LAS VEGAS The steady growth of corporate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives over the past several years was highlighted in the IBIE 2022 session “How to Start Building Your Diversity Initiative: Best Practices from Industry Peers,” presented Monday, Sept. 19, and co-sponsored by the American Bakers Association (ABA) and BEMA. 

The panel featured Nathan Norris, director of DEI for Highland Baking Co.; Christy Pettey, chief people officer, Kwik Lok Corp.; and Felisa Stockwell, vice president, global people and culture for Dawn Foods. The discussion was moderated by Emily Bowers, vice president, education and operations, BEMA.

“Over the past year, both ABA and BEMA have developed working groups and task forces to address this issue and improve and increase the communication about it in our industry, and we decided that IBIE was the perfect place to bring those two groups together and have a conversation all as one,” Ms. Bowers said.

According to an April 2022 ABA study, 65% of companies today have DEI initiatives in place, while 19% plan to implement such a program in 2022. In addition, 44% of companies provide DEI training to employees; 26% plan to implement a program by the end of the year.

Mr. Norris noted that his company is at the beginning of its DEI process, having initiated it about a year ago.

“For us, we looked at our ‘why’ we wanted to start this DEI journey,” Mr. Norris said. “Based off of that, we were able to start putting together some initiatives and objectives to address and correct some concerns brought up from our employee climate survey.”

To generate employee buy-in to such programs, the panelists stressed the importance of listening to and engaging with workers to participate in their company’s respective DEI initiatives. Ms. Pettey referenced Kwik Lok’s creation of an employee steering committee to help push employee involvement, while Ms. Stockwell stressed the importance of securing support from senior leadership.

Although the panelists encountered a few pleasant surprises after implementing DEI programs — Mr. Norris noted an increase in employee retention after Highland Baking launched its first diversity and inclusion program about a year ago — the speakers also faced a few challenges. Ms. Pettey was confronted with strong pushback from many employees, particularly from longtime workers not used to change of any sort.

Although all three stressed the importance of working to develop and curate internal candidates, they also suggested that organizations not overlook the rich talent pool that sometimes exists outside a company’s four walls. Ms. Pettey stressed that sometimes quality candidates don’t have baking industry experience but might have transferable skills that would make them a fit for certain jobs.