Business leaders say employers need Welcoming Workplaces to thrive

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

As the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, getting sidelined workers back into the workforce is a priority.

But, as the U.S. population becomes more diverse, some say increasing diversity in the workplace is a matter of survival.

"If companies don't realize that the bottom line is going to be affected if you can't hire people that look like you, think like you, act like you, come from where you come from, you're going to be out of business," said Mike Jefferson, Crispus Attucks' director of employment and training.

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In York County, the Welcoming Workplaces initiative is designed to help employers prioritize inclusion in their workforce to make both the community and businesses stronger.

The Welcoming Workplaces initiative is a collaboration between the Confronting Racism Coalition and the York County Economic Alliance.

Welcoming Workplaces includes best practices for businesses as well as a resource library with guides and tips on how to help increase diversity in workplaces.

Since its start in 1931, the nonprofit Crispus Attucks Center in York City has been devoted to meeting the social and educational needs of minorities.

"We're looked at as being pretty much African American focused, and that's how we started, but people need to know that we're truly DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion). We practice what we preach," Jefferson said.

Increasing diversity and inclusion cannot be an afterthought, Jefferson said. It has to come from the top down and include management and supervisory positions. 

That's what was appealing about Welcoming Workplaces.

"It was top dog people, and hopefully they get it and then direct it downward," Jefferson said of the initiative.

A photo of the staff of Crispus Attucks York, a local non-profit which is part of the YCEA's "Welcoming Workplaces" initiative.

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Workplaces, especially larger ones, can help set the tone for diversity and inclusion, Confronting Racism Coalition co-chair Nicole Shaffer said in an interview.

"So it's always our mission to get more workplaces to stand up and say that this is a best practice and extend an invitation to other workplaces and join them," she said.

Becoming a more equitable workplace has benefits for both employees and employers.

"According to the recent census, York County’s population is growing rapidly and becoming increasingly diverse," YCEA Chairman William Yanavitch said. "By creating workplace environments that increase opportunities for all people, including woman and people of color, we create workplaces that are more reflective of our community."

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YCEA President and CEO Kevin Schreiber said there's not only a social argument for increased diversity in workplaces but an economic one. More diverse workplaces have more creativity and innovation.

"We know that in order to continue to compete as a county globally for talent and for businesses, we need to be welcoming as well," Schreiber said. "It's true for businesses; it's true for employers, whether it be nonprofit, education, government, business; and it's true for communities." 

What can businesses do? According to Yanavitch, one way to help increase diversity in the workplace include providing internships and scholarships that encourage women and people of color to explore employment opportunities. 

Another step is to "ban the box," removing the "prior criminal history" from employment applications to assist those who have gone through the criminal justice system to reenter the workforce.

BusinessInsider also recommends that small businesses commit to increasing diversity and inclusion early on, before hiring the same people becomes a habit.

For WellSpan Health, a diverse workplace is better able to care for an increasingly diverse community. 

"We think it's important to our mission, to our culture, that every person here feels respected, included and valued," WellSpan CEO Roxanna Gapstur said. Gapstur was co-lead on the Welcoming Workplaces initiative with Yanavitch.

Shaffer said in conversations with business leaders in York County, they've expressed interest in doing better and are looking for information on how to do better. Welcoming Workplaces will help employers share best practices and resources for prioritizing diversity in workplaces.

"We lean into those difficult conversations; we believe in talking about things and building stronger relationships, and that's only going to happen if we invest in each other." 

— Matt Enright can be reached via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.