POP Report: Hiring For Diversity and Creating an Inclusive Staff Culture

POP Report: Hiring For Diversity and Creating an Inclusive Staff Culture

  |  September 1, 2016

Key Insights

CDS-CC_pop!-logo_rgbThe major takeaways from interviews with three co-ops on their initiatives to improve diversity in hiring and increase cultural awareness on their staff teams are

  • make staff diversity and cultural awareness a priority to your team (and budget)
  • create goals and make the measurables visible to your team
  • aim to be reflective of your community
  • use community engagement as a hiring tool and
  • offer continued and varied development opportunities to all.


Outpost Co-op

Randy McCarthy, HR

The board and GM were always interested diversity initiatives, but nothing really took off at the store level until management starting measuring diversity hiring. Using statistics from city-data.com, management created hiring goals to match the demographics of the zip codes in which the stores were located. Showing this information to store managers to get them on board was key, “to show them the numbers and to get their buy-in and for them to think it’s an important goal.”

Once he had manager buy-in, McCarthy’s team reached out to community employment agencies, job developers, job training programs and local community groups to develop relationships with them. The team vetted the group, looking for the ones in Outpost’s neighborhoods “who were the most serious about finding people jobs.” Those organizations send candidates McCarthy’s way, who can fast-track them through the hiring process.

outpost co-op logoOutpost has made a commitment to look for candidates “who may not look great on paper, but to bring them in anyway, because they have great customer service skills.” “HR part is meeting and engaging” and going out into the community to find candidates and drawing them to the store is part of the work. He and his team target certain events at faith based community groups, make connections and get the word out that Outpost is hiring.

Outpost tracks promotion rates in addition to diversity hiring metrics. “We recognize it’s a business driver to make the store more inclusive.” If people reflective of the entire community don’t work in the store, then they won’t apply for a job or shop. The store seeks to hire more bilingual employees.

In addition to increasing inclusivity that is reflective of the people of color who live the community, Outpost also works with agencies that find employment for people with disabilities and people recovering from mental health issues. Many of these are temporary or transitional work assignments that give the co-op the option of hiring or not. These assignment are paid through the state and the only obligation that co-op has is writing a work evaluation. HR tries to identify particular managers who will make good mentors for these candidates and have at least one working at one of the stores at any given time.

There are no limitation policies that direct the GM to have a diverse workforce, though they view the directive in the main Ends Policy: “Outpost Natural Foods Co-op exists so our owners have a healthy, diverse, and sustainable community.” The GM’s interpretation of “diverse” is both employees and owners/shoppers (“which is more difficult to track”). Outpost hasn’t met the city-data.com data goals, but the numbers are improving every quarter.

Outpost hosts two-hour in-store walk-in hiring events once a month at a different store with much success. The hyper local and word of mouth advertising (Goodwill job centers and counselors who help work on resumes for free at Kinkos will send candidates who might be good matches.) seem to attract diverse candidates who are serious about wanting a job and the managers can be right there for on-the-spot interviews. If managers are there, they get first pick.

The hiring process itself is traditional; there are no explicit questions about a candidate’s attitude toward diversity. To McCarthy, the interview is a place where “candidates get a chance to shine,” particularly if an application itself is thin.


Seward Co-op

Liz Wozniak, HR

In July 2014, Seward Co-op began an initiative to increase the diversity of its workforce to 32% people of color to match the demographics of Minneapolis. To achieve this goal, the co-op hired a consultant to walk it through an “Intercultural Development Process” to build a roadmap of recommendations to improve and optimize cultural awareness culture concurrently with the opening of two new Seward locations.

seward co-op logoConsultant Beth Zemsky of Interact first assessed the current climate of diversity awareness at the co-op by asking managers and supervisors to take the IDI, Intercultural Developmental Inventory. Following the assessment, she trained and mentored managers on how to respond in culturally appropriate ways, followed by a staff retreat to demonstrate that everyone was working together in this process. Three staff action learning task forces were created—a hiring, orientation and onboarding, and workplace culture and retention to create recommendations.

In the next phase, Zemsky will train internal trainers so that lasting results of these efforts remain in the co-op spirit. “This is not a one and done thing.”  The work needs to continue as the co-op grows. Wozniak also says Seward “needs to do more conflict resolution and mediation from a culturally competent place.”

Where does a co-op begin the journey that Seward is currently undertaking? Wozniak says the first step “is to acknowledge that co-ops are white spaces and recognize that if we’re going to be successful, we need to start attracting employees of color; if we keep doing things the way we’ve done them, we’ll continue to get what we’re currently getting.” Setting the goal to be inclusive as the priority and making a strategic decision to find someone to train your staff are first on the list.

Wozniak says after making the commitment to inclusiveness, starting with the IDI or another assessment tool is a great next step to the process of developing a culture of awareness at your co-op. She stresses that training the management team is the key to the next big step; without that your co-op will have a mix of managers with varied levels of cultural competency, which gives mixed signals about expectations. Having the ability to articulate the commitment to diversity needs to be across the board and felt throughout the hiring and onboarding process and in everyday work life.

Seward has an extensive onboarding process that involves eight modules from co-op finances to customer service to natural foods to ends and organization that must be completed in the first 3 months of employment by all new hires.

There is ongoing development in most departments and preference is made for promotions from within. Staff cultural awareness development and training at Seward is a high priority. People may serve on the Cultural Awareness task forces. Managers take part in workshops and retreats and for the last two years at all staff retreats, and Zemsky does an hour-long presentation to cover all employees on cultural competency and understanding all types of communicators.

Wozniak concludes by saying it’s not just about meeting a quota of people. “While diversity count matters, the equity is when the outcomes matter, when people feel like everyone has the same opportunities.”


Durham Co-op Market

Leila Wolfrum, General Manager

Durham Co-op Market opened in March 2015 in a very diverse neighborhood of Durham, in any way one defines diverse: income, race, religion, etc. The new co-op was going to take a different path from its predecessor, Durham Food Co-op, which had a history of failing to connect with the neighborhood by appearing to be too much of an exclusive “co-op club.”

Early on, it became clear to Wolfrum how important it would be to the success of the co-op that its staff makeup reflect the neighborhood. For her, one of most important parts of being successful was to make concerted efforts to hire directly from the neighborhood “to provide good jobs for people who need good jobs and to set priorities for hiring our neighbors.”

Out of the 40 jobs available at the co-op, it was determined that there were a ten that needed specific skills or experience, and the remaining 30 were entry-level positions. Wolfrum made a conscious decision to hire those positions on attitude and aptitude rather than previous experience, which allowed her to hire in the immediate surrounding area. Now over half of the co-op’s employees live within a mile of store and over half are people of color. She says the staff “reflects the diversity of the neighborhood in many, many ways, such as race, religion, previous incarceration, gender identity, life experience,” to name but a few.

durham co-op logoFor the initial store hiring, every position was posted physically on site of store, and they gave out and emailed over 1,000 applications “on the outside” and to local community organizations to make sure people in the neighborhood knew jobs at the co-op were available.

In April 2016, the co-op engaged a consultant to undergo an eight-month three-phase cultural awareness development process. The co-op has completed the first phase: a full analysis of store culture, in which every employee was interviewed in order to put a roadmap together to map a path and where they were and where they want to go for healthy and equitable team culture. The assessment itself provided tremendous value because it framed the conversation and made creating a language of inclusivity a priority for co-op staff.

The second phase will focus on skill building to train the staff on race and gender equality, as well as healthy communication and conflict resolution. The third phase will put together a culture building staff team that will revisit the assessment, clarify the co-op’s values and build agreement for shared norms.

One of the points that came up in the assessment was that goals and metrics need to be more clearly articulated to the public and to staff. Wolfrum acknowledges the diversity work still is a work in progress—and that it will require continued training as the co-op grows. “We’re still making the diversity that we have be a benefit to the store, but it still comes with a tremendous amount of effort and learning.”

The board does not have a clear ends policy for diversity. It’s more important to Wolfrum that the staff set metrics for diversity goals rather than the board. The most recent report looks good from a diversity standpoint with a management team of 10 with 3 or 4 people of color though the co-op will continue to build diversity within the team. “We want to make sure we can move people up. We’re not quite there yet. We haven’t quite reached our goals yet.”

After setting the priority to be more inclusive, co-ops starting this process need to work on “building an architecture of relationships between staff, management, HR, and a language that enables the conversation to go beyond what the assumptions are, to meanings, and conflicts, to know what equity really means, and that everybody have a similar shot, and to know what the tools are that we need to make sure everyone can succeed and are not limited by individual characteristics in that process.”

Wolfrum makes it clear that building diversity into staff isn’t just about creating equity; it’s smart business sense for co-ops. If co-op shoppers and staff continue to be “a mass of white faces,” we put ourselves in a dangerous position of shutting out vast numbers of potential shoppers and employees. “It’s a great liability not to. I want to make sure we’re in a position to be a role model for other stores. We need to get this piece right.”


People’s Food Co-op

Chris Dilley, GM

Through local community partner ERACCE, the co-op committed to CrossRoads Antiracism Organizing & Training, a program that addresses structural and institutional oppression. The two and a half day training is an introduction into the analysis of dismantling structural racism. 100% board and 60% staff have attended the quarterly training.

The training introduces a framing of racism away from personal attitudes towards how it’s been baked into processes, policies and procedures in many institutions. “It gives history and perspective and elevates the idea that change is possible if we tackle systems instead of blaming people. It’s really helpful from a cultural standpoint.”

Dilley sent enough staff to training for “ a critical mass”, so next step was to form an Anti Racism Transformation team “to hold space in the organization.” The team trained last June and has created a strategic plan that looked at hiring practices that’s part of the larger strategic plan of the co-op.

PFC kalamazoo logoThe team overhauled the job application and interview questions within the framework of how different identities might be experiencing the hiring process. One goal is to have people in the room of different identities when hiring, being conscious that there’s someone in the group who reflects the person being interviewed.

Every person interviewed is asked about their views on diversity, and there are two tiers of accountability, entry/buyer level and coordinator/supervisor level. All are asked “what does diversity mean to you, and why do you think it’s important?” and “in what way is diversity important in the workplace?” “There’s no right or wrong answer, it’s about how they talk about it.”

At the coordinator/supervisor level, there are six questions that delve deeper, e.g., “Explain the most diverse workplace you’ve worked in. What worked, what didn’t work.” Dilley says, “We’re willing to see how people react to the discomfort of talking about those things.”

The team works internally to develop individual senses of racial and cultural identity and how privilege might be at play. “As a straight, white, able bodied male GM, I have to keep developing awareness of what I have to do to. Part of having the team is having claimed an anti-racism identity, expecting to be held accountable in our community, and with that shift, comes a higher expectation to do what we say we we’re doing.”

The co-op is in the process of formalizing opportunities of how to bring new people onto the team. It cost $35,000 to train the team, and they’ve been through a lot. “There are two people of color on a team of ten, and we don’t realize how much as white people we tend to abdicate to people of color, and they’re tired.” It’s a question of how to expedite that process for additional people without outlaying the additional costs of training.
One clause of the co-op’s ends is “create access for all” and this is interpreted as the call to recognize traditionally marginalized communities. Metrics for success are integrated into monitoring reports in staff treatment and owner treatment monitoring: employment and wage information disaggregated by identity and number of owners, though they are not asked to self-identify and the co-op is experimenting with how to measure this better.

About the Author

Rebecca Torpie

Marketing & Communications


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