategies on social media, on the company website and career pages. Recruiters within HR should provide necessary collateral that helps get the word out. Partner with multicultural professional associations and student groups.
  • LEVERAGE DIVERSE JOB BOARDS. Attend virtual career fairs for minority student groups.  

Learning new skills always takes time, but consistency will help. It is important to be prepared to spend more time and energy to create a diverse team that reflects your community. Recognize the teams who are doing it well. Share success stories peer to peer.

“What gets measured, gets managed”.

Peter Drucker

Real Change Happens

While the CEO, Board of Directors, Head of Stores, Regional, District and Store Managers all play a role in making this part of the culture, real change happens from the bottom up. According to an article in Psychology Today, real change happens when ordinary people, by the millions, are prepared to stand up and fight for justice. This means all of us. We need to stand together and press for equality for all people.

“What I believe drives how I behave and how I behave drives my results”.

I love this quote and use it often when talking about behavior change. The truth is, we cannot just tell people they need to hire diversity. We need to start by understanding what they believe about diversity. If they don’t believe it is important and the right thing to do, then your job is to influence their belief. If you cannot influence their belief at its core, their behavior won’t change and ultimately, your organization will not become diverse.

Let’s Do This!

We are in this together. It starts with an assessment of your organization. It requires a determination on who you really want to be. Alignment with your leadership and cascade to your teams. I can help you with this and I would be honored to do so. Email me.

In your Corner,

Retail consultant - Rachel Williamson

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