This week on the Bright Ideas series presented by Acuity Brands®, Director of Communications Chrystal Neely joins Catherine to share how companies can learn how to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace as Acuity has.
Chrystal is involved in the Acuity Brands program for Minorities Amplifying Growth, Inclusion, and Community (MAGIC). The acronym tends to speak for itself, of course.
THREE YEARS OF IMPACT ON A GROWING COMMUNITY
Even as many companies are hiring very talented people of color in record numbers nowadays, it’s still important for those individuals to be able to grow and develop in the company as well as do their everyday work. Potential employees are looking for workplaces where they feel welcome and feel confident that they’ll be able to contribute to the success of the business.
Building that community is especially important because oftentimes minorities may be the only person of color within their department, or one of only a small handful–– especially in technology companies. It’s a very welcoming experience to have a community that can relate to one another, who feel comfortable having discussions about their struggles, and who understand what the others are going through.
Since its initial sponsorship three years ago by Rick Earlywine, MAGIC has been able to provide that outlet to many members of the Acuity team. The Women’s Network were generous enough to share the blueprint of their own organization to help MAGIC get started and have continued to support the program since its inception.
Over the course of those years, one of the major lessons Chrystal has learned is that it’s important to make your voice heard. From their hundreds of members in the program, one of the things that they hear most often is that it’s not just important to share victories with leadership, but also concerns as well.
THE MAGIC PROGRAM’S RESPONSE TO THE TRAUMA OF 2020
2020 was an immense and difficult year for everybody across the world, but communities of color were especially hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic’s fatalities as well as its impact on their livelihoods.
Small businesses and investments went under. The aspirations of new graduates were halted in their tracks. Tensions mounted as the year’s election season approached and the voting rights of minority communities were threatened or even blocked entirely in various locations. Racially-fueled violence against the Asian community rose as they were blamed for the rise of the pandemic. Then on top of everything else, there were African Americans who lost their lives unjustly to both police violence as well as civilian violence.
MAGIC didn’t necessarily teach Acuity’s team members the importance of speaking out about these events, but it certainly did amplify to them the value of having somebody willing to speak up. Fortunately for Chrystal, she felt comfortable and confident enough to speak up for her less confident peers because of all the support she has already received so far.
One of the most meaningful programs hosted by MAGIC in 2020 were a series of diversity listening sessions with CEO Neil Ashe.
After the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Neil contacted Chrystal a few days later and said, “We need to do something. What can I do?” The conversation meant a great deal, as he was the highest-ranking person in the company but was taking the time to speak to associates at all levels with an intent to hear their needs and what they wanted to say. It was a unique and certainly a refreshing moment.
As a result, Martin Luther King Day was established as an official company-wide day off. They’ve established a diversity, equity, and inclusion leadership council; made donations to multiple non-profit organizations; and have hosted both internal and external leadership speakers to share their wisdom with upcoming leaders within the company. Acuity Brands also hosts a mentoring program that pairs minority candidates within the organization with active leaders so they can gain more visibility than they have had in the past.
And, lastly, there are social events of all kinds because it’s important to build relationships and find ways to unwind as well. There are activities and celebrations of various heritages, such Hispanic Heritage Month and Black History Month.
THE VALUE OF EMPLOYEE RESOURCE GROUPS LIKE MAGIC
Any company that may not currently have a program like MAGIC would do well to look into building one, as there are multiple benefits to establishing employee resource groups.
These programs empower diversity, train leaders, and create new business opportunities. Employee bases will start to match customer bases. The programs will help in recruiting new talent, as well as retaining existing talent, who are attracted to the offerings which make them feel valued and more connected. Groups like MAGIC help to strengthen relationships between internal staff, relationships with customers, and relationships with suppliers as well.
The variety of experiences coming together will also lend itself to anticipating the projected changes to come in the future of the industry. Multiple eyes with multiple perspectives on a problem can help businesses be aware of upcoming trends, as well as avoid pitfalls that they might otherwise notice without the right people helping to coach and advise the company’s direction.
As Chrystal put it, “Sameness does not translate to success.”
Diversity is the first step to inviting in these multiple perspectives, and then inclusion is a vital second step. It’s not enough just to employ people with a variety of backgrounds or ethnicities or cultures–– it’s important also to involve them, develop them, empower them, and entrust them with your business and with leadership positions as well.
Studies have shown that inclusive workforces also help to increase innovation, improve recruiting talent pools, and increase the likelihood of retaining existing employees by 5.4 times. The companies that put effort into inclusion and who create these spaces for the best people to do their best work… are the companies that are going to grow in the future.
To learn more about the MAGIC program, visit acuitybrands.com/about-us/sustainability/our-community-and-our-people. To hear more stories of leadership and lessons learned in this industry, tune in next week for an executive interview with Karen Holcom: Senior Vice President, current CFO, and one of the first female executives at Acuity Brands.
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