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Illuminators Hold Inaugural Diversity And Inclusion Event In SoCal

Sabrina Wiewel, Hallmark; Donna Giordano, Ralphs (retired); Jonathan Mayes, The Albertsons Cos.; and Tara Jaye Frank, P3T Group Inc.
Sabrina Wiewel, Hallmark; Donna Giordano, Ralphs (retired); Jonathan Mayes, The Albertsons Cos.; and Tara Jaye Frank, P3T Group Inc.

The Illuminators held their first luncheon focused on diversity and inclusion in the workplace on Feb. 28 at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, California. It was an event that was about a year and a half in the making and drew 150 attendees, Subriana Pierce of Navigator Sales and Marketing, chairperson of the event, told The Shelby Report.

During her remarks at the event, Pierce said, “Everyone has a different definition of diversity and inclusion, so I am going to give you my definition. I’m a big movie fan, especially the Marvel heroes. One thing I realize when I see these movies is that no two superheroes have the same power, and in order for them to achieve what they achieve, they all individually bring their skill sets. That’s really what we’re talking about here—how we each bring our individual skill sets and powers and work together for the good.”

Event chairperson Subriana Pierce, Navigator Sales & Marketing.

Speakers included Jonathan Mayes, SVP and chief diversity officer for The Albertsons Cos.; Donna Giordano, retired president of Ralphs Grocery Co.; Sabrina Wiewel, SVP and chief customer officer for Hallmark Greetings; and author/entrepreneur Tara Jaye Frank, who was a speaker and moderated a panel discussion.

The advantages of embracing diversity

Mayes compared the workforce in a company to an orchestra; all the different instruments combine to create a well-rounded sound.

“That, to me, is what diversity is all about. It’s talented people from all over bringing their authentic self to work and making beautiful music for the world,” he said.

What diversity is NOT, he emphasized, is displacing someone currently in a role or hiring or promoting people who are not likely to succeed in that role.

But it is important. Mayes cited January 2018 research from McKinsey that again shows the benefits of diversity (it was a followup to a 2015 report).

Input from more than 1,000 companies in the U.S. and other countries revealed that companies in the top 25 percent for gender diversity were 21 percent more likely to experience above-average performance than companies that were in the lower percentiles, and companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 33 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.

“There is a penalty, if you will, from running away from diversity and inclusion,” Mayes said. “Companies in the fourth quartile on gender and ethnic diversity are 29 percent more likely to underperform.”

Groups that are more diverse rather than more homogenous “perform tasks with higher collective intelligence because people bring different life experiences to the discussion,” he said. “And they perform better at complex problem-solving. Again, when you embrace diversity you have different voices, different backgrounds, different perspectives in the room and in the conversation.”

Another benefit, Mayes continued, is that it “fosters a more creative and innovative workplace. Businesses need to adapt, people need to be more competitive to beat the competition that’s out there. Diversity and inclusion is one of the key ways to make that happen.”

Still another benefit is a greater share of the consumer market, he said.

“This allows you to more effectively market to consumers with different perspectives than they might otherwise have. For those of you who know about my company, Albertsons and Safeway, our goal is to be the favorite local supermarket. I believe that for us to accomplish that, we need to use every tool available to us to help us bring that to pass. So embracing diversity and inclusion is that way. The good news that’s not just for our company; it’s true for your companies and your businesses as well. That’s why this is really important. If you’re serious about being the best you can be, have the most impact you can possibly have, you need to run toward embracing diversity.”

Illuminator Headlite (president) Mark Olejnik of ASR Group/C&H Sugar addresses those gathered for the inaugural event.
Illuminator Headlite (president) Mark Olejnik of ASR Group/C&H Sugar addresses those gathered for the inaugural event.

A side effect of diversity is that creates hope that there is potential for everyone in the organization to move up.

Six percent of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women.

“For people who work in companies to be able to see examples of women or people of color in senior management rank, it gives some satisfaction in knowing there is hope, potential,” Mayes said. “But it also can demotivate when you just don’t see much in the way of women or people of color at the head.”

And indeed, according to Mayes, diversity and inclusion “starts at the top. And not just saying it but acting that way in terms of who leadership is promoting, sponsoring.”

Mayes said something he practices at Albertsons is making sure those he works with know they have “the green light to tell me where my blind spots are. When I do that, we’ll all be more successful…If our goal is to be the best we can possibly be, it takes a little bit of humility to say you don’t have all the answers, I get that. But boy, does it strengthen us when we say I want to hear from you because together we all rise. That’s the goal of diversity and inclusion. That’s the world I think we all want to live in.”

We are all biased

Frank, who previously worked for Hallmark for 20 years and was one of the fastest ascending people in management in the history of the company, also is author of “Say Yes: A Woman’s Guide to Advancing Her Professional Purpose.”

She shared with the audience some of the internal company barriers to making progress on the issue of diversity and inclusion.

First, she said, it must be acknowledged that there is unconscious bias in companies.

“Essentially, you have to start with the fact that we are all biased. To be biased is to be human; that is a critical point to make right up front.”

Becoming aware of that bias is important, if companies are to take steps toward “making the environments better for everyone and creating cultures where everyone can thrive,” she said.

She said she has found that there are two types of bias that “tend to have the biggest impact on how equally, how fairly, everyone is able to succeed.”

The first is affinity bias. “I tend to trust, like, listen to, give the benefit of the doubt to, people who remind me of myself. That’s human nature, how we operate,” Frank said.

The second is confirmation bias. “If I already have an idea about a type of person or a type of personality even, then whenever I see them behave in a certain way, do something, say something, I am going to receive that input through the lens of my confirmation. And I am only going to notice things that validate my thoughts that I already had. If data comes my way that is counter to the thoughts I already have, I am going to dismiss it, not because I’m a jerk but because I am human and that’s how confirmation bias works.”

She said affinity bias tends to manifest itself in whether workers are mentored or sponsored.

A study from 2016 found that 87 percent of middle managers and above—all kinds of people—need navigational help at work, or “some level of sponsorship,” she said.

“Who wants to guess how many white men have a sponsor, middle manager and up? Twenty-five percent. One in four white men have a sponsor at work; not a mentor but someone who really has their back, is opening doors for them,” Frank said. “One in eight white women have a sponsor at work; one in 20 people of color, men and women included, have a sponsor at work.

“Sponsorship creates such an executive-level opportunity; you can see that disparity and how that might affect entire groups of people and their ability to succeed,” she said.

Frank acknowledged that if she owned a company and was making a hiring decision between a black woman—which Frank is—and a white man, and she knew 50 percent of what she needed to know about each, she would project what she knows about herself onto the black woma, saying things like “she has potential, she’s smart, she has a presence, I think she’d be a good leader, I believe she could do the job.”

The 50 percent that’s missing for the man, she would say, “I have no idea…I need him to demonstrate a little bit more. He’d need to prove himself. He’d eventually legitimately get frustrated with his opportunity at my company because he feels like he repeatedly has to prove himself, whereas she was given the opportunity based on potential. Affinity bias is dangerous in our organizations in a really tangible way.”

As an example of how confirmation bias might manifest itself, Frank cited a memo study conducted by a law firm a couple of years ago. They hypothesized that they had some racial bias at the company, so they created a memo and purposely put several errors in it, she said. They sent 60 memos. In 30 of them, they indicated that it was written by an African American, 30 they indicated were written by a white person. Both were supposedly written by men, so race was the only variable. They sent them out to partners to review and assess the memos.

“The memos came back and they found significantly more errors in the memos they thought were written by the black person than they did in the memo they thought was written by the white person—but it was the same memo,” Frank said.

The feedback from the one they thought was written by the white person said things like “he has potential, but there are a couple of things he needs to work on.” The kind of feedback on the memo they thought was written by the black man said, in essence, “I can’t believe he let that go out like that,” she said.

“They have a bias, and they were looking for what was going to validate their opinion about who this person might be and what they might be capable of. There are very real ways bias impacts our ability to pull people through our organization and create that level playing field.”

Frank said that while companies may seem to be diverse on the surface—they have a good mix of ages, genders and ethnicities among their employees; it is part of mission or values statements and company policies, etc.—deeper down, employees may not feel like they’re actually included.

People who feel included believe their voice is heard and valued; they have an opportunity to give input on important decisions; they feel they can be themselves at work without feature of retribution; and they feel like they know what I need to do in order get from where they currently are to where they want to be in the company.

“That’s really about sponsorship and networks and development,” Frank said. “I share this with you to say ask more questions. I would submit that we don’t ask deep enough questions so that you truly understand how your employee population at large is experiencing their jobs.”

Giordano said, “If there is anything I would stress it’s trust. Trust in yourself, trust in those that are around you and when you have that trust, great things will happen, as people can be themselves and bring their authentic selves to work.”

She recalled a Hispanic store manager at Ralphs who came up with an idea about how to better engage his employees in the store (she didn’t reveal what it was).

“It was way beyond what anyone else had thought of; his mechanism for making that happen became a best practice in our organization,” Giordano said. “When you start recognizing people for what they are able to contribute and share their successes, everyone wants to be a part of it. Everybody wants to jump on that train.”

Wiewel said, “We make great efforts at Hallmark to really value diversity. We have multiple diversity factions, African-American, military, lesbian. We honor those diversities.”

The company also is making sure to create products that celebrate occasions celebrated by the different groups.

Event sponsors included Hidden Villa Ranch, Minute Maid, Post and Bimbo Bakeries.

Keep reading:

Publix Ranks Among The Best Workplaces For Diversity

Multicultural Marketplace Column: Challenging Times Call For Bold Action

HR & Benefits News: Avoid Sexual Harassment Policy Hazards

About the author

Alissa Marchat

A word nerd, grocery geek and three-year member of The Shelby Report. She is a proud new homeowner and a great lover of avocado toast.

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