Aug. 11 2021 10:26 AM

Show an intention to build a diverse workplace with a meaningful mission statement.

A company’s mission statement defines the very purpose of the existence of a business, the values for which it stands, what it intends to accomplish and the benefits it seeks to provide to its various stakeholders, says Richard Weinberger, CEO of the Association of Accredited Small Business Consultants, Austin, Texas.

“To a certain extent, a mission statement personifies the business,” says Weinberger. “Sometimes a mission statement is confused with a vision statement that describes where the business wants to be in the future. Occasionally, these statements are combined.”

“If an organization wants to be relevant to new customers and attract its future leaders and workforce, whether you are refining your current mission statement or crafting one from scratch, it is imperative to incorporate language that sets the tone on where your company stands and where it wants to go with diversity, equity and inclusion policies,” notes Patricia Gaitan, a certified diversity and inclusion consultant based in the Washington, D.C.- Baltimore area.

For companies in the irrigation and green industry, a mission statement that reflects diversity and inclusiveness can reap positive benefits, points out Richard Lehr of Lehr Middlebrooks Vreeland & Thompson, Birmingham, Alabama.

Lehr works on diversity issues with several companies and industries to help them develop policies and conduct diversity training. He also serves on the National Association of Landscape Professionals’ Diversity and Inclusion Council.

Properly implemented, diversity and inclusion are defined broadly beyond just protected class status such as race, gender, national origin and sexual orientation, notes Lehr. It covers life experiences and backgrounds such as economic, educational, geographical, political, family, historical and philosophical.

“There are two essential employer outcomes through such a diversity and inclusion culture. Note I don’t say policy, but culture — a way of doing business,” says Lehr.

“First, if there is workforce engagement, then diversity as I describe it leads to varying perspectives on issues, concerns and strategies at work,” he adds. “That has great value not only to recruitment and retention, but also to the direction of the business. This, in turn, translates to customer service.”

“The term ‘diversity’ in diversity, equity and inclusion means a lot of things to a lot of people, especially to native and non-native English speakers in the irrigation and green industry,” Gaitan points out. “‘Diversity’ to those who might resist it altogether should be positioned as more than just an issue about race and gender. The true impact of an effective DE&I program through education is growing or enhancing one’s emotional intelligence, cultural sensitivities and empathy to welcome diversity of thought, experiences and perspectives.”

Build buy-in

Successful DE&I policies ensure that all employees, regardless of what positions they hold, feel heard, accepted and through professional development and mentoring have a shot at moving to leadership positions if they show the potential, Gaitan says.

That requires buy-in from upper management because if an organization does not have the resources to hire consultants or staff to implement DE&I policies and programs, “moving your organization in a progressive and inclusive direction is futile,” she adds.

A policy or mission statement can be crafted in such a way that reflects current company objectives while showing potential employees the company is moving in a progressive and inclusive direction.

“What should be avoided is language that appears to favor one protected group over others,” Lehr points out. “That’s a risk of illegal discrimination as the focus is equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.”

The hiring process should include a notice to applicants with the company’s expanded EEO policy, says Lehr, adding the company’s broad inclusion and nondiscrimination statement welcomes applicants and indicates the company makes employment decisions regardless of economic, educational, geographical, political, family, historical and philosophical factors that augment protected class status factors such as race, gender, national origin and sexual orientation.

In writing an inclusive mission statement, use specific wording to describe the area of DE&I work on which the company is focusing or implementing, says Gaitan.

With the word “diversity” having different meaning to different people, examples may include gender pay equity studies; unbiased training for talent acquisition personnel; race relations, intersectionality and allyship; inclusive succession planning; multiethnic interview panels; people with apparent and nonapparent disabilities job fair; and veterans, military and their families community engagement.

A mission statement does not have to be lengthy and complex. What is most important is getting the point across to the intended targets, Weinberger says.

“Can employees and customers remember it? Do they understand it? Is the company achieving its mission?” he adds.

A mission statement can help a small business achieve its goals when expectations are established and met, Weinberger says.

A DE&I mission statement should not be a political message to clients or the workforce, Lehr points out.

“Rather, it’s cultural,” he says. “It says ‘Here is who we are as a company and our uniqueness and culture translates to exceptional customer service.’” Assessments, research, analytics and infrastructure of a DE&I program, its policies and strategic planning are critical before getting into any mission statement language, notes Gaitan.

“It may take years for a company to feel it is ready to incorporate DE&I language into its mission statement or organization’s website, but that should not keep you from letting your employees and recruits know that DE&I is important to the future of the company’s culture and that you have a plan,” she adds.

A growth opportunity

In putting a new mission statement effectively into action, Lehr suggests starting with training leadership team members in awareness of “not just mentoring those who are ‘like’ leadership team members, but the training should also discuss implicit/unconscious bias, including how to define, identify and self-regulate it.”

“This cannot be a blame discussion, but rather a growth opportunity. Then roll this out to the workforce,” Lehr says.

To achieve its goals, the mission statement must transcend mere distribution among company employees and become ingrained in the company’s culture, Weinberger notes.

“Mission statements have to be ‘lived’ by everyone in the company — small business or large enterprise,” he adds. “All employees, top down and bottom up, should practically have the mission statement memorized so anyone can recite it or paraphrase it without having to give much thought to what it contains.”

Each employee should know how their individual jobs contribute to achieving the company’s mission, Weinberger says.

“Owners and managers must exhibit their commitment by continuously demonstrating that they, along with all employees, use the mission statement as a guide that helps achieve goals and objectives,” he adds.

In creating a meaningful mission statement that will encourage current employees, Lehr suggests periodically recognizing, celebrating and reflecting “on the remarkable variety of who we are, such as through foods, sports, and national and state holidays.”

“For example, I suspect most employers in the industry will not take Juneteenth as a holiday,” Lehr says. “However, on that day, discuss with the workforce its significance and connect that to the environment in which we all can work and live today.”

It is always important to offer employees an opportunity to grow, voice their opinions and raise their concerns, notes Gaitan.

“That is what inclusivity and belonging is all about,” she adds. “Conduct surveys and listening sessions, and consider doing them in your employees’ native language as well, on a variety of topics under the DE&I umbrella, and allow for them to remain anonymous if they choose. Also, consider tuition reimbursement programs, group discounts or incentives on language courses and GED certifications.”

Once a DE&I program bears fruit, highlighting employees’ success stories using testimonials and posting special recognitions through signs inside break rooms, insertion notes in paycheck envelopes, e-newsletters or text group messages on a platform such as WhatsApp pays off with positive employee attitudes, productivity, loyalty and word-of-mouth to support the recruitment and employee referral pipeline, Gaitan points out.

In promoting the policy in a way that benefits from such efforts, Lehr suggests including the statement on the company’s website, on job proposals and when taking bids from subcontractors.

A company’s mission statement should be prominently displayed for employees and customers alike, says Weinberger.

“The display keeps employees on track thinking every day about the vital role they play in achieving the company’s ultimate mission,” he adds. “Displaying a mission statement in a reception area or owner’s office is not nearly as effective as displaying it in areas where employees normally gather — work areas, break rooms, conference rooms, among other areas. If employees are expected to live by the mission statement, then displaying the statement is a constant reminder of their mission.”

When customers, some of the most important stakeholders, see a mission statement prominently displayed, it lets them know what the business is trying to achieve, Weinberger points out.

If a commitment exists and DE&I plans and programs are in place and working, integrating a DE&I narrative across all internal and external communication channels from management to branding, recruitment and onboarding materials will be key, notes Gaitan.

Incorporating language on your commitment to DE&I initiatives and best practices within your organization is as important as any other value or guideline, says Gaitan. Stating the standards you follow on your marketing materials or equipment can help you stand out among your competitors.

“Showcasing your organizations’ DE&I efforts through traditional PR, social media and recruitment engagement is ideal too, but you first have to make the list,” she adds. “Submitting your company’s profile, DE&I policies and programs with stats on its success to annual indexes and surveys such as Bloomberg’s Gender-Equality Index, the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equity Index and DiversityInc’s The 2021 Top 50 Companies for Diversity provides a great opportunity to formally announce your accomplishments to broad audiences and serves as a great recruitment tool.”

Carol Brzozowski is a freelance writer with a specialty in environmental journalism based in Coral Springs, Florida. She can be reached at brzozowski.carol@gmail.com.