Diversity in the Workplace
By James Johnson
Diversity, the practice of including or involving a range of people from different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc. Diversity plays a major role in our lives and especially affects our work experience. Diversity in the workplace is a polarizing topic especially nowadays with the increasing number of unemployed workers and the decrease of diversity within an establishment.
Why is diversity in the workplace important?
“At its most basic level, when people can come to work and they see people who look like them, think like them, and share the customer experience they have, there is a sense of I belong here. I feel safe here. Having that sense of belonging sets up the tone for a welcoming environment,” said Sarah Cole, a Starbucks store manager for six years. Cole has worked hard to make a store not only sexually and culturally diverse but a store that’s inclusive to workers who are neurodivergent.
Cole wanted to make sure that she was honest with herself as she was building her team. She recalled a time where she was in high school and all of her friends looked like her, and she believed that she needed some change. So in her adult years she enacted that change challenging her thinking when she hired. “I have to ask myself , have I unintentionally hired people that look like me? Do I have a team that looks like me? If I am in the position that I’m hiring anyone that comes in, why do people who only look like me feel comfortable applying in this place of work?”
Cole goes on to say that business owners and managers have to be intentional, and that diversity and inclusion isn’t an easy road. She says that it’s easy just to sit back and let it all happen and remove yourself but it doesn’t work if you want to build a diverse team. You have to do the work.
Cole continues to work on building diversity in the store and creating an environment that is not only inclusive for her employees but also creates a familial bond. According to her employees that bond is already starting to form. Fabian Fernandez, an employee of Sarah Cole at Starbucks weighed in on this topic mentioning how he feels that he’s with his family.
Fernandez says, “when I think about the diversity in this store I’m automatically reminded of home. Coming from a hispanic household, a familial bond in the workplace is very important to me. It feels very comfortable coming to work especially working with a lot of different cultures and ethnicities.” Fernandez also stated that he likes working with a diverse crew because he feels that he could support the customers better.
He stated when he was working on a shift and a customer who speaks spanish struggled to give his order and he had to step in and help. After the customer left, the situation opened up a dialogue with the employees on the floor. Fabian got the chance to have a conversation with them to talk about his culture and why being patient with ESL customers is important to properly support them. He then goes on to talk about how hard conversations happen at work.
He says this, “usually at work we tend to have deep conversations amongst the partners (which is what Starbucks call their employees). These conversations aren’t argumentative and act as a way to educate each other. I try to come to work everyday ready to learn something new and it helps me learn to be ways to consider, be considerate and act as an ally from other people.” He says that hard conversations are very important to building a strong team. Sharon Ann Downs believes that this is important to from her experience working on the diversity council.
Sharon Ann Downs is the Head of the Diversity council here at UALR and has held her position for two terms and she loves to have difficult conversations. Downs says, “I love to have hard conversations. Most people encounter what could be a hard conversation and go the other way. I thrive on having hard conversations in order to get to the root of problems.”
Downs believes that it’s important to provide education on diversity because people may have grown up not being educated on the matter. “Some people don’t naturally have cultural fluency so it’s important for employers to discuss diversity within the workplace and at staff meetings. You can’t assume that people are fluent in this topic.”
Downs has worked to leave the new leadership of the Diversity Council with a fully formed 3-year strategic plan. In addition, a recently completed new survey for students and employees about the campus climate has been conducted, and the charter has been updated.
The central theme that Cole, Fernandez, and Downs share is that diversity builds the workplace and opens up much needed dialogue for employees. When a workplace is diverse, not only do employees feel welcomed and safe within their environment, it can also bring about change in customer connection and build a lasting relationship between the workplace and its clientele.