Assembling the ingredients for an inclusive workplace

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Photograph courtesy of Kent State University

For operations across the country, ensuring a work environment that welcomes employees of all kinds requires a purposeful, thoughtful plan that goes beyond lip servicedemonstrating an ongoing commitment to celebrating staffers’ differences and making sure that all groups feel equally valued.

And in many cases, those efforts start at the very beginning: with hiring.

Colorado State University in Fort Collins has created a rigorous hiring process that guarantees a wide range of candidates are sought and treated equitably, and when filling administrative professional positions, an equal-opportunity coordinator is present throughout. These procedures are designed “to identify and hire individuals who contribute to the fulfillment of institutional goals, including that of enhancing diversity and inclusion,” Director of Dining Services Liz Poore says.

Philadelphia-based Aramark also ensures that diversity is represented during its hiring process. “This includes how you’re attracting diverse candidates through promoting your positions, how those candidates get selected for interviews and how those who get interviewed are hired,” says Jameel Rush, vice president of diversity and inclusion.

Welcoming to all

At Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J, employees can join seven Business Resource Groups (BRGs), which include Service and Advocacy for Latinos United for Development and the Black Professional Network.

The BRGs were created to support inclusion of all participants, and Director of Diversity and Inclusion Vanessa Nazario ensures there are ongoing events for each group, including virtual meetings during the COVID-19 crisis. “All events are open to the entire hospital,” Nazario says, and “that is how you build inclusion: inviting everyone to participate.”


Wall displays at Colorado State University highlight the university’s Principles of Community; photograph courtesy of CSU.

Likewise, Aramark is intentional about celebrating diverse communities and helps employees feel included and heard through its Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). It has 10 ERGs, such as Aramark Rising Sun (for indigenous people) and Aramark Salute (for veterans), with thousands of employees involved.

The company also hosts company-wide celebrations throughout the year for events such as Pride Month, Women’s History Month and Black History Month, which “align with the purpose of the month and educate our workforce on how to better understand our different employee populations,” Rush says.

Training for diversity

Colorado State’s Residential Dining Services (RDS) has developed a professional development program for student employees that includes discussing specific ways to be inclusive and helping everyone feel welcome and valued. The program is optional for entry-level student positions but a must for student supervisors and student managers.

“We explain the concept of social justice and how it manifests itself in the dining centers—how staff can speak up and educate one another about the experiences various identities encounter,” Poore says.


Residential Dining Services staff at Colorado State University participate in an Inclusive Kitchen session; photograph courtesy of CSU.

To take it one step further, RDS walks employees through different roleplay scenarios, such as how to respond to a coworker who says something hurtful or non-inclusive. It has also developed a training course for full-time staff called the Inclusive Kitchens Workshop. “We discuss the importance of demonstrating our values even when it’s difficult to do so, such as during stressful situations,” Poore says.

Colleges need to be diverse on many levels, says Gary Goldberg, assistant vice president of student services at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, because their student bodies contain young people of every stripe. “We want people to know this is an open-minded, inclusive environment to work and study in,” he says.

“Sometimes, employees don’t understand that if you’re not intentional about creating an inclusive environment, you’re probably unintentionally creating an exclusive one.” –Jameel Rush

Kent State recently held a retreat for foodservice workers, during which it devoted time to diversity training. One exercise had all participants write down whether they had two living parents at the age of 18; another asked how they, or their children, paid for college.

“Doing this shows that everyone is not equal,” says Goldberg, who shared some responses anonymously to “show life is different for everyone.” At the same event, he gave his staff an opportunity to talk about themselves “so people would understand where we came from and what drove us.” He plans to do more of this going forward.

Making it ongoing

Aramark has guidelines for the fair treatment of all employees, “but inclusion is deeper than that,” Rush says. “We train managers on what it means to be inclusive and to drive inclusion within their teams. We also train them on how to be better allies and how to understand the things they can do to support diverse communities.”

The contractor recently created the Aramark Ally Network for employees who have committed to combating racism and injustice. Through this, they can connect, attend programs, and receive training and resources.

“It’s not one training and you’re done. It’s a continuation of the conversation and learning on our own. It takes years, and we’re not there yet.” –Liz Poore

Diversity and inclusion aren’t onetime things. “Sometimes, employees don’t understand that if you’re not intentional about creating an inclusive environment, you’re probably unintentionally creating an exclusive one,” Rush says.

“It’s not one training and you’re done,” Poore agrees. “It’s a continuation of the conversation and learning on our own. It takes years, and we’re not there yet.”

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