In the past few weeks of peaceful protesting (and yes, some looting, too), there have been ongoing discussions regarding supporting more black businesses. News platforms are publishing lists of retailers, contractors, and small business owners who they can financially invest in. There are also podcasts releasing with CEOs, CFOs, and other execs in the retail industry talking about how companies need to be more diverse. And while I can only speak through the eyes of one black woman, I believe I’m fairly accurate when I say this: Too many retailers are still missing the point. While a massive amount discusses why people of color (mainly black) should be hired or companies should invest in them, too few have made immediate plans to do so.

What my own leadership roles taught me about diversity

I’m not new to management roles. I’ve been a mid-level manager in a couple of past newspaper/online news roles. And it is by no accident that the people who hired me for these mid-level roles were also minorities: a black man and a Guatemalan woman. To this day, I’m still not convinced that I would’ve had those same opportunities with non-POC bosses. As adamant as I am that I like working alone far more than being the leader of a group, my mother will tell anyone who’ll listen, “She’s been bossy since birth.” Guilty.
A few months ago, I was elected as my condo association board’s president. I had no idea the massive amount of work I’d just signed up for and have learned a ginormous amount of information regarding everything from line-by-line dissecting of annual budgets, recognizing what a galvanized bracket is and why it matters so much for deck repairs, operating surveillance cameras and handling city violations.
Journalism has been my world for 15 years, not property management. But I have gone to bed at 2 a.m. and woken up at 7 a.m. with a to-do list that I am hell-bent on completing before the summer is over. I would have never even thought of taking this role on, if not for the prior president (also a minority woman) being pretty persistent about me taking her place. She saw something in me that I simply didn’t — besides being bossy.
But in the process of working on this role, it would have been so much more difficult if I didn’t have a prior leader who insisted that I be “next.” I said “no” countless times, but she knew if I took the role on, I’d dive in 100 percent. Retail execs need to have this kind of faith in POC employees, too, in order for it to work. Instead of trying to find reasons why a select few won’t work, find ones who will work.
I would have never been able to do the same presidential role if I did not have a supportive and diverse board team who appreciated what each of us brings to the table. The board consists of me (an African-American woman) and two other women (Latina and Polish), who I can rely on. We come with three completely different personalities and leadership styles. And in the months that we’ve worked together, even our worst bumps have gone amazingly well because we rely on our contrasting opinions to make fair decisions. Some folks may get hired and fired in the process, but we weigh each decision knowing that the goal is to find the best talent we can and from a wide enough background to mirror the owners who live here.
Photo credit: Free To Use Sounds/Unsplash
Easy examples of how we’ve done this include hiring first-generation immigrants (of various backgrounds), African-American and Hispanic-owned renovation, gardening, landscaping and maintenance companies, in addition to white-owned companies. Our approach to getting the job done is looking for talent and qualifications instead of who has the biggest name (and employees who all look alike). The people we hire are representative of what our condo owners look like. (Take a glance at a Census questionnaire. Our condo owners check off pretty much every box.)

Real-life consumers want to see real-life minority employees

While retailers are aware of their customer base, too often they’ll throw them a bone of a “diversity” commercial or a colorful postcard. That’s not enough. What minority consumers and employees really need to see is companies who will invest in minority products, minority-owned businesses, and minority execs.
In recent weeks, retailers have jumped on podcasts talking about why America needs to do more for minority-owned businesses. Meanwhile, the “experts” are never minorities. They’re talking at us, but they’re not talking with us. I know what it’s like to have my opinions brushed to the side for being a woman or being black or being (fairly) young, so I make a point of listening to every single opinion of every person on the board and the owners. Too often, non-POC retailers hear the complaints and then do what they want to do anyway. They simply cannot relate — because they don’t have to.
In the past few weeks, the trending topic has been “hire someone black.” But even when retail execs join in on podcasts and managerial meetings about hiring someone black, it’s too often someone who is not black talking about why there need to be more black people. It makes as much sense as listening to a men-only conference call about why a company would be so much better if there were more women hires. Great, you have the idea, Captain Obvious. Now hire them.
Photo credit: The Jopwell Collection
Have all the black retail CEOs, CFOs, accountants, store owners, and store managers become too booked and busy for these largely white conversations in the media? Doubt it. And minority shoppers know it. While consumers may see the occasional new entry-level clerk, cashier, delivery person, or stockroom employee, pay attention to what the management team looks like. This is the group that influences recruitment for new hires, new products to invest in, and weighs in on even the branding for the store. Too often in retail, there is still a comfort level in talking to those who Retail America is familiar with — and it’s not people of color. Retail needs to start believing in hiring some of the same people it loves to make money off of.
Don’t get me wrong. Retail is making progress. It’s cool that companies like Starbucks will “allow” employees to wear Black Lives Matter shirts. And Jeff Bezos has filled Amazon’s homepage with recommended anti-racism books. Yeah, sure, cool.
But what matters more to me is knowing Rosalind Brewer is the first woman and African-American as COO of the Starbucks chain. I’m eyeing high-level executives like Marvin Ellison from Lowe’s, Jide Zeitlin from Tapestry, and Mary Winston from Bed Bath & Beyond. I want to see retail company directories, not just pretty words on press releases, work attire flexibility, and homepage placements.

Higher-ups have more pull than entry-level employees

Retailers need to do more than just talking about having more people in disposable areas of their stores or headquarters. There needs to be an obvious trend toward hiring them in bigger and better roles where those people can then hire more people who look like them.
Photo credit: The Jopwell Collection
The token person in the room simply won’t do. Consumers like me are not interested in retailers fulfilling their one-minority quota for the position in the warehouse.
Even in a non-profit role, just the sight of me hiring and setting up appointments to meet business owners is enough for people to say, “Oh, this is different.” And I knew that would happen. I’d quietly watched it happen in another leadership role with my Toastmasters group. Every single time new visitors would stop in, they’d look around the room at a group of people of varying ages, from pretty much every race on the Census (again) and born in different countries. By the end of every meeting, I knew I was going to hear at least half of the guests (if not all) mention our club looks like a United Nations postcard.
Whether it’s where I live, where I work or where I give public-speaking critiques, if you already have a diverse company, you don’t have to keep pitching the idea. You don’t have to release press releases or get on podcasts or write think pieces about doing this “in the near future.” Just do it. A simple glance at your “About Us” page or your managerial employees walking around the store will tell us everything you won’t have to. Do less talking, do more hiring.