In 2020, the United States collectively shifted its gaze to retail and service workers — essential workers. Many of these employees held the country together by braving crowds and facing potential COVID-19 infection in an effort to continue delivering customers important products and services, even while most other arms of businesses shut down.
But often, hourly wage employees don’t enjoy the same benefits as those who are salaried and work full-time. Including hourly wage workers in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs is key to establishing a work environment that protects those on the company’s frontline and ensures they feel as valued and included as any other corporate employee.
In 2019, Accenture (No. 5 on The 2020 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity) released its retail inclusion report, which outlined what retail shoppers look for in businesses they patronize. According to the survey, 29% of all shoppers, 42% of ethnic minority shoppers and 41% of LGBT shoppers would switch to a retailer they knew was committed to inclusion and diversity.
Relating to Communities
Accenture emphasizes the importance of who sells retail products as an important touchpoint in cultivating a diverse and inclusive company that appeals to shoppers’ needs. Having diverse and inclusive hiring practices on the frontlines is important, especially when it comes to businesses identifying with the communities they serve. For example, the Accenture report highlights Starbucks opening its first “signing store” in Washington, D.C. near Gallaudet University, which serves the deaf community. The company hired deaf and hard of hearing associates across the country with the requirement that they must know American Sign Language. In certain West Coast areas, the electronics retailer Best Buy focused on hiring and employing bilingual Hispanic and Latino sales associates in order to better serve Hispanic and Latinx communities. The result? Increased revenue and sales.
Part of the Team: Engaging Hourly Employees in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
DEI is most commonly equated with corporate teams, but the importance of a diverse and inclusive environment applies to retail and hourly wage employees as well. Though hourly workers’ schedules aren’t steady, they can still feel like part of the team with enough communication and respect from higher-ups. Experts say company leaders should always extend communications to hourly workers, covering updates on the company’s progress and explaining how hourly employees’ work is essential and contributes to the bottom line.
It is also possible to include hourly workers in employee resource groups (ERGs). The key again is communication. Ensure managers in stores are supportive of their teams joining ERGs. Involving executive leaders as sponsors can help make sure managers will support hourly employees joining. Plan for certain groups to meet at universally free times like lunch hours, or vary the meeting times often so hourly workers can still participate, regardless of the associate’s hours.
Reach out to hourly workers about ERGs and other DEI efforts by being strategic about your communications. Make sure your DEI initiatives are clearly spelled out in workers’ employment benefits. Consider setting up communal computer stations where employees can have access to company messages. Place signage around the workplace or show videos about ERGs and other initiatives during break times.
Training Managers to Handle Complaints and Enforce Inclusive Behaviors
For the most effective team building possible, make sure in-store managers are properly equipped to carry out your organization’s DEI mission on the frontlines. Train your managers on how to effectively deal with reports of discriminatory behavior and encourage the same inclusive and empowering work environment you foster in corporate offices.
The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) maintains that managers should fully understand their responsibilities, especially when it comes to discrimination, as well as providing reasonable accommodations for medical conditions or religious beliefs.
When managers are armed with the proper procedural knowledge of how to handle instances of harassment or discrimination, they can better ensure the work environment is inclusive to all.
Hourly wage employees are often the face of the company and the person customers see and interact with first. Ensuring they feel valued for their work and respected for their diversity can help to significantly build and improve your company’s culture from the foundation up.