Why Diversity Matters to the Lansing Region Building a Workforce that Mirrors its Customer Base

Having a homogeneous workplace, like the one described above, that does not reflect the customer base or community served, creates an environment where it becomes increasingly difficult to come up with creative solutions and to innovate and grow in changing markets; to think outside the box with unique perspectives.
“The Lansing region has to present as diverse of a labor market as possible and an environment that is welcoming and inclusive, which represents the many forms of diversity already present in the region. This is vitally important for our region to successfully compete on a global stage,” says Bob Trezise, president and CEO, Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP).

What is Diversity?

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), diversity is defined as “the collective mixture of differences and similarities that includes, for example: individual and organizational characteristics, values, beliefs, experiences, backgrounds, preferences, and behaviors.” Diversity is more than just our appearance. Rather, it is where we come from, how we think and react and what we believe in. So, why is embracing diversity important?

Imagine that homogeneous workplace from above, where every employee had the same skillset, the same background and came up with the same ideas with no deviation from the norm. The workplace will evolve to have a hive mentality; one idea becomes everyone’s ideas without any discussion. There would be no innovation and no creative growth. Everything would be status quo. According to a study from Forbes, companies that are in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have higher than normal financial returns. It is imperative that businesses understand and embrace diverse trends.

Why Hire For Diversity?

Alone, the ethnic makeup in the United States is shifting faster than expected. By 2060, Hispanics are estimated to make up 28.6 percent of the U.S. population, up from 17.4 percent in 2014; Asians are predicted to make up 9.1 percent, up from 5.2 percent; Black or African Americans will make up 13 percent, up from 12.4 percent; and Whites will shift down from 62.2 percent as the majority, to 43.6 percent. In addition, we have an aging population that expects to spend more years in the workforce. According to the 2010 census, the U.S. population is expected to grow 27 percent from 314 million in 2012 to 400 million in 2050. By 2030, more than 20 percent of residents are predicted to be aged 65 or older, this is compared to 13 percent in 2010 and 9.8 percent in 1970.

It is estimated that about 57 million people, or almost one fifth of people in the U.S., have disabilities, with more than half of them reporting that their disability was severe, making up the world’s largest minority group. Building a team of employees that reflects the general population is a crucial element for connecting with the customer base that is more likely to be attracted to a business that they perceive to have similar values.

We’ve Attracted the Diverse Candidates, How Can We Retain Them?

Bringing together a diverse workforce in and of itself will aid in retention by creating an environment that, through inclusivity and improving employee satisfaction, inspires employees to want to stay with a company, thus improving retention for the company and the Lansing region. But it is only the first step in the journey. Coming into a workplace from outside the predominant group can be extraordinarily difficult and can lead to high turnover rates. The workplace atmosphere must graduate into an environment that is inclusive and reflects all of its employees.

Inclusion is defined as, “the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success,” according to SHRM.

An inclusive environment is maintained when the lines of communication are kept open. Employees who may deviate from the mold in various ways may feel as though their ideas are not worth being heard. This may cause them to blend in with the rest of the employees. While it is important to foster a workplace that encourages new employees to become part of the workplace culture, it is also important to recognize that new employees bring with them a diverse set of ideas.

What Diversity Is Not

“Diversity is not just compliance with a written policy, but rather it is about creating a space where all ideas and backgrounds are welcomed and embraced through programming that bolsters diversity and inclusion,” said Tedi Parsons, LEAP’s diversity and inclusion coordinator and administrator of Diversity Lansing. “Diversity is not a check-box item. Diversity and inclusion begins from job descriptions and attracting top talent that affects a business at all levels of operation.”

Diversity is not accomplished with one event and does not happen in a day – it is written into policies and practiced daily. It is not about special treatment or singling out certain people. It is about more than just the color of our skin, our religious backgrounds, our sexual orientation or anything else that we may use to describe ourselves. Rather, it is about valuing individuals for what they bring to the table and creating a level playing field to make the workplace accessible to everyone, while drawing from their unique backgrounds, beliefs and experiences. When done right, diversity impacts a business’s overall bottom-line.
LEAP’s diversity initiative aims to assist businesses in attracting and retaining world-class talent by embracing the core values of a strong workforce the Lansing region already boasts. To learn more or to get involved with LEAP’s Diversity Initiative, please visit purelansing.com/diversitylansing.

Breakout Quote from Jacqueline Thomas-Hall, Diversity Lansing Advisory Committee Member

“Lansing has always had a great interest in figuring out how diversity and inclusion makes a difference in the community, and LEAP has really begun to move the ball forward. They said, ‘Diversity is important to us … and we want to be a community that is known for valuing diversity from an employer perspective and from a community perspective. This is a place where you can live and thrive as a community member.’ LEAP’s goal is to make sure all of those things happen. I’ve been working in concert with Tedi to support how we do that, and to ensure that we develop a Lansing that really not only says that we value diversity, but we demonstrate it as well.”

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