Finding significant value in pursuing diversity

Alabama companies are creating initiatives to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion

Brasfield & Gorrie works to make sure its workforce reflects the communities it serves.

From recruiting at historically black colleges to educating employees, companies around the state are taking diversity efforts seriously.

Rather than just supporting the idea in theory, many businesses are launching new initiatives on diversity, equity and inclusion.

‘Robust’ strategy

At Brasfield & Gorrie, company leaders call their inclusion strategy “robust.” The general contracting company has more than 3,400 employees at its offices in Birmingham, in Huntsville, 11 other office locations in the nation and in the field.

Natalie Kelly, vice president of corporate responsibility at Brasfield & Gorrie.

“Our workforce should represent the communities that we serve, and that means providing opportunities to individuals from all different backgrounds and perspectives,” says Natalie Kelly, vice president of corporate responsibility at Brasfield & Gorrie.

The company believes that when people from different backgrounds are on an equal playing field, it breaks down traditional thinking.

- Sponsor -

“Individuals from different groups offer new and unique ideas that would have typically been unavailable otherwise, and these fresh perspectives will allow any company to adopt a modern mindset and succeed in more significant ways,” says Kelly.

Brasfield & Gorrie is expanding recruitment efforts by “meeting potential candidates where they are.

“Our Campus Engagement Partner program has paired our employees with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the South,” Kelly says.

In 2022, 26 of the company’s campus engagement partners attended 27 HBCU campus events, she adds. That led to hiring several new full-time employees, as well as interns and co-op students.

“We’ve also strengthened our connections with the Academy of Craft Training to recruit and offer job experience to inner-city and rural high school students who don’t typically have access to trades education,” Kelly says.

Students from the academy go to jobsites across the state. The company typically hires five to 10 seniors from the program each year.

Diversity improves patient care

Encompass Health, a Birmingham-based network of rehabilitation hospitals across the country, believes that a diverse workforce improves patient care.

“Substantial health care research shows that patients are better cared for and are more satisfied with their health care when they see themselves within the health care workforce,” says Laterrica Shelton, national director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Encompass.

The Encompass workforce of more than 36,000 employees in 37 states and Puerto Rico reflects the communities it serves, she adds.

“People from different backgrounds naturally bring a tremendous amount of diverse experiences, knowledge, cultural awareness and skills through the doors every day,” Shelton says.

Encompass Health uses specific marketing strategies and engages with local organizations.

“In addition to sourcing diverse talents, we give hiring managers the tools to conduct unbiased and equitable interviews and selections,” Shelton says.

Creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all employees is important, she says, “which is why we are incorporating DEI into every stage of the employee life cycle. We believe demonstrating our commitment to growing our internal diverse talent will also attract diverse external talent,” Shelton says.

Long-term change

At Coca-Cola United, DEI is central to a so-called “associates first” culture where everyone feels valued and empowered.

Gianetta Jones, senior vice president and chief people officer at Coca-Cola United.

“Our associate-led Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council works to ensure our company meets the needs of our associates, customers and communities where we live and serve,” says Gianetta Jones, senior vice president and chief people officer.

Integrating DEI “enhances innovation and problem solving, and ensures long-term, sustainable change,” she adds.

Coca-Cola United has more than 10,000 employees across six states, including approximately 3,200 in Alabama.

Last year, Coca-Cola United established a workforce engagement team to ensure that recruitment, hiring and development reflects communities they serve. “As part of our ‘Recruiting Equitably’ plan, we connect with organizations representing minorities, women, high school and college students, senior citizens, people with disabilities and the LGBTQA population, and actively provide information about our internship and career opportunities,” says Jones.

Their strategy also includes connecting with professional and industry organizations, active-duty military, veterans and spouses on employment opportunities.

“We consider ourselves one big family at Coca-Cola United,” Jones says. “Our associates benefit from the broad range of experiences, insights and skill sets they each bring to the table.”

Diversity provides opportunities to learn and grow, company leaders believe. “A diverse workplace allows for more ideas and processes, more creativity and brings out the very best in our associates to reach their full potential,” says Jones.

Makes us stronger

At Vulcan Materials Company, having a visibly diverse group of employees is only part of the equation.

“Diversity is not only gender and ethnicity, but includes differences in thought and backgrounds,” says Darren Hicks, Vulcan senior vice president and chief human resources officer for the company that employs 12,000.

“The bigger part is fostering an inclusive and collaborative culture in which different backgrounds are appreciated, valued and leveraged. And we know that makes us a stronger company,” Hicks says.

Calling the mindset a “business imperative,” Hicks says “diversity allows us to be more creative and innovative, and it opens the door to skills, insights and experiences that make us better problem-solvers, better relationship builders, leaders, team members and company stewards.”

The thinking is that working with people from different backgrounds gives employees a chance to learn something new and find common ground. It can help attract new talent and “thought leaders,” Hicks says. “Diversity attracts more diversity.”

In 2018 the company launched the Vulcan Historically Black Colleges and Universities Initiative in partnership with six institutions. “We established this program to deepen our relationships with universities in our region and develop a strong talent pipeline of engaged, dynamic thinkers with a diversity of lived experiences,” Hicks says.

Several divisions also partner with the National Society of Black Engineers and Women in Construction to attract talent and with high schools to help students with resume and interviewing skills.

Vulcan CEO Tom Hill signed the “Action for Diversity and Inclusion CEO Pledge to Act on Supporting More Inclusive Workplaces” in 2019. By doing so, he committed to ongoing conversations on DEI, expanding education and sharing what works or doesn’t with other leaders.

Vulcan established employee resources groups in 2022. “These groups provide strong internal communities where employees who share common identity, goals and interests have access to open forums that foster personal and professional development,” Hicks says.

Seats at the table

At Regions Financial Corp., the best team “is one that’s inclusive of all,” leaders believe.

“An organization is stronger when people not only have a seat at the table but also a voice to help shape and influence the ways we can better serve our diverse customer base,” says Dave Keenan, chief administrative and human resources officer.

Regions’ 20,000 employees are encouraged to bring “their whole self” to work. “We are committed to giving them an opportunity to contribute, do their best work, and bring their insights and perspectives to the table,” Keenan says.

“A company is better positioned to serve a diverse marketplace when diversity is at the core of how it operates. As people from diverse walks of life come together to refine products and services, interact with clients and fulfill our mission as a bank, we are better suited to compete effectively and outperform for our customers,” he adds.

In 2018, Regions launched a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Center of Expertise to help associates understand “how to lean into both our similarities and our differences as people.” The company enhanced processes on diversity in hiring, attracting and retaining military veterans and spouses and those with disabilities.

Regions is enhancing its internal processes with diversity in mind.

“We prioritize conferences like the National Black MBA Conference and the Veteran MBA Conference to better market careers at Regions,” says Keenan.

They also connect students from historically Black colleges and universities, National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations and state vocational rehabilitation organizations with career opportunities.

Deborah Storey is a Huntsville-based freelance contributor to Business Alabama.

This article appears in the May 2023 issue of Business Alabama.

The latest Alabama business news delivered to your inbox