The question facing forward-thinking retail executives today is not, “Should corporate diversity be encouraged?” it’s, “How should corporate diversity be encouraged?” “Corporate America is more invested in diversity than ever,” said David Casey, co-chair of the diversity practice of Littler Mendelson, the nation’s largest employment and labor law firm. “Quite simply, leading executives today understand diversity as a corporate strategy to penetrate new markets.”
The appeal of a diverse workforce is obvious in a changing America. The growth of the Hispanic market in the United States has led to several new retail concepts among grocery chains, including Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Supermarkets’ Sabor prototype. Atlanta-based The Home Depot earlier this year partnered with several Hispanic organizations to improve the chain’s recruitment of Spanish-speaking employees to better serve customers.
Strategic diversity extends well beyond the retail sector. A 2004 Harvard Business Review article detailed how IBM made diversity a corporate strategy backed by commitment from all levels of the company and designed to generate real growth.
These examples just scratch the surface of corporate diversity initiatives. And according to Casey, diversity in the boardroom brings strategic advantages every bit as real as diversity on the sales floor. “Companies need to think in new ways to reach new markets,” he said. “More diversity brings more ideas.”
Promoting diversity within an organization, however, is easier said than done. And some of the major challenges are legal. For instance, there are laws against hiring or promoting employees on the basis of race. Additionally, the internal research that is crucial to measuring the level of diversity — and attitudes toward diversity — that exists within an organization is clearly protected by attorney-client privilege when conducted by a law firm. This is not necessarily the case when an outside consultant performs the review. If the purpose of internal research is to gain a truthful assessment of conditions inside a company, then the attorney-client privilege could serve as a crucial tool. But more than that, there’s a need for legal protection.
“If the consultant is not an attorney, research can serve as a blueprint to be used against the organization in a lawsuit,” Casey said.
Littler Mendelson’s diversity practice provides an integrated suite of services designed for Fortune 500 companies. Included in the program is a diversity and discrimination training program, engineered by experts in discrimination law.
Littler Mendelson practices what it preaches in terms of corporate diversity. In the recent “The Vault Guide to the Top 100 Law Firms,” the firm was ranked No. 3 in “Best in Diversity” category.
The Littler Mendelson diversity practice grew out of the firm’s expertise in preventing and defending class action lawsuits dealing with corporate hiring, promotion and pay practices. But the overriding goal of the program is to promote a proactive diversity strategy that allows corporations to benefit from a diverse pool of decision makers.
“Partnering with a legal firm to pursue a diversity strategy is a step toward thinking proactively,” said Casey. “It also brings in statisticians who know how to perform the analysis, and of course, legal experts who know the law.”