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2015 Northcoast 99: Shades of Great

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September 14, 2015

2015 NorthCoast 99: Shades of Great


Three NorthCoast 99 winners demonstrate how diversity fuels a great workplace.

Like a work of art, great workplaces are crafted with a broad palette of employees with varying backgrounds and life experiences. Diversity isn’t just a required training topic; it’s a critical part of creating an environment in which top performers can thrive. Here’s how three NorthCoast 99-winning companies have made their workplaces friendly to female, African-American and LGBT employees. 


WOMEN. At FedEx Custom Critical, achieving a workplace that’s supportive of female employees didn’t happen by accident.

“Diversity needs to be intentional,” says Dave Hill, the company’s communications advisor. “You want the best person for the job, but you have to look at people from different backgrounds, because you’ll get different perspectives from each one.” 

That focus on the needs of its female employees starts at the top, with president and CEO Virginia Albanese. The company is often recognized for its support of women, most recently with an Athena Corporate Leadership Award.

“Our CEO is a mother, so she understands the challenges women face,” says Lynn Pedulla, senior human resources specialist, of the way she’s observed Albanese’s sensitivity to women’s issues.

The shipping and logistics company offers private pumping rooms with refrigerators and reclining chairs and sponsors on-site mammogram screenings every year that draw about 100 women out of a total local workforce of 700. The company permits employees to take advantage of flex time and work-at-home arrangements and has allowed even managers to transition to part-time hours in some circumstances. 

FedEx Custom Critical also hosts a networking program called Women on the Rise, which brings in successful women to discuss issues such as work-life balance, says Pedulla, and hosts an internal Women in Leadership group that pays for female employees to attend training and conferences.

Prospective employees can get clues as to how supportive a company will be of women right on its website: “Are there women on their executive board? How many? Are they represented?” prompts Pedulla. Three of Fedex Custom Critical’s nine executive board members are women. 


AFRICAN-AMERICANS. Lordstown-based Anderson-DuBose Co. holds the distinction of being the largest minority-owned business in Ohio — and one of the top 10 in the nation. This food-service distribution company employs 191 locally, mostly warehouse and transportation personnel, of which 17.8 percent are African-American. That’s more than double the population rate of African-Americans (8.5 percent) in Trumbull County, where the company is headquartered.

Matt Liegl, Anderson-DuBose’s human resources director, attributes that minority employment rate to many factors, most notably the presence of African-American leaders such as president and owner Warren Anderson.

“We definitely believe Warren is a role model, and that makes us an appealing employer for African-American males in particular,” says Liegl.

Seeing leadership positions held by a peer — be it race, gender or ethnicity — is one of the most important components of a spirit of acceptance, he explains. Every prospective employee gets a tour of the facility before they’re hired so they can clearly see the diversity mix among the company’s workforce.

“Two of our seven warehouse supervisors are African-American, and one moved up through the ranks,” Leigl says. “That percentage of our leadership … reflects our commitment to attract, hire and promote African-Americans.”


LGBT EMPLOYEES. Unlike women and minorities, LGBT employees are not currently protected by workplace discrimination laws in Ohio and 27 other states. That means employers who wish to attract and retain LGBT employees must proactively create inclusive policies. 

“You have to ensure that the language of your policies is inclusive of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression,” says Michelle Tomallo, president and co-founder of FIT Technologies and board president of Plexus, Cleveland’s LGBT and allied chamber of commerce. “It requires review because of how language [around LGBT issues] has evolved.”

Tomallo sees such inclusive policies as a way of communicating the company’s values to its employees, prospective hires and even clients. She cites 2013 research by the nonprofit Small Business Majority, which shows that while 70 percent of Ohio entrepreneurs say they would support legislation banning workplace discrimination against LGBT employees, only 40 percent have policies in place that support that view. 

“You are not going to be getting as productive an employee if your culture makes them not bring their authentic self to work,” Tomallo says. 

She recommends that companies review their policies relating to how families are defined — such as in benefits or bereavement leave — and include LGBT issues in diversity training. 

“[People] want companies that value diversity and inclusion,” Tomallo says. “This isn’t about attracting and retaining LGBT employees but attracting and retaining [all] high-quality employees.”
Contact:
Michelle Tomallo, Board President
president@thinkplexus.org, 888-753-9879