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Diversity: Distributors Still Don’t Get It



Gender diversification is no longer merely the right thing to do. Experts point out that companies that hire more women and subsequently promote more of them to higher-paying jobs as well as the corporate boardrooms are more successful than those companies that don’t do that.

The same argument has been heard at other foodservice forums, notably the Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Association. Gerry Fernandez, president, and others have pointed out that while initially racial and ethnic diversification was a morality issue based on doing it because it’s right, but not they contend that diversity is good for business. By not being involved, they note, the supply chain is losing revenue opportunities.

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WFF’s research shows that foodservice distributors are hiring and promoting too few women and thus are losing many sales opportunities.
At a workshop at this year’s National Restaurant Association Show here last weekend, Mary Bentley, president of the Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF) and keynoter Luke Visconti, partner and co-founder of DiversityInc., drew a straight line from corporate diversification policies to the bottom line.

As has also been discovered regarding sustainability issues, large and small companies that are gender diversified, multicultural and sustainability conscious will find willing partners along the supply chain to do business with.

Visconti pointed out that benefits will accrue even to small distributorships because if they are involved in diversity management they “will end up picking up gems of employees for their managements that will make all the difference in the world. It will make them more competitive.”

Diversification in today’s business environment is a “competitive differentiator” that is more important than playing golf with colleagues or having attended the same college, Visconti said.

“If you develop good philanthropy, and good hiring and promotion policies, and you tell a good story in the marketplace, you can use this as a differentiator against any competitor that doesn’t get it. Small companies can control this better than large ones can,” Visconti said, adding that companies that get it find more business hooks with other progressive companies.

However, WFF’s Bentley told ID Access, foodservice distributors still don’t get it and they’re losing a great deal of opportunities because they aren’t hiring and promoting more women.

{mosimage}According to a WFF gender diversity study that also looked at distributor performance, Bentley said 17% of new hires at distributorships are women compared with 50% at so-called top 50 companies from all industries. Consequently, she said, “distributors are at a huge disadvantage by who’s walking in their doors.”

Referring to Visconti’s thesis that if everyone is created equal then humanity’s talents are also equally divided, Bentley said, distributors “clearly are at a disadvantage in the marketplace by not bringing in the most talented people that they can day one.”

As a result, she said, because distributors hire too few women they have a smaller pool of internal resources from which to promote into top management thus forcing them to search outside their companies.

“That is the only way to fill this gap. If you’re not bringing them in and developing your own talent to go all the way through your pipeline to lead your organization, then you have to go to the outside to try to fill that gap,” she said.

The downside of going beyond company boundaries to find management candidates is that this practice sends the wrong message to all of the employees, Bentley indicated.

“Diversity is the cornerstone of a particularly well-run company.” – Luke Visconti
“That impacts trust. What you’re telling your employees is that we’re not going to develop you and we don’t value what you’re bringing to our organization. However, to get to where we need to be, we’re going to go to the outside. We’re not going to invest in you to build our business. We’re going to find other ways to build our management team than by investing in the people that we’ve already brought in,” she said.

In order to expand the number of women in upper management positions, Bentley advised distributors to promote them at higher percentages.

“If 20% of management is women today, companies need to be promoting women into management at a higher level than 20%. Distributors are the inverse. Distributors are bringing them into total management, but then they are not promoting women or people of color into management at a higher percentage. From there, obviously, you’re not going to have diverse representation among your top earners,” she observed.

On the other hand, distributor board rooms, especially those of the large publicly traded companies, are much different, Bentley said. With an eye toward market visibility and shareholders’ opinions, those companies are adding women to that lauded body.

“Distributors are telling their shareholders that they want to be projecting the fact that diversity is important so they’re going out and hiring that talent to the board of directors. For distributors, that’s where they are the most diverse relative to their internal pipeline,” she said.

Pointing out that there are far more growth opportunities for companies that get the diversity message, Bentley said the results can impact distributors’ already razor-thin margins.

“One thing that we hear everyday from distributors is that the margins that they operate on are so thin. So where is their competitive advantage in the marketplace? Diversity is what their competitive advantage will be,” she said. “Diversity is something that they have direct control over. They have control over who they hire, who they promote, and who are their top earners.”

Visconti noted that diversification is a mark of a company’s ability to forge relationships with people. He believes that the more relationships a company can form with internal and external customers, the more it can charge for its products and services. The entire process must enjoy the commitment of the ceo if it is to reap rewards for the firm, he added.

“Diversity is the cornerstone of a particularly well-run company,” Visconti said.

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