GLADSTONE, MO. — Finding qualified people of color for management roles could mean expanding beyond the traditional recruiting process.

“There are some very skilled people out there,” said Jacquelyn Howard, vice president of the global supply chain for Starbucks Corp., in a Nov. 2 webcast. “I am really tired of hearing that there is no one available. Either through employment opportunity or supplier diversity, I have learned that there are so many talented people from all walks of life that were just not thought of because of the traditional ways in which people recruit or choose to select based on what’s comfortable for them.”

Companies should find out which organizations, associations, colleges and universities to contact when seeking potential hires.

Jacquelyn Howard, vice president of the global supply chain for Starbucks Corp.

“There are places you go to see what you need,” she said. “If you go the traditional route, you’ll never have a diverse slate.”

The webcast marked the launch of a racial justice, inclusion and diversity initiative from The Center for Food Integrity, Gladstone, and FMI – The Food Industry Association, Arlington, Va.

Promoting people of color already in a company supply chain should be considered, Ms. Howard said.

“What are you doing to make opportunities real for those people who may have started by planting or harvesting crops, or started by assembling food, or packaging the food, or driving the trucks?” she asked. “What are you doing to open up opportunities?”

Companies should set up programs for employees of color.

“You can always hire somebody,” Ms. Howard said. “You can always say, ‘I got my number. I got my quota,’ if you want to put it in those kind of curt terms. But people may feel like they do not belong there based on the environment that you create. So what are you doing to understand their story and to support their career journey?”

Following a racial incident at a store in Philadelphia, Seattle-based Starbucks in 2018 began offering its employees free training on diversity inclusion and subconscious bias.

“I do treasure that Starbucks opens the door for conversations,” Ms. Howard said. “We heard a lot from our field partners that work in retail and talked about their backgrounds. Some of these partners actually were Native American. Some of them actually had family that worked in food plants that just tragically were like a petri dish during COVID. We talked about how we feel as people of color, as women, as indigenous people. Just in general people were feeling uncomfortable and sad (during COVID-19), and I think we just opened up the door to have a dialogue the way you feel comfortable.”

Melissa Melshenker Ackerman, president of the Produce Alliance, LLC, also spoke in the webcast. She said her company, which provides fresh produce procurement and distribution services to foodservice clients, has begun posting open job positions at places it never did before. She mentioned the web site The Produce Alliance sets quarterly goals for diversity hiring.

“Make sure you have actual goals of, we say, 30, 60, 90 days or for the next few years,” she said.

Ms. Ackerman and Ms. Howard both are members of a racial justice, inclusion and diversity initiative advisory board set up by the Center for Food Integrity and FMI. They recommended companies follow the “four agreements of courageous conversation”:

Stay engaged:  People should commit to “remaining morally, emotionally, intellectually and socially involved in the dialogue.”

Experience discomfort: Discomfort is inevitable in dialogue about race. It is through dialogue, even when uncomfortable, that healing and change begins.

“Everybody is going to be uncomfortable,” Ms. Howard said. “I’m uncomfortable. I’m a mother of two Black children and the wife of a Black husband, and my family has a lot of diversity in it, but I get really scared sometimes for my family.”

Speak your truth: Be open about your thoughts and feelings. Do not say just what you expect others want to hear.

Expect and accept non-closure: Do not rush to quick solutions. Racial understanding requires ongoing dialogue.

“The one thing that people need to start doing is listening,” Ms. Howard said. “Don’t try to solve a problem. I don’t need you to stand in front of me and create a wall. I need you to listen, digest. Listen more than you talk, especially if these are not your experiences.”