Strategies for diversifying your workplace
Life experiences shape who we are and influence our value set. I have based my career on teaching others the value of diversity because I know firsthand what it feels like to experience racism. I grew up in a place where I looked different from everyone in my classes. People didn't understand why I wanted to go to college because "folks like you don't go to college." In 1969 a landlord refused to rent me an apartment because I'm black; I filed a lawsuit that ended up in federal court. The judge ruled in my favor, and the outcome of this landmark case led to major changes in Massachusetts housing laws.
These experiences shaped who I am and cemented my value set. Diversity and its implications are very important to me - it's a part of almost everything I do - especially in the workplace. At my core, I believe it's our societal imperative to employ people with the same diverse backgrounds as the mix of ethnic, racial, and cultural differences we find in our society. Our society is changing, and the world is changing - and each of us has a responsibility to reflect those changes in our choice of employees.
At Network Health - a nonprofit, comprehensive Massachusetts health plan that provides high-quality health care coverage to residents with low and moderate incomes - it's critical for us to have a diverse workforce because our membership comprises people with a wide range of ethnic and racial backgrounds. The more our employees are familiar with our members' cultures, the better we can meet and serve their needs. It's simple: If our employees speak the same language as our members, and know our members' neighborhoods, struggles, customs, and traditions, we can be more efficient and effective in connecting and communicating with them.
In order to diversify Network Health's workforce, Network Health set an aggressive three-year strategic goal to build our workforce in accordance with the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) employee-diversity categories. We also set a corporate goal to hire into Network Health twice the number of minority employees as the BLS standards proposed. We met those diversity hiring goals in two years.
To date we have 375 employees, 45 percent of whom are non-white. I believe it would be a mistake to diversify our employee population but have no leadership that mimics that, so 27 percent of our supervisors are non-white. Our employees provide customer service support in nine languages, produce materials in 10 languages, and maintain both English and Spanish versions of our website.
If you want to diversify your workforce you can start by making yourself aware of the BLS data and understanding how many people of various ethnic or racial backgrounds are available in your geographic area by job function. Then set growth targets, and hold yourself accountable to meeting them.
Our greatest diversity is in our non-management roles, so in order to diversify at the management levels we started posting jobs internally. For five days after a new position is opened, we give employees the opportunity to raise their hand. If they have the basic qualifications for the position, we take the best of that population to fill the job. If they don't, we coach them on the qualifications they need to be strong candidates in the future. We've also conducted job fairs in the communities that we serve, encouraged employee referrals, and made a concentrated effort to talk to candidates who are representative of the communities we serve.
As part of creating a diverse workforce, it's critical to create a corporate culture of awareness and understanding. At Network Health, we wanted to create a culture where employees believe in our values and work together to continue our mission. To do this, Network Health's human resources team conducts diversity training for new employees that teaches them about our commitment to diversity and increases awareness of themselves and others to foster a culture of openness, respect, and growth.
We also created a Diversity Council to promote acceptance, individuality, and respect, and to engage employees to embrace and celebrate diversity. The 10- to 15-person Diversity Council's activities include delivering weekly diversity trivia, hosting "Taste of Culture" potluck luncheons where employees can share their favorite dishes that reflect their heritage, and running short videos at lunch to educate staff on various cultures. The group also created an art gallery designed to showcase artists from variety of backgrounds and their work.
It's also important to make sure you have commitment from the very top of your organization. Your organization's leadership should be as committed as you are, as it can be very difficult - if not impossible - to do this alone. In short, make a commitment in your heart and drive to that. The world is a better place if your employee population is representative of where you live and the customers you serve.
Make no mistake: The upside is significant. Employees who are comfortable where they work, feel respected, and know they are making a difference are more likely to be committed and motivated to achieve business success.
Vincent Pina is the Vice President of Human Resources for Network Health, a Medford, Mass.-based nonprofit health insurance plan serving nearly 180,000 Massachusetts members with low and moderate incomes.