Promoting Diversity

The coffee shop that refused restroom access to an African American man. The upscale boutique that created a racially insensitive window display. One wrong move and a business can end up on the nightly news.

But a diverse workforce—including gender and age as well as race and ethnicity—can do far more than help prevent such errors. It may prove to be a business advantage.

“Employees with different perspectives can help provide companies with a holistic view of the market, identify unmet needs and find new opportunities,” said Faye Golden, governmental affairs manager, Cook’s Pest Control and chair of NPMA’s Diversity Committee. The committee will host several presentations on the benefits of diversity in the workforce, including a webinar series on recruiting and retaining diverse candidates.

Cook’s implements an Affirmative Action plan as part of its diversity programs—something often required by governmental contracts. But that is just one way the company focuses on including different viewpoints.

“Implementing diversity involves much more than our HR policies,” Golden said.

“Globalization has brought a diverse set of customers to Cook’s and other pest management professionals. In a world where innovation is one of the key competitive advantages, having a diverse workforce is a welcomed necessity.”

Sylvia Kenmuir, BCE, PCA, entomologist/director of technical training at Target Specialty Products, knows that all too well. Kenmuir recently worked on a research project for a manufacturer focused in a predominantly Korean neighborhood. “Two of our team were local guys of Korean descent who served mainly as translators. We realized that by not speaking the language, we were asking leading questions,” Kenmuir said. “We also saw marble beds like I’d never seen in my life, a marble slab with a mattress on top. It’s a very common Korean tradition. But we had to figure out how to treat it. It was something that none of us had ever experienced before.”

Without the translators who understood the culture, the project would easily have gone awry. “The translators helped us understand that they were not going to take the beds apart to treat them. We worked with the manufacturer on a formulation that would work in those cases without harming the marble.”

Leila Haas, director of human resources at Sprague Pest Solutions, notes that the company serves a diversity of populations, including Spanish speakers. “Our whole philosophy of hiring people that mirror the community is to streamline our ability to communicate with our clientele because we’re reflecting who they are,” she said.

Hiring front-line employees is important, but so is looking at “diversity throughout the organization,” Haas said. “It has to really be assessed as an entire organization to ensure that you are fully embracing diversity. It can’t be a certain segment of the workforce.”

A Competitive Advantage

Diversity is not just for customer-facing roles, either. Bringing a variety of viewpoints to the table can help shape businesses for the long haul.

According to research from Deloitte, Millennial workers—who will make up 75 percent of the workforce in the next decade—are more actively engaged when they believe their companies promote diversity and inclusion.

And McKinsey & Company notes that organizations with racially and ethnically diverse workforces are 35 percent more likely to outperform their national industry medians. Those with gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above the national industry levels.

Those high figures come from the ideas generated by having different people in the room to shape company policy.

“Due to the competitive markets these days, potential employees aren’t just looking for jobs with the highest wages, but with companies whose cultures mirror what they’re looking for,” said Leila Haas, director of human resources at Sprague Pest Solutions. “It’s important to have a diverse senior leadership team, so that you can have multiple viewpoints,” Haas said. “For example, we traditionally offer 401ks, but with more students leaving college with debt, some suggest it might be time to pivot into student loan forgiveness or payments or such.”

Employee engagement is just the first card in the winning hand that diversity can deliver. Haas recommends companies diversify their workforce by ensuring that it meets the general makeup of the community. “If they’re not getting applications from a diverse population, reach out to the communities where those individuals live,” she said. “Be more proactive, rather than reactive.”

Kenmuir came into the industry the old-fashioned way: through a newspaper advertisement. Now, 30 years later, she is a member of NPMA’s Diversity Committee, developing programs and ideas to bring those from diverse backgrounds into pest management. It is that, as a Hispanic woman, Kenmuir experienced when she first started at Target Specialty 30 years ago. “I was not only often the only woman, but the only minority,” she said.

Though she is not bilingual, she was aware of the increasing need for Spanish materials, especially as the workforce became more diverse. One challenge: training and licensing is not available in native languages. “I see the struggles this causes for many of our workers,” Kenmuir said.

When she started at the company, “they had a few female sales reps, but I didn’t see a female technician for at least 15 years,” she said. “Even from a diversity standpoint, we had employees clustered: landscape workers who were Hispanic and licensed pest control technicians who were white males.”

That has changed over time. “We started seeing more women, other ethnicities, which was fun and different to see. In the very beginning, as we tried different markets, there was some segregation, some, ‘Let’s get the Spanish crew over here.’ That’s changed.”

As a woman in the science end of pest management, Kenmuir still surprises some. Recently, she visited a hospital, wearing a dress because she wasn’t expecting to go out on an inspection. The customer at the hospital was African American. “He said, ‘This is kind of cool that we’re the ones solving this problem.’ I didn’t think about what he meant until much later. But knowledge doesn’t come from a particular background. It comes from the person.”

Getting Started

An easy benchmark is to ensure that your workforce generally reflects the overall population of the areas you serve. “If they’re not getting applications from a certain background or culture, think about where they can make those connections,” Haas said. “There are all sorts of diversity job fairs.”

Golden recommends casting the widest nets possible. “Look beyond your usual places. To seek out diverse job candidates, a company must be open to an individual whose background does not fit into a cookie-cutter mold. For example, consider hiring someone who comes from a different industry, or who has slightly different skills.”

While employee referrals have been a popular form of recruitment, Golden suggests companies can’t focus solely in that area. “It can result in ‘like me’ referrals,” she said. “Oftentimes employees refer candidates of the same gender and race. This can lead to adverse impact and claims of illegal discrimination, in turn tarnishing our diversity initiatives.”

Programs are out there to encourage diverse hires, including those that help companies recruit differently abled employees. And don’t forget veterans. “Veterans possess desirable characteristics: honesty, loyalty and responsibility. If these attributes were not enough to induce employers to hire veterans, the tax law offers even more,” Golden said. “The tax law encourages employers to hire certain targeted groups of workers by offering a tax credit tied to the wages of these new employees.”

In the end, a diverse workforce can pay off in multiple ways—well beyond just being the right thing to do.

By Sandy Smith

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