By Jim Giammarinaro
President & CEO of the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce
FRAMINGHAM – There is much to say about inclusion in our workforce. One thing for sure is that the need to be inclusive will continue to expand. The composition of people in our organizations is changing and will continue to change.
As baby boomers leave our workforce they will need to be replaced. They will be replaced with people of different ethnicity from varying cultures. Baby boomers are predominantly white. They are also the largest demographic in our population. If businesses are to grow, they will need replacements for baby boomers in their workforce. The pool of individuals to choose from will continue to look different and represent many different cultures. The time to recognize and prepare for this change is now.
An organization does not want to be unprepared to handle a variety of different cultures which most assuredly will be under their roof. A culturally diverse workplace will not only be practical, but it is the right thing to do. In addition to a culturally diverse workplace, to be inclusive an organization
needs to provide employment opportunities for the segment of our population with the highest unemployment rate, those with disabilities.
Let us begin with the segment of our underrepresented populations related to culture and race. Our organizations will continue to have increasing portions of their workforce represented by African American, Asian, Latino and Brazilian workers.
Some experts calculate that by 2030, 46 percent of our nation’s workforce will be nonwhite. Organizations should start now to change their existing culture and norms. This does not mean assimilation, where it is solely on the individual to adjust themselves to an uncompromising work environment. The process should be one of integration, where an organization can identify what is important to their more diverse workplace and put things in place so everyone is comfortable maintaining their individual identity while still coming together to help make the organization successful. It will be important to remember that more than ever the individuals in an organization who are working together will have different life experiences. They will like different things, have different opinions, and may value different things within their families.
Our schools will play a key role in providing the diverse individual resources that organizations will need to maintain their staff and support growth. Once we are past COVID, the glaring need for businesses will again be qualified staff. There is a gap which exists between the “supply and demand” for qualified employees. Since the population of younger people is far less than baby boomers, it is more important than ever that a higher percentage of youth graduate from high school. Nearly everyone will need to participate in the workforce for our economy to thrive.
Systems need to be in place to educate a very high percentage of our younger population across a variety of cultures. We can not afford to let our youth drop out and need to get resources in place to encourage people to stay in school. Our businesses should support these initiatives and the organizations who help in these areas like the Boys & Girls Clubs or Big Brother Big Sister. In addition to being the right thing to do it is also the practical thing to do if you want to be able to choose from a qualified group of job candidates.
There is another source for employees that people in our society too often discount and that is individuals with disabilities. This group includes people with physical disabilities such as being deaf or hard of hearing. It also includes people with cognitive disabilities such as individuals with autism or
down syndrome. Another group are people with mental health issues such as veterans suffering with PTSD or individuals with depression. Individuals with disabilities provide organizations with an opportunity to think outside the box and create an environment where these individuals can thrive.
Creating an environment for this population is not charity work. If leaders have vision that can create and environment where people can thrive and be productive.
Two of the leading distribution centers within Walgreens consist of a working population with over 50% of individuals with disabilities. In speaking with a top Wegmans store manager, I asked him what types of accommodations they put in place for individuals with disabilities. He told me there were none even though they had numerous individuals with disabilities as well as a variety of individuals from different cultures working there. They have created an environment where everyone can feel comfortable. A “new normal”.
Our Chamber created a new Executive position on our Board called the Vice Chair of Diversity and Inclusion.
In 2020 this position was held by Meredith Greene an attorney at Fletcher Tilton.
In 2021 our Vice Chair will be Towma Rastad, marketing manager from Wegmans.
In addition to our Vice Chair positions we have a team that meets throughout the year with individuals from underrepresented populations, individuals with disabilities and managers from agencies working with individuals with disabilities.
At the Chamber we recognize the importance of inclusion and will work to support organizations now and moving forward as they evolve in this area.
As we move forward in time many organizations will be creating a “new normal”. We all know that from a social justice standpoint that a “new normal” will be taking place in our society. Although many of us believe we live in the greatest country in the world most people would agree that we can always improve. In addition to the many voices for social change, from a practical viewpoint we need to change to maintain our economic superiority in the world. What type of people are we going to find people to support the growth in our economy? It will have to be from a diverse pool of individuals who are from different races and cultures as well as individuals with disabilities. At the end of the day, being inclusive will not only be the right thing to do but also the practical thing to do.
Editor’s Note: SOURCE and the MetroWest Chamber have formed a partnership. The Chamber’s column will run on Tuesdays on the digital news media outlet.