South-Western - Management  
Beyond the Looking Glass: a Diversity Initiative Involves More than Just Looking like Your Customers
Topic Managing Individuals and Teams
Key Words Diversity, retention, mentoring, training
News Story

Many retailers believe that if their employee base is reflective culturally of their customer base, they have made an adequate attempt at diversity and customers will reward them by buying more products. According to diversity expert Luke Visconti, however, just having diverse representation is not enough. True diversity programs manage the transfer of knowledge, the understanding of the market, and the ability to be culturally competent.

The makeup of America has shifted from nine white people for every person of color in 1950, to fewer than one-and-a-half white people for every person of color today. As the makeup of America has changed, so has the composition of the workforce and customer base. In order to capture the market share of these powerful groups, retailers will need to launch more complex employee diversity initiatives.

Retailers with the most diverse customer base are leading the pack in implementing such programs. Sears, for example, made Diversity Inc.’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity list. Adding Kmart to its holdings has made the company’s diversity challenge even greater. Sears offers solid programs behind each of the three core diversity fundamentals of recruitment, training, and retention. Its Workplace Diversity Skills Training Course is available to corporate employees and to store employees, primarily through on-line resources. In the area of retention, Sears offers a mentoring program that pairs a senior-level employee with newcomers that are deemed a good cultural fit. Another program, “affinity groups,” provides networks such as the African-American Network, Asian Network, Disabled Associates Network, Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual Network, and others, where employees can reach out to others who have similar interests and backgrounds. These networks add value by providing aid in their communities, in-house mentoring, and focus-group input on merchandise selections.

Another company that has made great strides in diversity initiatives is Home Depot. Home Depot’s officer roster includes a VP of diversity and inclusion. The company spends 23 million hours per year training its associates, including training on diversity initiatives. The Home Depot also partners with AARP to hire mature workers, an alliance that has proved to be a win for the retailer. Many of the mature workers bring skills, loyalty, and tremendous work ethic to their jobs.

Both Home Depot and Sears struggle with the size of their companies when it comes to implementing successful diversity programs. However, the workforce is diverse and the marketplace is diverse. Retailers need to work at creating an environment where their associates, customers, and vendors feel welcome respected, and supported. That is the only way to continue to be successful.

Top Five Tips On Recruitment:

  1. Forge relationships with schools that have a diverse student population.
  2. Make sure management gets diversity training.
  3. Establish partnerships with groups catering to the needs and interests of diverse populations.
  4. Incorporate nontraditional methods to produce a diverse applicant pool.
  5. Encourage senior people of diverse backgrounds to provide referrals.
Top Five Tips On Retention:
  1. Senior management should actively promote diversity and include it in all strategic plans.
  2. Establish a formal mentoring program.
  3. Perform a diversity audit.
  4. Set up company-supported employee networks.
  5. Hold regularly scheduled discussions of employees concerns.

Source “Beyond the Looking Glass: a Diversity Initiative Involves More than Just Looking like Your Customers,” Chain Store Age. February, 2006, page 42(3).

What are the three core fundamentals of a good diversity program?


Give at least three reasons why having a strong diversity program "makes good business sense."


Do some reading in your textbook about affirmative action programs and diversity programs. What are the differences?

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