Creating a Company That Embraces Diversity and Inclusion

Given the ongoing labor shortage in the roofing industry as well as the national conversation recently sparked by the #Metoo movement concerning sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, never before has the topic of embracing and fostering diversity in the workplace been more important than now. Although there certainly is no one-size-fits-all quick-fix solution to the problem, below are three steps companies can take to help foster a workplace environment that embraces diversity through creating and maintaining a culture of inclusiveness and intolerance of harassment and discrimination of any kind.

Written Policies and Procedures

The first step a company should take to embrace diversity in the workplace is to make sure it has the commitment to diversity, non-discrimination, and non-harassment down in writing for all employees to read and understand. This includes having a written policy, at a minimum in the employee handbook, that clearly states that the company does not discriminate on the basis of any protected class or category and prohibits all employees from discriminating against or harassing any individuals on the basis of their membership in any protected class or otherwise.

The policy should also provide clear, robust reporting procedures for employees to know how and to whom they should report any claims of discrimination or harassment they experience or witness. These reporting policies should not be limited to requiring employees to report claims only to their immediate supervisor, but should instead provide multiple avenues for reporting to upper management and/or HR in case the employee’s immediate supervisor is the accused harasser.

The company’s handbook policy should also state that all complaints of discrimination or harassment will be promptly and thoroughly investigated by an impartial member of management or HR and will be handled as confidentially as possible.

The handbook should also contain an express provision that prohibits retaliation against anyone who makes a discrimination or harassment claim or who provides verification or support for a claim made by someone else. 

Additionally, the policy should spell out the potential consequences for any discriminatory or harassing behavior, including the possibility of disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Finally, the company’s written anti-discrimination policies should make clear that they apply to everyone in the company including all levels of management and that everyone is expected to comply with them and to uphold the values of the company by reporting any discriminatory or harassing behavior they experience or witness.

Education and Training

The next component needed to create a workplace environment that embraces diversity and inclusion is for the company to educate and provide comprehensive anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training — preferably live and in person — for all employees, but especially for all management-level employees, on the policies and procedures outlined above.

The company’s training should clearly spell out what is and is not considered harassment and who can be a harasser (managers, co-workers, customers, vendors, individuals of the same sex as the victim, etc.).

Because actions taken (or not taken) by managers and supervisors are imparted to the company, all managers should be thoroughly trained and knowledgeable about the company’s reporting procedures, including how to escalate complaints they may receive up the chain to HR and/or upper management, how to recognize, stop, and address harassing conduct when they see it happening, and how to prevent further harassing behavior from occurring while an investigation is ongoing in such a way that does not punish the complaining employee or prematurely punish the accused harasser before the investigation is completed.

Executive Leadership, Buy-in, and Accountability

Finally, embracing diversity and building a workplace culture of inclusiveness requires executive buy-in, accountability, and support from the top down so that managers feel empowered to enforce the company’s policies and employees trust that they can speak up without fear of reprisal.

Company executives should outwardly champion the company’s non-discrimination and harassment policies, openly and frequently expressing the company’s commitment to diversity and to providing a workplace free of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

Company leaders should also hold managers and employees accountable by regularly checking in to make sure the company’s policies are being enforced and complied with. This includes ensuring all complaints are being reported up the chain, investigations are being promptly, fairly, and confidentially conducted, and appropriate discipline that actually ends the harassing behavior is being imposed for any established violations of the company’s policies.

Company management should also avoid downplaying or ignoring any bad behavior that may occur or that has occurred in the company’s past and should assure employees that the company takes these issues seriously, does not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind, and has mechanisms in place to correct any such behaviors that do not reflect the company’s values.

Although a company that implements the steps above may not see immediate changes in the diversity of its workforce or applicant pool, these steps will go a long way towards building a reputation within the company, the community, and the roofing industry that the company fully embraces and promotes diversity, which should eventually lead to a more diverse and productive workplace environment for the company down the road.

About the author: Marci Britt is an attorney at Cotney Construction Law who practices primarily in labor and employment law. Cotney Construction Law is an advocate for the roofing industry and serves as General Counsel for NRCA, FRSA, RT3, NWIR, TARC, WSRCA and several other roofing associations. For more information, visit www.cotneycl.com.

Author’s note: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.

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