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Building diversity about more than just hiring

As businesses become more globalized, workplace diversity has become an imperative. Whether it is a local car dealership, a regional law firm or a multinational company, workers and clients alike want to do business with and work for an organization that reflects a range of views and backgrounds.

At Webster’s Henderson Ford, people of color are represented well, as are females, who occupy all types of jobs from technicians to senior management, said Randy Henderson, president and founder.

“We really put a lot of emphasis on diversity and have for quite a number of years,” Henderson said, noting Ford Motor Co. now is talking to dealers nationwide about ensuring that their workforces reflect the community that they are in.

In most cases, Henderson said, that means car dealers need to look harder at having more minorities and women in their employ than is typical in the industry.

Miles & Stockbridge, which was ranked No. 2 on Law360’s list of the best firms for black attorneys in the nation in 2016, has implemented a range of strategies over the years to both hire and retain attorneys of color.

“There’s increasing demand to have diverse teams of lawyers,” said John Frisch, chairman at Baltimore-based Miles & Stockbridge P.C. “As the firm has become diverse, our leadership team is more diverse. We get higher quality decisions when the participants in the groups are more diverse.”

More than 10 percent of the firm’s nonprincipals are black, along with 4.6 percent of the principals. The firm also recently hired a full-time director of diversity and inclusion to grow the firm’s engagement with clients and in the community.

In 2015, the firm started a hiring practice modeled after the National Football League’s “Rooney Rule,” named after a franchise owner and requiring teams to interview at least one minority candidate for each vacant coaching position. Similarly, Miles & Stockbridge interviews at least one woman, minority or LGBT lawyer for each open position.

The firm has seen a dramatic increase in the diversity of its new hires. In 2016, 48 percent of the firm’s new lawyers were minorities. 

But diversity in the workplace is not driven simply by hiring. 

“If you retain a diverse workforce, that in itself is a recruiting tool,” said Kim Ruyle, president of Inventive Talent Consulting LLC in Melbourne, Fla.

Henderson Ford is attractive to both job seekers and customers, Henderson said, particularly because the automotive industry historically has been dominated by white males. With its abundance of women and people of color, the dealership appeals to those looking for a less rigid atmosphere.

There are two ways to retain good people: reward them monetarily or engage them, Ruyle said. 

“Engaged employees feel a sense of ownership in the business,” he said.

That engagement comes from the employee’s relationship with his or her immediate boss. Companies that want to retain good people need managers capable of building relationships, Ruyle said. 

Supervisors are most successful at building those relationships when they can find common ground among their employees through shared values.

“It’s not just the diversity of the workforce, it’s the inclusion of the workforce,” Ruyle said. 

TGS, a Houston-based company that provides geoscientific data and services to the oil and gas industry, has followed a similar philosophy to retain the company’s international staff, especially the company’s large group of Chinese employees. 

The company does panel interviews to give candidates a sense of TGS’ culture. Once employees are hired, the company reinforces an inclusive culture through its management style and more tangible steps. For example, a lot of TGS employees enjoy table tennis, so the company put a ping-pong table in its communal bistro area. 

“At the end of the day, regardless of race, people want to be able to interact with other people,” said Heather Barker, human resources director at TGS. 

Following Ruyle’s philosophy on retention as a recruitment tool, TGS is able to hire through its existing workforce. 

“Our industry is very tight-knit as well, so that word-of-mouth spreads quickly,” Barker said.

TGS is particularly cognizant of what motivates people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. For example, it has found that in Norway, the company’s financial headquarters, employees prefer team accolades over individual ones. 

Inclusion plays a role in retention not just within teams but in leadership roles. 

“If you’re in a growing business, employees think about growth,” Ruyle said.  

Miles & Stockbridge officials say they take that philosophy seriously. 

“It is a really high priority that (firm attorneys) understand that the firm is making a very significant investment in becoming more diverse and investing in its employees,” Frisch said. “We can’t achieve our objectives unless they’re successful.”

When the firm evaluates practice group leaders, leadership positions and board of directors, it makes sure to build diverse teams. Senior attorneys also work closely with junior attorneys through internal and external mentorship programs. 

“Lawyers of color, when they see people like themselves in leadership positions, that is one thing that will get them to stay,” said Demetria Johnson, director of diversity and inclusion at the firm. 

Her goal is to get Miles & Stockbridge to a point where the firm is evenly split across gender, race and sexual orientation. 

“The legal industry has a long way to go, but we feel like we’re off to a great start,” Frisch said.  

Velvet Spicer contributed to this article.

3/3/2017 (c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

 
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