ByRoland Hayden and Sharon Pardo
As you drive out of the Charlotte/ Douglas International Airport, along
Josh Birmingham Parkway, you will be drawn to the words chiseled into
the roadside wall, “bienvenida,”
“het welkom,” “benventuto,” and more. “Welcome” to southern hospitality
with an international flair. Storefront signs and billboards are written
in Spanish and Creole along the streets of Miami, Florida. These are
examples of how vibrant, multicultural and diverse our communities have
become. In a world of changing demo-graphics and globalization,
workplace diversity is no longer just a compliance issue or annual EEOC
statistical survey. Just as diversity has enriched our local
neighborhoods and communities, so too does it add value and a
competitive edge to our workplaces and businesses.
Most companies have a diversity statement or policy in their handbooks
or mission statements. These words not only comply with Title VII and
similar laws but when put into practice, are a key business strategy of
most successful organizations. By creating an inclusive work environment
and aligning diversity with the organization’s business objectives,
companies are able to increase sales, customer service, productivity,
creativity and profits.
An inclusive workplace values and appreciates each employee’s
contributions regardless of race, gender, age, religion, sexual
orientation, socioeconomic status, education, national origin, etc. By
engaging the full range of experiences, skill sets, perspectives and
view points available within an inclusive and diverse workforce,
organizations are more innovative, adaptable and responsive to change
and generate more opportunities for growth and meeting or exceeding
their business objectives. When employee’s differences
are not valued or well managed, workers can become disengaged which can
result in high turnover, reduced productivity, loss of business and
Creating an inclusive workplace may be more easily said than done.
Employees may harbor prejudices or negative stereotypes based on their
individual life experiences and cultural backgrounds. Bringing these to
the workplace is a recipe for conflict unless appropriate workplace
behaviors are communicated, compliance is enforced and accountability is
maintained. Inclusive workplaces require employees at all levels to
behave in an appropriate manner which is consistent with the
organization’s core values and policies.
Commonsense motives exist for organizations to incorporate diversity and
inclusion in their core values such as competition for talent, EEOC and
Affirmative Action. To avoid lawsuits, it is the right thing to do. But
often these reasons alone do not lead to an inclusive workplace.
Organizations which link diversity and inclusion policies to their
fundamental business strategies have greater opportunity for success by
achieving the backing of senior management to drive the process.
As an example: increasing intercultural understanding and teamwork can
lead to increased productivity, creativity and profitability for the
organization. Employee satisfaction can lead to improved customer
service both internal and external, reduced employee turnover and lower
recruiting and training expenses.
Opportunities to Learn
As managers in our organizations, we can’t simply tell our employees how
to behave, but must develop and encourage an environment where there is
respect and under-standing of the needs of people with different
cultural backgrounds. Having prior experience in the Northeast, I found
our multicultural workforce and guests in South Florida to be quite a
culture shock. I couldn’t speak the language, there was cultural
sensitivity to tone of voice and facial expressions, different religious
practices impacted work schedules and appearance guests could not
understand/read/ speak English, cultural bias and misunderstandings
prevented certain ethnic groups from working with other ethnic groups,
even trying to do a “good thing” like an employee appreciation party
could go wrong if not aware of the dietary requirements of certain
cultures and religious groups.
Rather than consider these differences as challenges or impediments to
our operations, we embraced them as opportunities to learn and improve,
lead and nurture, grow and succeed. How did we do this? By creating a
culture of respect and understanding, effective communication and
enforcement of company policy, implementation of accountability
practices, measuring and analyzing our results and making adjustments to
our best practices as needed.
Bilingual recruiting and hiring practices and materials were developed
and implemented to attract talent. Training processes were augmented
with bilingual interpreters, audio-visual tapes, posters, product
labels/MSDS and procedural demonstrations. Teamwork was improved through
sensitivity training to break down cultural barriers, distrust and bias.
If it did not present a hardship to the company, we made allowances
whenever possible to accommodate employee religious practices related to
work schedules and appearance standards. The result was a more tolerant,
diverse, productive and motivated workforce which reduced turnover and
training costs, increased profits and client satisfaction
and most importantly, contributed to an overall positive guest
experience in all of our venues.
It takes commitment, resources and time to change workplace behaviors
and promote a diverse and inclusive organization. Employees must feel
they are understood, respected and supported. The same applies to our
guests. Venues which promote a multicultural atmosphere with bilingual
signage, multinational food, beverage and entertainment opportunities
will be more successful in attracting and retaining guests to their
There is a lot of competition for entertainment
dollars, with today’s economic situation; this is truer than ever. The most successful venues
will be those which are flexible and can adapt to changes in the
marketplace and their local communities. Having a diverse workplace can
help venues weather the storm and “bienvenida” or “welcome” their guests
for years to come.
Hayden is president and Sharon Pardo is logistics manager for Pritchard
Sports & Entertainment Group, a facility services company in Crofton,