How At Home, Bandier, and Build-A-Bear Workshop Are Recruiting Diverse Talent
Studies have proven that more diverse teams and organizations perform better. Yet progress with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives remains stubbornly slow for far too many organizations. During a panel session at Total Retail Tech last month, three leaders from At Home, Build-A-Bear Workshop, and Bandier discussed how their companies have been working to ingrain belonging and inclusivity into future talent investment and growth.
The panel, moderated by Monica Williams, chief consulting officer of The Equity Project, included Richard Armour, chief digital officer of At Home; Roz Johnson, senior vice president and chief people officer at Build-A-Bear Workshop; and Danielle LaFleur, president of Bandier.
What DEI Means to Them
"It really comes down to, 'What is the environment that we're creating for our team members that allows them to do their best work, to feel comfortable in that environment ... and to feel like [their] voice is being heard?'" Armour said. "At the end of the day, if your team is turning over constantly because you haven't created this environment, that's going to cost a lot of energy and resources over time that you're going to try to make up for."
LaFleur noted that once you've created the comfortable atmosphere spoken about by Armour, it's time to take it a step further.
"Once you have comfort and you have trust that people can use their voice — especially if you're talking about an underrepresented population; sometimes that takes a little bit longer — once you get to that comfort zone, it's about creating healthy debate," she said. "I call it 'verbal sparring.' So truly making sure that as you're in these conversations, they're conversations and not just presentations."
Johnson said she intentionally doesn't use the word "diversity."
"I think that as soon as you put it out there, for some people it shuts it down and it makes it a very small conversation, usually about black/white or something 'other,'" said Johnson. "What I think about is inclusivity, belonging and equity. You often hear the phrase 'having a seat at the table'; it's not just about having a seat — it's about having a voice. It's about having agency."
Best Practices for Recruiting Diverse Talent
It got a lot easier after COVID-19 and people started returning to the office to recruit diverse talent, Armour said.
"As we started getting people back in the office ... that has made it easier to foster an environment where people feel comfortable," he said, adding that organizations need to ask how they can create a space where employees feel comfortable bringing up ideas regardless of their background.
Johnson said employees' relationship to work has changed, and that's something organizations need to keep in mind. People are looking for flexibility and some empowerment over their work, but they're also looking for things they haven't shared with the organization yet. The organization needs to figure out what questions to ask to ensure it hears and acknowledges its potential talent's needs.
For example, Johnson shared that at Build-A-Bear the company is asking itself how it can get to an unbiased way of hiring.
"When someone says to one of my HR people, 'Well, they just weren't a right fit,' what does that mean? Help me understand what that means," Johnson said, adding those become the uncomfortable conversations leaders should be leaning into.
LaFleur made the point that the diversity of the internal workforce should reflect the diversity of the customer. Organizations should keep that in mind when hiring.
"My first day walking in [to Bandier], I was pleasantly surprised by the visual diversity that I saw in the room. As I really started to dig in on who our customer was — and what generation our customer is in — I realized that who was in the room didn't add up to that," recalled LaFleur. "So as we went to fill each job, it became a journey of saying, 'How are we thinking about all these different aspects of diversity?"
You can watch more coverage of this year's Total Retail Tech conference here.
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