By Thomas Kilgore, Director of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion, Radial
In the store and online, a retail brand is represented by the people it employs. From cashiers ringing up a purchase in-store to technical support associates assisting shoppers online, they interact with customers in a variety of ways every day.
When this retail workforce is diverse, a more inclusive environment that is representative of the community can be created. When all are welcomed and valued, brands thrive. However, many retailers are still struggling to implement strong diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. In fact, a recent survey found that only 16% of retail employers said that improving DEI is a top priority, but it doesn’t fall within their top three priorities for the year.
While enterprise-wide DEI initiatives must come from the top of the organization, there are practices that HR leaders and frontline managers can implement that will help build a more equitable work environment.
Here are 10 ways to promote DEI in your retail team today:
- Start with admitting unconscious bias. What is unconscious bias? It’s a social stereotype about other groups of people that form outside your own conscious awareness. It comes from one’s tendency to organize social worlds through hierarchal systems and, more so, through the cultural lens of one’s own world. We all have unconscious bias regardless of our race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical ability, or socioeconomic status. When we admit that we all have unconscious bias, we can be open to understanding how it impacts our decision-making and the way we relate to other people.
- Become educated on DEI and share what you learn with your team. While HR may or may not have mandatory DEI programs in place, creating a sense of belonging among retail teams starts with individuals. Share what you learn with your teams in an inviting manner that opens up respectful dialogue. Above all else, when it comes to developing a culture of belonging, the number one objective is to ensure each team member can bring their fullest and most authentic self to the workplace without judgment or repercussions.
- Address the elephant in the room. As long as people are afraid to talk about it, DEI will just remain a concept. Too often people are afraid of bringing up the topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion because they are afraid it will be seen as politically incorrect or insensitive. Not knowing what to say, people remain silent. But to address DEI, it has to be something people can talk about. It’s okay to admit you don’t know how people with different cultural backgrounds feel and let them know you’re open to hearing what their experiences are like—if they wish to discuss it. Be mindful that they may never have had someone ask and may be wary about sharing with you. Respect their feelings.
- Make small shifts in how you relate to people. Inclusive leadership starts with a mindset change that leads to a change in behavior. But it’s small shifts that have the greatest impact and lead to an inclusive culture. The best way to become more inclusive is to take a humble approach to learning about those who are different from you. Invite different perspectives on what it’s like to work at your company, ask about other people’s employee experience at past companies, learn about their worlds and, most importantly, get to know people as people—withholding judgment and seeking greater understanding.
- Advocate for diverse hiring. If you’re a hiring manager, talk to HR about recruiting diverse candidates. Make it known that this matters to you. If you have the opportunity to hire a qualified candidate from an underrepresented group, do so. Diversity of thought is crucial when it comes to building a more creative and innovative organization. Rather than seeking a candidate who is a “cultural fit,” companies should be seeking a candidate who is a “cultural add.”
- Don’t treat them as different. One of the pitfalls of DEI initiatives is that companies tend to tout it as something to brag about rather than something that should be normalized as the status quo. Job candidates and employees from diverse groups do not necessarily want to be poster kids for DEI. They want to feel like they fit in and belong. Be mindful about automatically assuming that people who are from diverse groups want to be advocates for DEI. Likewise, be mindful that corporate DEI initiatives do not create more bias when diverse candidates are hired simply because they are diverse.
- Assess your recruitment practices. To ensure your hiring practices are fair and inclusive, look at each part of the process: job descriptions, candidate outreach, where jobs are posted, employee experience surveys, job application questions, interview processes, and the final hiring decision. Look for areas where you can improve and make changes to be more inclusive and offer more equal opportunities. Equally important, ensure that you have a diverse interview panel. This is a great way to mitigate unconscious bias during the interview process.
- Spearhead an employee resource group (ERG). To optimize success, ERGs need an executive sponsor as well as an appointed leader who will organize meetings, advocate for funding, and hold the group accountable to make progress toward a common goal. ERGs provide employees a safe place to openly discuss important matters without fear of reprisal. They can also create goals and then work toward achieving them across the broader organization. Be respectful of the degree to which people choose to participate or discuss their personal feelings about issues. While an ERG should feel like a safe place within the broader scope of the organization, along the way, it is important to invite allies as ERG members—particularly those who wield power and influence within the company.
- Build DEI into the business strategy. To the degree that you are responsible for business strategies or policies, use that power to build DEI into it. Diversity initiatives need to be baked into how the business operates at every level—and managers and team leaders can do so by including it in their scope of responsibility. If you are managing a diverse team, be mindful of assigning work based solely on competency and skillsets. Notice if you tend to assign or not assign tasks differently to people with disabilities. In addition, it is important to identify and develop all high potential leaders within the organization, especially those from underrepresented groups. To optimize future growth for the organization, ensure all team members have adequate tools and resources to succeed.
- You can make a difference. Big social initiatives like DEI can feel too big to believe that you can make a difference. Leveling the playing field requires major changes to everyday structural systems. Ensure that you have strong succession management programs in place and, if possible, leverage mentorship programs to bridge any cultural gaps. Remember, change starts with you.
Like in any industry, improving DEI in retail requires time, dedication, and leaders willing to make it important across the organization. It also requires courage from everyone involved. Seeing people as people, fostering a culture of belonging, seeking to understand rather than control, and being humble in learning about how others experience the world will all help to create a more inclusive experience for employees and customers alike.