Omitting Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

To follow-up on the previous post where I shared my experiences and challenges of organizational culture, diversity and inclusion, today I’d like to share the perspective of a former colleague. This person has requested to remain anonymous, but their voice is important to describe the culture at the organization that led to the departure of several employees this year.


Ryan,

Thank you for breaking the silence regarding your experiences with your former employer. As a former colleague, you’ve inspired me to speak out, albeit anonymously. I’m sharing my feelings on this not because I have anger or animosity towards the organization or the beef community, but because I care about it. In fact, I’m living up to two of the staff culture statements:

  • Dealing openly and honestly with others and tolerating nothing less in return.
  • Being transparent in what we do.

Let me start by saying I’m not a disgruntled employee – I loved my job and was extremely proud of what I did. A big part of that was the diversity of the workplace, and I mean that in every sense: I was excited to work with specialists in a variety of fields, such as dietitians, chefs, veterinarians, marketing professionals, and sustainability researchers. But, I also enjoyed working with people who had an array of different religious and political beliefs, as well as different ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations. I believe that everyone’s unique backgrounds brought an essential diversity of opinions and ideas to the workplace.

As someone with a different background, I was expecting a rough transition to agriculture. But, that couldn’t have been further from the truth. Both my colleagues, as well as the producers we worked for, made me feel welcomed. That is until a new values document was introduced in June. A page listing cattle producers’ shared values led with issues designed to alienate those with diverse beliefs: praying before meetings and believing in limited government.

In the meeting where this document was introduced, leadership made it clear that respecting the values, specifically praying before meals, meant that people of a different faith would either have to recite a prayer in Jesus’ name or leave the room, which would ostracize someone like me. That suddenly made me feel like I was no longer welcome at the organization. It’s also important to note that throughout this two-page document there’s not one mention of diversity or inclusion. That omission further led me to believe I was no longer wanted at the organization.

Leadership then unveiled a “Voluntary Transition Plan,” strongly suggesting that anyone who disagreed with the new vision and values should leave the organization. Over the course of the next few weeks, we received repeated messages that urged people who couldn’t fully align with the document to resign.

Ultimately, many of my colleagues decided to take the VTP. While some of those were people close to retirement, they also included many of the diverse colleagues I enjoyed working with. While I don’t know everyone’s personal reasons for leaving and won’t claim to be speaking on anyone’s behalf, I do know that many who left were members of protected classes… so it appears as if the message was received as leadership apparently intended.

I know that many producers might be aligned with this thinking: they only want to hire people who look, think, and act like them. I want to caution that this thought process is likely to eventually backfire, as it is more beneficial to have a team of professionals who look and think more like beef consumers than producers.

Brands such as Pepsi, Volkswagen and Dove have recently faced controversies involving offensive ads, which would have most likely been stopped or at least questioned by empowered diverse employees. In Pepsi’s example, the damage from the ad lowered purchase consideration amongst Millennials from 33% to 23%.

Other brands, including the leading foodservice purveyor of beef, McDonald’s, have recently revamped values documents around the themes of diversity and inclusion. I’m not suggesting the organization do the same, but by failing to include those words anywhere throughout its vision and values document, the organization is making a deliberate statement that diversity is not appreciated nor welcomed.

I encourage everyone to speak up in their respective agricultural communities to try to make the industry a more welcoming place. Fight for diversity and inclusion. Stand up and say something when you see something discriminatory, even if it is technically legal. Unfortunately, everything is polarized in today’s world… we should work to try to de-escalate that polarization in agriculture: after all, everyone needs to eat.

Thank you.
–Anonymous


Since sharing my previous post on organizational culture, diversity and inclusion, my inboxes have been filled with messages testifying to similar circumstances across the agriculture community. This response emphasizes the need to have these discussions so that we can work toward a stronger and more inclusive industry.

Cargill is one specific example of putting forth the effort to invest in diversity and inclusion efforts. Beginning with a commitment in 2017, the agriculture company has made significant progress in ensuring a diverse and inclusive workplace beginning with the hiring process and extending through employee training to ensure diversity is instilled in team leadership.

Additional examples of prominent agriculture businesses willing to put forward the effort to implement diversity and inclusion policies and cultures include John Deere, Zoetis, Bayer, and Elanco. If these global organizations can put forth robust programs around DNI, surely our smaller organizations can take action as well.

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Ryan Goodman lives in Colorado, is an avid trail and ultrarunner, and works with farmers and ranchers to help them share their stories of agriculture and how food is raised. Connect with Ryan online as @BeefRunner. #TeamBeef.
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