LAS VEGAS — Diversity is good, but without accompanying commitment to inclusion, it's probably not good enough.
That was among the messages challenging food industry leaders to view their company from a new perspective delivered at an FMI 2010 workshop last week by Eric Watson, vice president of diversity and inclusion for Food Lion.
Watson argued that a diverse workforce — one that is reflective of the diverse customer base a grocery retailer would reach for — is most effective from a business perspective when handled through the prism of inclusion: That is, making each group feel welcome and a part of the organization.
“Diversity is a journey and the destination is inclusion,” said Watson. “In most of your organizations, diversity already exists, and having achieved diversity is admirable. But if you have diversity without inclusion, you'll just have a revolving door of diversity.”
Watson illustrated the value of recognizing different perspectives by asking attendees to think about the different purposes to which a dog, a cat, a lumberjack and a child might see the same tree. “We tend to assume everyone sees the world the same way we do,” he noted. “But nobody sees the world as the same.”
The business case for diversity and inclusion is simple, Watson said. “Customers, when they're in an environment in which they feel comfortable, they will stay longer, spend more money and come back. When they're uncomfortable they're not coming back.”
Those concepts are taken seriously at Food Lion, which has diversity and inclusion woven into its culture and preserved in a variety of ways, including “two-way mentoring” in which employees give and receive advice to and from their colleagues in other departments; and “business resource groups” or BRGs, which are congregations of Food Lion employees representing various points of view that might range from gay to white males to older people. The retailer also makes a practice of aligning itself with other diverse organizations and including a message of diversity and inclusion in its job postings.
Food Lion's diversity efforts have helped compel it to make merchandising changes. These include a rollout of some Latino-focused locations; they have also readied the Delhaize-owned chain for additional demographic shifts, Watson said. Its goal is a “triple bottom line” of being an employer of choice, a grocer of choice and a community leader, he added.