BNA, Inc. - Effectively Managing A Diverse Workforce

Thursday, January 1, 2004 - 01:00

Demedre R. Heulett
BNA, Inc.

With the country's changing workforce demographics, the concept of managing diversity has become a pivotal issue for organizations. The United States Census Bureau forecasts that the Asian and Pacific-Islander population will be the fastest growing ethnic group between 1999 and 2050, increasing from 10.9 million to 37.6 million during that period.1 The Census Bureau further predicts that the Hispanic population will be the second fastest growing ethnic group and will triple in number to become the largest minority group between 1999 and 2050, increasing from 32.8 million to 96.5 million during that period.2 Spare Parts Inc., a marketing firm in New York that specializes in targeting gays and lesbians, estimates that the gay population in the United States is between 15 and 23 million. In a recent article published by DiversityInc, a publisher of print and electronic news that focuses on the business benefits of diversity, the number of Americans of working age with disabilities is estimated to be 32 million.3 By 2050, the combined minority population will surpass the non-minority population in numbers.4 What do these numbers mean for your organization? What initiatives should your organization undertake to be more proactive as opposed to reactive? How can these initiatives impact your organization's bottom line?

Because the workforce is becoming increasingly diverse, it is absolutely imperative that organizations foster a workplace environment that not only accepts but values differences. BNA, Inc., a publisher of print and electronic news, analysis, and reference products, is a socially conscious and progressive organization that enthusiastically embraces the concept of diversity. Our commitment to diversity is evidenced by the support of senior management, proactive hiring and retention strategies, organized affinity groups, career advancement programs, many different types of training, community involvement, and union support of the diversity program.

Defining Diversity

The first task of effectively managing a diverse environment is to construct a definition that is all-inclusive so that every employee has a vested interest in the concept. At BNA, the definition of diversity goes beyond issues of race and sex to encompass other demographic variables that distinguish employees from one another, such as language, work experience, educational background, operational role and level, communication style, working style, family status, marital status, income, geographic location, and military experience.

Benefits Of A Diverse Workforce

If properly managed, a diverse workforce can be a valuable asset to your organization and can have a direct impact on recruitment, retention, productivity, and employee morale, which unequivocally affects your organization's bottom line.

Organizations with a demonstrated commitment to diversity that take affirmative steps to recruit a diverse workforce benefit from a larger pool of talented and qualified applicants from which to choose. A recent survey conducted by the Beta Research Corp. has found that 97% of minority candidates would rather work in a diverse workforce5 while 65% of minority candidates say that an organization's reputation for supporting diversity is an important factor in their job search.6

BNA has taken proactive measures to ensure that we recruit a diverse workforce. BNA attends and actively recruits from minority job fairs sponsored by the NAACP, the National Association of Black Journalists, Howard University, Bowie State University, Galludet University and Corporate Gray (an organization that assists members of the military transition to civilian life). In addition, BNA advertises our vacancies on minority professional websites and with organizations such as the Asian-American Journalists Association, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and the Native American Journalists Association.

Implementing diversity initiatives to promote retention is a key ingredient to successfully managing a diverse workforce. Turnover is costly and can erode an organization's profitability by increasing recruitment costs, while also costing the company by affecting other non-measurable variables, such as productivity and employee morale. Fostering an environment where employees feel valued and respected has had a profound impact on retention at BNA. In fact, BNA's turnover rate has been well below the national average turnover rate. BNA's turnover rate in 2002 was 11.4%, as compared to a national average turnover rate of 14.4%.

Productivity and employee morale are also affected by the diversity of the workforce. Employees from varied backgrounds bring varying perspectives, ideas, and solutions to their jobs. When employees feel valued and respected, it increases their productivity and boosts their morale.

Workplace Conflict

While there are a numerous benefits to recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce, it does not come without challenges. Cultural and ethnic issues can arise and create workplace conflicts. Such conflicts can also have a negative impact on the organization's bottom line and must be managed decisively as soon as they arise. Non-discrimination policies must be well publicized to all employees with the clear message that the company places a high value on diversity and that discrimination will not be tolerated.

Diversity Initiatives

How should your organization manage workplace diversity? What diversity initiatives should be implemented to manage diversity? BNA's Joint EEO/Diversity Committee is charged with making recommendations for diversity initiatives that will help the company create an environment that embraces the concepts of respect, tolerance, and awareness of differences. As a direct result of the committee's recommendations, BNA has implemented a number of initiatives that are strategically designed to foster an environment of inclusion where employees feel valued and respected.

BNA Scholarships. BNA's commitment to diversity is clearly illustrated through the outreach efforts we've made to the local education community. We have established long-term relationships with local Historically Black Colleges and Universities by offering annual scholarships to students from Howard University (law), Bowie State University (information technology), Morgan State University (marketing), and Coppin State University (journalism). The BNA scholarship program provides early recruitment opportunities for potential employees. When scholarship recipients graduate from college and enter the workforce, they are encouraged to consider BNA as an employer of choice.

Domestic Partner Benefits. BNA also uses elements of our benefits program to promote an inclusive work environment. BNA employees can enroll domestic partners (and the domestic partner's eligible children) for coverage under the BNA group health program, and can use their sick leave to care for an ill partner. BNA also extends COBRA benefits to domestic partners (and the domestic partner's eligible children). Since its inception, both heterosexual and gay and lesbian employees have used domestic partner benefits.

Affinity Groups. BNA has a number of affinity groups throughout the organization, ranging from the Bi/Gay/Lesbian Group to the Poetry Group, that have been initiated and chartered by employees. Affinity groups are designed to provide an opportunity for employees with similar interests and backgrounds to socialize and network with other BNA employees. Most importantly, many of these groups have organized cultural events like food festivals and poetry readings to educate employees about their respective cultures.

Diversity Training. Training is a key component of any successful diversity program. BNA's diversity training entitled "Managing in a Diverse Environment" is designed to educate managers about the company's values and promote a more inclusive workplace in which the full range of ideas and perspectives are valued and respected. The training gives managers the tools they need to problem-solve and avoid conflicts while building a culturally sensitive workplace environment.

Alternative Dispute Resolution Program. In the event diversity training fails to resolve workplace disputes, BNA has an Alternative Dispute Resolution Program that utilizes trained mediators to assist employees in reaching agreements before misunderstandings escalate into open conflict. The program has been successfully utilized to resolve various workplace disputes and has had a significant role in reducing the number of complaints and lawsuits.

Mentoring Program. BNA's innovative mentoring program is a powerful tool that enables the company to maintain our competitive advantage by capitalizing on existing talent and enhancing career opportunities for all employees. The objective of the program is to link a senior, more experienced employee (the mentor) with an aspiring employee (the mentee) for ongoing, informal meetings, to help support the junior employee's career development and professional growth.

Traineeship Program. BNA's traineeship program offers the opportunity for existing/current employees to advance within BNA to levels commensurate with their personal goals and abilities. The traineeship is a key initiative that brings together a trainee and manager with the objective of giving the trainee the fundamental skills and abilities to function satisfactorily in a professional position.

Tuition Reimbursement Program. BNA's tuition reimbursement program provides financial assistance to eligible employees to pursue courses of study that will enable them to do their current jobs better or prepare them for advancement at BNA. In accordance with the program, BNA will pay the full cost of tuition, fees, and books, up to $2,400 per quarter or $9,600 per year.

Supplier Diversity Program. BNA has an active supplier diversity program, the objective of which is outreach to small, disabled, veteran, women and minority-owned businesses. Statistics have shown that minority-owned businesses have nearly doubled in the last two decades. A report released by the Commerce Department's Census Bureau in 1997 (the most current available date) shows that between 1992 and 1997, the number of minority-owned businesses grew at a rate four times that of all U.S. firms, increasing from 2.1 million to about 2.8 million.7 By engaging supplier diversity as a value-added strategy, BNA expands its circle of business relationships and obtains quality products and services while ensuring that our suppliers adequately reflect our customer base.

BNA's supplier diversity program has been an astounding success for the company and the amount of business conducted with small and minority-owned companies continues to increase. In 2003, BNA more than doubled our previous amount of business with minority-owned and small-disadvantaged businesses. BNA has also increased the amount of business with HUBZone businesses by over $58,000 and veteran-owned businesses by over $59,000. Overall, BNA increased the amount of business we do with small and minority-owned businesses by 6% in 2003.

Conclusion

BNA is an organization that not only "talks the talk" but "walks the walk" as it relates to diversity. BNA acknowledges that managing its diverse workforce is paramount to the company's success and has positioned diversity as a key business strategy. Managing diversity is not just an initiative but an ongoing effort of the highest priority. BNA will continue to work diligently to develop creative strategies that will broaden our recruitment efforts and implement new initiatives to create an environment where employee feel valued and respected. This empowers our employees. However, just as importantly, it contributes to the achievement of our strategic goals.1 2000 Census Bureau Population Projections.
2 Id.
3 Angela D. Johnson, "Stop Judging What We Can Do": People With Disabilities Tell Their Stories, DiversityInc., October 28, 2003.
4 U.S. Department of Commerce, Minority Business Development Agency, "The Emerging Marketplace."
5 Beta Research Corp./New York Times Job Market Services, January 2003.
6 Id.
7 Small Business Administration.

Demedre R. Heulett the EEO/Diversity Manager for BNA, Inc., is an attorney who specializes in employment law and is Co-Chair of the EEO/Diversity Committee. Questions about this article can be addressed to her at (202) 496-6948.