Your frontline diversity and inclusion questions, answered

Posted on: October 30, 2020Updated on: May 14, 2024By: Axonify Team

Forty-two percent of consumers say they would pay 5% more to shop with a brand committed to diversity and inclusion. Fifty-five percent say they would switch if a retailer failed to take responsibility for its own negative diversity and inclusion incidents. 

Female Assistant Smiling From The Counter In Clothing Store
Female assistant smiling from the counter in clothing store

Consumers are paying attention to how brands respond to widespread demands for action against systemic racism and inequality. And they aren’t satisfied with brands that just say the right things—they want them to do the right thing.  

In recent months, companies have answered the call to action, with commitments to diversify the makeup of their workforce on the frontlines and at the executive level, enhancements to supplier diversity programs and multimillion-dollar donations. But there’s a long way to go to make these pledges and promises a reality. 

Wondering what role you can play in promoting diversity and inclusion on the frontlines? 

We sat down with Janet Stovall, Senior Director of Social Impact and the UPS Foundation at UPS, to get her insights. A self-described ‘diversity and inclusion pragmatist,’ she shares concrete steps tackle diversity issues head-on: 

What’s the difference between diversity and inclusion—and why do we need both?

JS: When you talk about diversity and inclusion, you really have to talk about them side by side. Diversity is a numbers game. Inclusion is about impact. Diversity is something you have, while inclusion is something you do. Due to the demographics of this country, diversity is a fact. Inclusion is a choice. It’s something you have to cultivate in an organization. It should be actionable. 

If you take people who are diverse and put them together, but don’t build the structures for inclusivity to happen, you’ve just moved the societal problem into a different space. Inclusion does not happen organically. You have to make it happen. 

Why should businesses be concerned about diversity in the first place?

JS: I honestly believe that if we want, as a society, to get rid of racism, sexism, ableism or any other ism, business is the place to get this done. People spend a third of their lives at work. There are 157 million people in the US workforce. Consider the fact that the top 25 companies in the US employ something like 6% of all workers. The sheer numbers, the footprint of business, means it’s the entity that should make this change.

But, let’s take ‘should’ out of the equation. Business benefits from diversity. Diverse workforces have 35% better returns. There’s a real benefit to getting this right. For companies that have a large frontline, there’s also a risk to getting it wrong. Things end up on social media or on the front page.The frontline is the most visible and the biggest source of risk. 

How can we create an environment of inclusion on the frontlines?

JS: We invest a lot of energy into helping people understand how to do their jobs day-to-day. But we don’t usually invest in helping people understand how they should view the world differently. The biases we all have come to work with us. The biases that exist in society that affect how customers respond to us come into your workplace, too. 

First of all, provide unconscious bias training and make those biases conscious. Take it out of the realm of blaming people for it and saying it’s wrong. Look at it like anything else: skills to be learned and skills to be unlearned. If we can make it objective, we can name it, we can measure it and we can make people accountable. 

You didn’t get unconscious biases overnight, and you’re not going to get rid of them overnight or after one class. This needs to be ongoing and ingrained in what the frontline is learning and doing every day

How can we ensure the diversity on the frontlines is reflected in those who progress to management roles?

JS: In most companies, there’s a path forward, and if you happen to talk to the right person, you might get on that path. But how equitable is the access to that path? Does everybody know what the programs are? Who are the gatekeepers? What’s their accountability for diversity? Who’s working on the projects that count? Are the people that need to be in the position to be seen, being seen? 

Some of this information comes from looking at the data—not just counting bodies but asking where those bodies are—and by reverse engineering the path of those people who have made it to the top. Find out what made it possible for them, and determine if you’re providing those things to other people. 

How do we involve the frontline in diversity and inclusion initiatives?

JS: Many companies are trying to increase diversity in their frontline workforce because they want their frontline employees to look like the main demographic they serve—because they believe there’s an opportunity for connection there.  

Besides showing up for work, is there a direct way for you to leverage the things frontline employees can contribute with their diversity? So if I’m a Black woman, what can I do that’s unique, that’s special, that’s a function of my life experience, my diversity? How can I make a difference? How do I tell you? How do I know whether it’s acted upon? What’s the feedback loop? 

It can’t just come from the top down. People on your frontline need a way to know that they have a way of contributing what’s unique about them, and that it matters. Don’t just say it—create structures that make it happen. 

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Axonify Team

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