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The Different Faces of Diversity: The Professional Principles of Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Workforce

By Sharon Douglas

Diversification is a concept that is widely used throughout a variety of business settings. From the financial advisor who recommends that their clients consider expanding their portfolios to include mutual funds to the restaurant owner who recreates a menu to offer a variety of food selections to hungry customers, diversity can provide added value to almost any business environment. And in no other business setting is diversity more important than in the workplace.

More than ever, corporations and their shareholders recognize that a diverse employee base can impact a company’s bottom line.  As consumers in the marketplace become more diverse, companies will be required to have a workforce that is reflective of the community in which they do business.

A solid recruitment and retention strategy that incorporates diversity is vital to the success of any company, and therefore presents a great opportunity for human resources professionals to earn a seat at the business table.  With the growth of emerging markets, it is imperative that HR professionals continue to expand their role beyond the typical functions of personnel administration into that of a strategic business partner that recognizes how workplace diversity can impact the business in dollars and cents.

But, as baby boomers retire and graduating college students entering the workforce become more selective about their employer choices, recruiting and retaining topnotch employees can be a challenge for many businesses.  As human resources professionals, how do we win this ongoing “war for talent?”
One way is to clearly define and assess the need for diversity in the workplace.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, for the first time in history the number of minorities in the United States has now surpassed the 100 million mark, which means that one in every three individuals is a minority.  

However, diversity extends beyond ethnicity.  More than ever before, there is also a variety of generational differences that exist within the workplace.  Baby boomers, Generation X and millennials all coexist within the same environment, with each bringing a different set of experiences and perspectives to the workplace.

To recruit and retain a diverse workforce at Aflac, we believe that we must foster a supportive and innovative work environment that provides challenging opportunities and encourages inclusiveness by respecting varying cultures as well as a diversity in opinion.  In addition to approximately 44 percent of our workforce coming from a variety of backgrounds, 2007 saw an influx of the over 46 percent minority new hires.  To help weave the wealth of diversity into the fabric of our corporate culture, we employ the 5 Rs.

Re-Educate

To begin the process of recruiting and retaining a multicultural workforce, one should start at the top.  Provide instructor-led courses on sensitivity training to top-level management and then allow all employees to enroll in the same course through the corporate learning department or online via the company intranet.  This way, all employees are involved and are exposed to the same information.  

Smaller employers can make this education process affordable through a lunch and learn course.  Business owners can invite a diversity leader in their community to lead a session on the different faces of diversity and why it is important for the continued growth of the company.  The employer can provide lunch, and employees will feel free to create an open dialogue with the instructor.  The local Chamber of Commerce may be a great place to start.

Recruit

As a way to create an environment that supports a quality work/life balance, try using a combination of elements to attract and retain top talent including diversity, philanthropy, health and wellness, and internship and co-op opportunities that appeal to a variety of potential candidates.  One must recruit team members who will reflect a diverse workforce that mirrors the community.

The same U.S. Census Bureau study found that the Hispanic population accounted for nearly 50 percent of the population growth between 2005 and 2006 and that the Hispanic populace alone will reach 60 million by the year 2020.

There are differences in this lucrative employee market segment that promote knowledge exchange and acceptance, so it would be beneficial to provide an open forum for the workforce to discuss multicultural interests.  For example, in 2002 Aflac created an employee-led Diversity Council to enhance the company’s diversity initiatives. The council's activities align with the business because they are a catalyst for Aflac to attract and retain diverse talent, reach out to various markets, and heighten the company's image. The council also serves as a business resource to the company and supports the employees by promoting personal and professional career development and networking opportunities.

Smaller enterprises can partner directly with the career centers of area colleges and universities to recruit potential employees from a range of generations and demographics.

Retention

Close to 70 percent of Aflac’s employee population consists of females and close to 30 percent of the company’s workforce are 45 and older.  With the current demographic and generational climate shifting, all businesses need to be prepared to adjust their recruiting and retention strategies to appeal to this change.  The presence of multiple generations in the workforce will not only encourage cultural and social cohesiveness, but also provide knowledge-sharing among employees.

To do this more effectively, corporations and small businesses must create a positive work environment for all employees.  This includes fostering open dialogue and honest communication among the workforce.  Businesses can offer generational differences courses that will help bridge the gap between the baby boomers and the millennial age brackets.

Recognition

It is important to recognize that people come from a variety of backgrounds.  It makes a difference to employees that the company they work for highlights and recognizes their uniqueness and what it brings to the organization.  To enhance the corporate image of inclusiveness, consider hosting a day where a local artist brings in artifacts inspired by a certain culture or organize a fashion show that features ethnic attire worn by employees from that particular nation.  It’s not only fun, but it fosters communication among the workforce to discuss differences.

Relationships

Building relationships is vital to the success of any company.  This includes developing positive relationships with customers, employees and within the community in which your company does business. And diversity is an important tool in relationship building.

Every interaction with a customer can either build trust or break it.  By employing a diverse workforce that can meet the needs of a variety of consumers within the marketplace — such as hiring bilingual workers — you will help build trust among existing and perhaps prospective customers, furthering HR’s role as a strategic business partner.

Additionally, when employers participate in philanthropic initiatives that support multicultural causes, this not only sends a positive message to the overall community, but it can also help instill a sense of pride among employees. For example, in 2005, Aflac was the first corporate citizen to donate $1 million to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial.  Workers who witness examples of their company giving back to causes that impact their individual communities often feel respected, and this contributes to developing a positive employer-employee relationship.

For smaller businesses that may not have the resources available to make large donations, consider getting involved in community volunteer projects that support company philosophies and encourage employee participation.

The different perspectives, skill sets and experiences that a diverse workforce can bring to a business environment is an essential value-add for any employer.  Incorporating diversity into the workplace is not only the right thing to do; it also makes good business sense as it is important that a company reflect the community and customers that it serves.

Sharon Douglas, Vice President, Chief People Officer at Aflac

Reprinted from Link & Learn Newsletter
 
Reprinted with permission from www.workplacexpert.com.

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