The Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque is making an effort to create workplaces that are inclusive and welcoming to an increasingly diverse workforce by establishing an employer network. This network provides opportunities for Dubuque employers to come together to discuss culture change, share their insights, and learn from others.
Through this work, the foundation has found that panels of participants, with personal experience in the topic at hand, are particularly engaging for their employer audience. The willingness of the panelists to share their candid insights promote a deeper appreciation and understanding of the issues.
Choosing to Stay
For one meeting, the employer network built a discussion around recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce, hosting a panel of five minority employees from three local employers who have been with their organizations for over three years. Three years tends to be the point at which employees decide to commit themselves, and their families, to the community and their employer.
The panelists told personal stories of what persuaded them to stay committed to their employers. In one scenario, the employee explained he approached his manager about not having a private place to pray multiple times a day as dictated by his Muslim faith. Within a week, the manager had arranged a dedicated space in a private room. Another panelist talked about relocating from Texas to the Midwest for work. With the first winter snowfall, she was caught off guard by the additional time and driving skills required to get to work. Her manager took the time to meet with her in the parking lot after work to help her hone her winter driving skills.
In each case, a simple gesture made the employee feel welcome and appreciated.
The panelists also stressed that workers must feel welcome, both in their new place of employment and in the community. A clear theme emerged from the discussion: don’t merely implement broad cultural awareness programs or “diversity awareness” days. What employees need is to feel supported, which employers can do by helping them to find grocery stores, restaurants, schools and places of worship that align with their unique needs.
Key takeaways from this panel:
- Take time to understand the unique needs of each worker.
- Strive to show up as a leader who cares wherever possible.
- Celebrate the diversity that each person brings to strengthen your organization.
- Remember that often, the simplest gesture can have the greatest impact.
Building Inclusive Workplaces Starts at the Top
The foundation also hosted a panel about “code-switching,” which is when one purposefully modifies their behavior in a setting that is not representative of their own identity group in order to make others feel more comfortable. The panelists included two members from the employer network — an African-American man who recently retired from his executive position at a large manufacturing firm, and a community college president who immigrated from China over 30 years ago.
The inclusion of network members in the panel added a new dynamic. As peers, their personal stories helped demonstrate that if they, as executives, struggled with this concept daily, their employees were surely facing similar challenges. Both shared how they utilized code-switching as they navigated a new environment. In some cases, it was to dispel myths about their own culture; other times, it was their way of adapting to an “American” cultural norm.
Having these two speakers share their experiences with racial inequity was very powerful, given their professional success and their roles as senior leaders of color. It served as a useful reminder that racial inequity persists across all income groups, but is even more challenging for low-income communities of color who do not have the same resources or support systems as those who are in leadership positions do.
The foundation has found much value in educating employer network members on fundamental diversity, equity and inclusion concepts and tools for implementing change. Leveraging panel discussions has helped humanize these concepts while still highlighting that these are challenges that require changing our systems – and these systemic changes that we strive for need to be modeled, driven and supported by the leaders in the organization.
The Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque currently supports its community foundation peers by serving as a mentor in the Coalition for Inclusive Communities. CIC is generously supported by the Walmart Foundation.