Diversifying your workforce

Workforce Summit - Workforce Summit

Bringing diversity to your workforce can be a remedy for the labor crisis, but it’s imperative to understand why it’s a problem and how to begin fixing it.

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February 6, 2020

“How do we account for the barriers to entry faced by minorities in our community?” That’s the question Sarah Anderson, senior manager of tree equity for American Forest, aims to answer for the landscaping companies she consults with.

Diversity can seem like a buzzword, and every owner wants to think they run a diverse company, but Anderson says it’s not always a simple task. And, with labor harder than ever to find, tapping into a more diversified workforce can benefit not only the company but the communities they serve.

Frankly, though, the industry is not very diverse, especially at the executive levels, Anderson says. In order to foster a more diverse environment, Anderson says companies can take several courses of action. During her presentation at the upcoming NALP Workforce Summit, she hopes to provide a pathway for companies to branch out into a more diverse company.

Why it’s an issue.

Anderson says historically marginalized areas generally aren’t exposed to the same ecological environment as areas with a better socioeconomic status. “Trees grow in money,” she says. “Places that were zoned for non-minority areas.” This creates a huge lapse in awareness for potential green industry jobs. American Forests works towards establishing “tree equity” which means getting trees and green spaces into areas and communities that they’re lacking. “We need to bring an equitable canopy to cover these areas,” Anderson says. “We can try to generate wealth for these areas with forestry.”

Put your commitment in writing.

“Company workforces don’t currently reflect the population in the community they serve,” she says. And the first step to remedying that may be acknowledging it. “Put it in writing to make an official commitment to being able to hire the communities that you are trying to reach,” she says. This isn’t just communicated, but also demonstrated in the actions your company takes. “Host shadow days where members of marginalized communities can come observe someone in the field or teach them to pass a certification test,” she says.

“We need to bring an equitable canopy to cover these areas. We can try to generate wealth for these areas with forestry.”

Do an assessment.

Anderson recommends taking a good look at where your company might be struggling and if this is the right time to start focusing on diversity. Sometimes you may not have the capacity to commit to this movement right away, but knowing that will help your company make better decisions down the line.

“I always hear ‘we don’t know where to find women,’” Anderson says. “But they haven’t even assessed what they’re doing organizationally to prevent that.”

It’s okay to realize you don’t have means to move forward with hiring efforts now, but make some sort of resolution that you are going to do this in the future. “If a you’re not at the stages where you can start a full revolution, make a point to commit to a certain number of hours mentoring a population that is underserved. There are ways to take action at every level,” she says. “Meaningful commitments need to be tied to your business plans.” And, your goals need to reflect the communities you’re trying to reach and match what their priorities are.

Start small by asking yourself and your team if there is something more you could be doing to attract marginalized groups.

Take action.

There are small steps your company can make towards a more diversified workforce.

One suggestion might be to employ someone who is neutral in terms of hierarchy. This person can act as a safe and trusted confidant for voicing issues or complaints. There aren’t any repercussions for voicing issues to this person, which builds trusts amongst employees. “This person isn’t seen as a superior,” she says. “This is a great way to build trust in your company. Anybody that feels like an outsider who doesn't feel like they're fitting in on a crew can then talk to that person. And then that way the crew leader isn't the person on the hook to talk to HR.”

And while it seems like a no-brainer, try asking your currently marginalized workers what would make them more comfortable. “Sometimes for women for example, they say ‘it'd be great if we could have some equipment that was designed for our size,’” Anderson says.

She also suggests recognizing the need for more flexible work hours or maybe an in-house translator. “Maybe you need to decide if you can shift your business model to accommodate those with childcare needs or transportation challenges,” she says.

Reach your communities.

“The best way to work with marginalized groups of people is to build relationships with community-based groups that have existing ties to the part of the population that we want to hire from,” she says.

Often, the population won’t know who is working on the city park across the street. “They don't know what the contractors are doing who work in that park across the street from their house. ‘Who are you, what are you are doing, you're making all this noise,’” she says.

When companies don’t try to bridge the gap between their work and underserved communities, they lose potential employees and even lose market share.