When the DiversityInc 2012 list of Top 50 Employers for Diversity ranking list was released recently, it was disappointing to see that there were very few companies with significant retailing operations that were considered to be leaders in workplace diversity. It was even more disappointing to realize that there were only two completely retail companies - Target (TGT) and jcpenney (JCP) - that were recognized for their leadership in diversity.
Seemingly there is plenty of diversity in the hourly front lines of retailing. But in order to rank as a Top 50 Retail Company for Diversity, a retail company needs to also have exemplary diversity communications, a demonstrated commitment to diversity from its CEO, and diversity in its supply chain as well. In other words, this is a list that recognizes diversity that is authentic and deep, not just diversity that doesn't make it any farther than the carefully crafted words in the employee handbook.
How could it be that retail companies like Wal-Mart (WMT) and McDonald's and diversity-driven Darden Restaurants (DRI)are not identified as diversity leaders? Well, either their commitment to diversity is not as big as they want customers and potential employees to believe, or else somebody failed to complete the 300-question survey and submit it to DiversityInc by the deadline. It's likely a little bit of both.
It doesn't really matter if a retail company gets recognized for its diversity as long as it has diversity, but it's definitely a topic that can't be ignored. Just last week the EEOC widened the scope of Title VII to include transgender individuals, and along with that announcement comes another list of things that could be considered discriminatory in the workplace. Perhaps this is just this type of thing that leaves little time for filling out surveys.
It's truly unfortunate that all of the government mandates about diversity have created a discrimination-lawsuit-prevention approach to diversity in some of the largest U.S. retail companies. It would be great to think that all diversity programs and policies were enacted because a company truly understood the benefits of diversity. But that is the flip side of the diversity coin that not all U.S. companies really buy into.Index of most recent employee lawsuits with diversity and discrimination claims >>
So, let's remind ourselves again... what are the benefits of diversity in the workplace? According to a 2011 report by the Network of Executive Women (NEW), customers feel most comfortable doing business with companies whose employees reflect the diversity of their own communities. Additionally the NEW report concluded that from a greatly diverse workplace comes great innovative solutions for capturing and retaining diversity in a retail company's customer base.
In other words, diversity is as diversity does. And in wobbly economic times, retail companies would be well-advised to be and do all that they can to create comfort for as many demographic segments of the working and consuming population as possible.
Of all the corporate training programs I've designed and delivered, my diversity training program was the shortest. Just one sentence, in fact... Treat everybody like the unique and valuable individual that they are. The end. Those that specialize in workplace diversity would consider that a gross oversimplification, but really... does diversity in any workplace have to be any more complex than that?