Workplace Diversity: A Key Factor in the Success of Small Businesses

Workforce Diversity By Marijan Pavisic MS SPHR

Over the course of many years, the notion of “Workplace Diversity” was a concept, a fad, one of many organizational ‘flavor of the month’ programs; and to some, another name for Affirmative Action.  Workplace Diversity was viewed as code words referring to race, ethnicity and gender.   There were expectations and even pressure imposed to consider diversity attributes as a major factor in staffing decisions.  The term ‘quota’ comes to mind in these cases. 

 It is refreshing to say that we have come a long way since those days.  Oh yes, major corporations and large organizations tend to demonstrate their commitment through the appointment of executives to lead their diversity programs.  They create large scale programs, including training, hold corporate sponsored events, and contribute financial and manpower support to the programs of special interest groups. 

 The world of small business is totally different when it comes to workplace diversity.  It’s not a program. It’s a reality; a key factor in survival and the challenges to achieving success.  Small businesses, by virtue of size, the demographics of their customer base, the products and services they offer, realize that true diversity is reflected in the characteristics and attributes of the customers they serve.  More importantly, they understand the value of the diversity of their employees and consider their differences an asset to the business and essential in serving its customers. 

 Small businesses have long understood that diversity encompasses race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, personality, education, and much more.  These factors are generally second nature in the staffing process.   The focus is on hiring the most qualified candidate for the job.  By doing so, they manage to create a diverse staff on the basis of the skills they need to provide quality service to their customers. 

 Commitment to diversity in the workplace is important.  It creates an environment where differences are respected and taken seriously, and where there is openness and the sharing of ideas.  The diversity of experience, thoughts, and various perspectives set the stage for a workforce of dedicated employees whose overall mission is to do the best job they can to satisfy their customers.    

By Marijan Pavisic MS SPHR

Hiring Ex-Offenders Is a Positive Move

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As the labor market tightens in our expanding economy, companies will need workers. And people returning to society from prison need jobs. Keeping potential employers and employees apart is fear, lack of understanding, and about 20,000 statutes and regulations across the country that restrict the hiring of ex-offenders.

Businesses and governments want to change that. Yesterday, the White House hosted a roundtable comprising executives from such companies as Uber, Home Depot, and Johns Hopkins Health System, as well as officials like governors John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Matt Bevin of Kentucky, to discuss the challenges and benefits of hiring the group of people now referred to as formerly incarcerated.

Crime has been in decades-long decline, but roughly 70 million adults in this country have criminal records; and more than 10 million return to their communities from incarceration each year. For this group, more jobs equals lower recidivism equals better lives. Yet fresh starts are curtailed by cultural bias, skills deficits, and myriad regulatory barriers. Among the most common: state rules that deny professional licenses to people with criminal histories.

Roundtable participants said they would like to see such rules eased or eliminated. They also want more collaboration between governments and businesses to create pathways from incarceration to employment (primarily for nonviolent offenders). The idea of creating more job-training programs inside prisons was discussed. So was raising the profile of the Department of Labor’s 52-year-old federal bonding program, which guarantees for six months the honesty of hard-to-place job candidates, including people with criminal records.

The smallest business at the table was also the most experienced. For more than 30 years, Greyston Bakery, based in Yonkers, New York, has practiced “open hiring”–filling available positions with anyone who wants them, no questions asked. The $20 million company has employed thousands of ex-offenders. Around 65 percent of the current workforce has been incarcerated.

During the roundtable, Greyston CEO Mike Brady dispelled some of the myths around hiring ex-offenders, whom he called “fully functional and productive members of our team.” Insurance and workers’ comp costs at Greyston are no higher than at comparable businesses, and turnover is actually lower. “Our history is a demonstration that people coming out of the criminal justice system make for an amazing workforce,” said Brady, in a follow-up interview.

Brady urges businesses to be much more inclusive about hiring. Growing competition for talent, he says, “is a great opportunity to look at your human capital plans and make them more welcoming.” The challenge for small companies differs from large ones, however. “We don’t have a large staff of human resources people and lawyers who would raise obstacles to these programs,” he says. “But those resources would also make it easier for us to address risks.”

Policymakers have been making some strides. For example, more than 150 cities and counties have adopted ban-the-box rules preventing employers from asking about criminal history on job applications. But there’s a distinction between making it harder for companies to not hire the formerly incarcerated and persuading them to actively seek out ex-offenders and help them become valued employees. “The governor of Kentucky said we have to keep biting the apple. There is just so much low-hanging fruit,” says Brady. “Progressive businesses have an opportunity to take the lead in giving people a chance. It has got a positive ROI if you do it right.”

Everyone deserves a 2nd chance.

Workplace Diversity: A Key Factor in the Success of Small Businesses

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Over the course of many years, the notion of “Workplace Diversity” was a concept, a fad, one of many organizational ‘flavor of the month’ programs; and to some, another name for Affirmative Action. Workplace Diversity was viewed as code words referring to race, ethnicity and gender. There were expectations and even pressure imposed to consider diversity attributes as a major factor in staffing decisions. The term ‘quota’ comes to mind in these cases.

It is refreshing to say that we have come a long way since those days. Oh yes, major corporations and large organizations tend to demonstrate their commitment through the appointment of executives to lead their diversity programs. They create large scale programs, including training, hold corporate sponsored events, and contribute financial and manpower support to the programs of special interest groups.

The world of small business is totally different when it comes to workplace diversity. It’s not a program. It’s a reality; a key factor in survival and the challenges to achieving success. Small businesses, by virtue of size, the demographics of their customer base, the products and services they offer, realize that true diversity is reflected in the characteristics and attributes of the customers they serve. More importantly, they understand the value of the diversity of their employees and consider their differences an asset to the business and essential in serving its customers.

Small businesses have long understood that diversity encompasses race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, personality, education, and much more. These factors are generally second nature in the staffing process. The focus is on hiring the most qualified candidate for the job. By doing so, they manage to create a diverse staff on the basis of the skills they need to provide quality service to their customers.

Commitment to diversity in the workplace is important. It creates an environment where differences are respected and taken seriously, and where there is openness and the sharing of ideas. The diversity of experience, thoughts, and various perspectives set the stage for a workforce of dedicated employees whose overall mission is to do the best job they can to satisfy their customers.

By Marijan Pavisic MS SPHR