NGA Foundation Webinar Series Focuses on Workforce Diversity and Inclusion

December 8, 2021

By Eric Payne, NGA Manager of Communications

NGA offers many webinars throughout the year that keep the independent grocery industry informed about the latest news on Capitol Hill, current industry trends, and updates on the COVID-19 pandemic. This is valuable content NGA members can use each day to improve customer service, safety protocols, and a variety of other areas of importance. NGA webinars cover a wide range of topics tailored to the specific needs of our membership. One topic of importance is workforce diversity and inclusion. The NGA Foundation – a 501© nonprofit arm of NGA supporting the future of the independent supermarket industry – aims to provide grocers with resources and education to support employee recruitment and retention and recognizes that a more diverse and inclusive workforce is key to the future success of the industry. 

But what does diversity and inclusion mean in the workforce? How is it measured? And, more importantly, what can grocers do to achieve it? First, it’s important to understand why diversity and inclusion are important in the workplace. When it comes down to it, diversity and inclusion are not only desirable, but also good for business. “Companies are stronger when their leadership reflects the communities they serve.” This was the finding of a seminar hosted by the NGA Foundation last year in partnership with the Washington Food Industry Association. The event was led by Cassandra Walker Pye, founder of 3.14 Communications. She informed participants about not only the importance of diversity, but the role of unconscious bias in the workplace. Attendees completed this seminar with the tools to introduce their teams to diversity, foster fairness, and create a company identity that reflects a diverse world. Building upon last year’s seminar, the NGA Foundation launched a webinar series to delve deeper into the vital role of inclusion and diversity.  

One of the webinars in this series focused on how refugee talent can be an asset for independent grocers. At the time of this webinar, a humanitarian crisis was occurring in Afghanistan and the U.S. planned to welcome thousands of Afghan refugees including interpreters that worked alongside the U.S. military. This issue was on the top of everyone’s mind at the time. With so many refuges entering the country, how could independent grocers help them integrate into communities and secure work? And how do you source that kind of talent to ensure they are filling the right positions?  

NGAF partnered  with two organizations that are experts in answering these types of questions: Tent and HIAS. The Tent Partnership for Refugees is a nonprofit launched in 2016 to mobilize and encourage businesses to include refugees. They network with over 200 major companies and are uniquely positioned to provide guidance to businesses about refugee inclusion in the workforce. HIAS is a nonprofit that provides humanitarian aid and assistance to refugees. They know the challenges refugees face when they enter a new country and what is needed to acclimate them into the workforce. 

Here are some key takeaways from the discussion from a blog earlier in the year by NGA Director of Communications and External Affairs Jim Dudlicek: 

Refugee FAQ. A refugee is an individual who has been forced to flee their country because of a well-founded fear of persecution or violence. The global refugee population has increased rapidly over the last few years, with the highest refugee population since World War II. The United States has been a global leader in refugee resettlement under both Democratic and Republican administrations. The U.S. is currently hosting 340,000 refugees. 

Assets, not victims. Businesses have the greatest impact when they see refugees as economically productive entrepreneurs, customers, and workers. Integrate refugees into your workforce through hiring and training. Support refugees through employee-led mentorship initiatives. Engage global suppliers and vendors to include refugees. Support and enable refugee entrepreneurs and small businesses. Tailor commercial products to better reach refugee populations. 

By helping refugees, businesses can strengthen their brand and reputation. Net consumer attitudes favor brands that support refugees. At least 80% of millennials are more loyal to a company that helps them support social and environmental issues. Companies that support refugees score a quartile higher on employee ratings of company culture and values. Perhaps most importantly, businesses can change the course of a refugee’s life. Plus, refugee turnover in the manufacturing sector is 4% compared to an industry average of 11%. “When they see a company giving them a chance for a new life, they’re very loyal,” Dansie said. “Chobani wouldn’t be what it is today without refugees.” 

Find commonalities, focus less on differences. Refugees are “eager and willing to contribute,” Dansie said, advising prospective employers to have respect for different cultures and what refugees went through to ensure their freedom. Language barriers can be overcome by partnering with local community colleges on ESL programs, and refugees showing potential can be promoted as they learn and acclimate. 

Click here to watch a recording of this webinar.  

Another webinar in this series focused on hiring employees with disabilities, specifically what resources are available for grocers looking to hire them. Speakers included strategists and trainers from Understood, an organization that works to  help those who learn and think differently discover their potential. We were also joined by the National Down Syndrome Society which offered personal insights about advocacy efforts, promotion of entrepreneurs in the community, and how independents can break down barriers to enhance their stores and build a culture of inclusion.  

Here are some key takeaways from another NGA recap blog:  

More than meets the eye. One in four U.S. adults has a disability, which includes vision, hearing and mobility impairments; developmental disabilities; mental illness; chronic health conditions; and “invisible” disabilities, or ones that cannot easily be seen (experienced by 10% of the population). 

People with disabilities are the largest untapped labor source, and their unemployment rate is high relative to the broader population. They’ve also suffered disproportionately from COVID-related job losses. 

Staying power. If properly supported, people with disabilities can become some of a grocer’s most valuable employees. Workers with disabilities have been shown to have better retention and safety records, be more reliable and productive, and perform as well or better than their peers. 

Grocers can express a formal commitment to inclusive hiring by adopting an effective accommodations policy for recruiting, screening, and interviewing. Review your job application and screening processes. Establish mandatory training on inclusive hiring. Let applicants know the company is committed to inclusion. Invite employees with disabilities to offer feedback. 

Don’t do it as a charity – recognize the value to your business, your workforce, and your customers. What retailer wouldn’t want reduced turnover and recruiting costs, improved business results, increased safety and productivity, tax credits and incentives, and new customer opportunities? 

Click here to watch a recording of this webinar.  

Employers can find qualified candidates by connecting with community partners: nonprofits, government agencies, educational institutions, transition programs, local public-school systems, and vocational rehabilitation partners. 

Today, we will conclude this webinar series with a joint effort between Rosie and the NGA Foundation on the topic of hiring young talent in the grocery industry. It’s no secret that independent retailers have a lot to offer young workers who are seeking a meaningful, challenging and rewarding career. But when it comes to selling this younger talent pool on a career in grocery, independent retailers are battling both the competitive offerings from big stores and incorrect perceptions young people may have about what grocery jobs look like. In this webinar, Rosie founder and CEO Nick Nickitas and a panel of young grocery talents share how independents can appeal to Gen Z and Millennial employees, build out a leadership pipeline and set themselves apart from the competition. Click here to register. 

To learn more about the NGA Foundation, visit ngafoundation.org or contact Maggie White mwhite@nationalgrocers.org.