Ensure your company culture and hiring practices send a clear message of inclusion
Had it not been overshadowed by COVID, 2020 and 2021 might have been seen as the era of diversity and inclusion. While it may not have gotten the headlines of the pandemic, these related workforce issues created opportunities and expectations for companies in any field—and pest management is not immune.
“It’s a really challenging environment because of the social change movement that accelerated last spring with the death of George Floyd,” said David Dart, chief human resources officer at Terminix. “That has amped up the stakes, not just on it being the right thing, but it is almost an expectation of teammates. Prospective hires and current employees are expecting some sort of transparency and an open dialogue around issues related to gender, race, age, sexual orientation and general identity.”
Despite the demands, however, it can be a complex and challenging thing to take on, and companies that take a heavy hand do so at their own peril. “There’s a level of division that develops when you force diversity for diversity’s sake; we see that happen over and over again,” said Anthony Brown, senior vice president, human resources for Rentokil. “If you don’t have strong clarity as to why it’s important and beneficial, you’ll bring that same division into your workplace.”
These days, diversity is an existential issue, one that can determine whether a pest company can hire the workers it needs. “With the country opening up again, candidates have the benefit of choice and it’s as challenging as ever to recruit them,” Brown said. “Top talent is looking beyond salary to culture and company values. It’s one thing to recruit, it’s another to retain, and culture is going to be the difference-maker in the coming years.”
BUILDING THE RIGHT CULTURE
Recruitment is a natural first step in building a more diverse workforce. At Sprague Pest Solutions, the past year allowed an opportunity for the company to “pause and reflect on our recruiting practices while discovering new opportunities in our culture and hiring procedures,” said Leila Haas, Sprague’s director of people operations. This year has been no different thanks to the “increased competition to hiring the best talent. We have welcomed the challenge and are excited to put into practice our new methods in the hopes of building a more inclusive workplace.”
The company measures annual employee feedback, looking for “areas of improvement,” Haas said. “With service centers across the entire western United States, we strive to hire team members who best represent the communities in which they reside and serve.”
One key to that is what Haas calls “proactive recruitment.” “We have learned to embrace the notion that job hunters need to be more mobile and agile than in years past. Our team has worked to utilize recruiting platforms and social media to reach out to potential candidates in and outside the pest control industry…. We believe finding the right talent takes time, patience and a high degree of due diligence.”
While it might seem that the industry’s largest companies have an advantage in this area, Dart believes smaller pest management companies may actually have one key ingredient in place. “Most of them already have a great culture. They already have an environment where there is a lot of trust. They’ve trained their teammates pretty well. If you create an environment of trust, then you already have the foundation to build an inclusive work environment.”
THE STARTING POINT
Diversity has been around a good while, but these days, that is just the starting point. Inclusion is also vital. Brown notes that diversity provides “seats at the table,” while inclusion means “individuals have a voice and are given the space to contribute. This difference means we are innovating through inclusive perspectives and ensuring differences shape the best business outcomes.”
Inclusivity can lead to stronger hiring and recruiting, Dart said. “If you have an inclusive, diverse and equitable work environment, you will become the employer of choice.”
Inclusivity is a framework upon which to build trust and values, which leads to culture, Dart said.
Culture, particularly that which is “intentionally fostered,” can lead to diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, Brown said. “We have a responsibility to our employees to focus on cultivating and embedding inclusion and diversity into our organizational culture. Employers must seek out gaps, or blind spots, to address bias and promote inclusivity or else we risk doing a disservice to our mission and our colleagues. To be comprehensive and ensure we go below the surface, this analysis must include all areas of the business, including strategy, structure, policies and procedures.”
It might mean something as simple as allowing flexibility for holiday traditions, which Sprague does. The company offers eight holidays per year, “where they select the holidays that best align with their personal values, beliefs, cultures and family traditions,” Haas said. She noted that this is a “popular” company perk.
MOVING UP THE LADDER
Providing a clear training and career path can create an atmosphere where everyone feels there are equal opportunities, Dart said. That can prevent a company from falling into a pattern of “like hires like. Like refers like.”
The same goes for promotions. “You have to make sure that how you’re selecting internal hires is fair and equitable,” Dart said. “Do you have the training and career paths so that people feel comfortable putting their hat in the ring for higher-level jobs?”
As diversity becomes apparent at the manager, director and senior leadership levels, it has become “operationalized over time,” Dart said. “It doesn’t become this separate entity but becomes who you are.”
It is not a quick fix, however. “It takes time and commitment,” Dart said. “You have to communicate that we’re on a journey and talk about milestones along the way.”
Dart prefers to avoid quotas, but instead likes to ensure that the local workforce reflects the community. “You want to create an environment that allows you to hire the best possible and promote the best possible.”
Still, to get a workforce that reflects the community might require targeting specific markets “so they have an awareness of you as a company,” Dart said.
Sprague believes that any role has inherent leadership, and consequently offers an “inclusive yearlong leadership program where co-workers can learn how to become a successful leader, improve communication, make better decisions, manage conflict and team building strategies,” Haas said. “Sprague’s leadership development allows our multi-layered management team to identify gaps and share successes and concerns.”
Leaders at each of the 19 Sprague branches determine how to donate funds allocated at the branch level, “which creates a unified company mission and culture,” Haas said.
POTENTIAL AND PERIL
Managing diversity poorly can lead to a backlash in which other employees might feel left out. Any form of discrimination, Brown said, “is a distraction for employees and a symptom of deeper differences that need to be addressed. Importantly, when colleagues don’t feel heard or included, motivation and engagement decline, resulting in low production and high turnover. This does not allow us to succeed as a business. When we have leaders or colleagues in a position to create inclusive or exclusive environments, we hold a standard that they are active participants in our inclusivity focus to ensure workplace discrimination does not become part of our culture.”
While not always easy, attention to diversity and inclusion now can set up the company for success in the future.
“The best recruiting tool we have is our own workforce. The more we represent diversity and inclusion, then tried-and-true strategies of word-of-mouth and company reputation will support proactive recruitment of a diverse pipeline,” Brown said. “In addition, in today’s environment where candidates have so many companies vying for their attention, we need to cast a wider and more intentional net.”