Some conversations are just uncomfortable. And if you are talking about diversity in the workplace in an honest way, it probably should be uncomfortable. It is a topic that is likely going to disrupt the “norm” of your workplace culture in the best ways.

Some panelists embraced the disruptive topic of diversifying the work force at a recent panel discussion at the Farm to Label summit hosted by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. The annual event brings together food and beverage industry executives, investors, and entrepreneurs to discuss a variety of business topics, including economic sustainability, innovative marketing, and diversity in the work force.

The panelists on the “Many Faces of Food” panel included Cathi Hunt, Director of Corporate Counsel at Starbucks Coffee Company, Serilda Summers-McGee, Director of HR and Workforce Development at Portland Development Commission, Augusto Carneiro, owner of Nossa Familia Coffee, and Luis Dominguez, owner of Juanitas Fine Foods.

The panelists shared the successes and failures they have experienced when trying to diversify their teams and shared the following advice:

Embrace Diversity

  • By 2055, the United States will not have a single racial or ethnic majority, making the country more racially and ethnically diverse than it has been in the past.[1] Any time consumers are changing, companies should take note. You have to try and understand these diverse consumers so that your brand resonates with them. One important and effective way to do that is to hire, promote, and retain people who understand them.

Make a Meaningful Game Plan

  • You can talk about diversity all day long, but it is not going to make much of a difference if you do not make an honest assessment of your work force. Do you have minorities and women on your team? Why not? At Nossa Familia Coffee, the company began diversifying its work force by starting with some basic research on how people from different backgrounds may interview differently. In response, the company was able to better assess diverse candidates and ultimately hire them. At Starbucks, the company recently implemented a plan to hire 10,000 refugees by 2022. The focus is to focus hiring efforts in markets where the refugee need is the greatest and where there is a store base to meet that need. Regardless of the size of your company and whether you can start big or small, there are plenty of ways to start, maintain, and build on your diversity efforts. But, whatever you do, don’t just talk about it.

Find Diverse Organizations

  • A common complaint among companies who want to diversify is that diverse talent is just really hard to find. The truth is that diverse talent is out there, you probably just do not know where to look. You can start by developing relationships with diverse associations and organizations. Try the local Hispanic chamber of commerce or an even more focused group like the National Association of Black Accountants. Attend their events, invite them to your events, and connect with other companies who value diversity and share information about job fairs with each other. Whatever your company is about, there is bound to be a group who can help you find diverse talent for your needs.

Be Aware of How You Are (And Aren’t) Including Diverse Employees

  • So you have hired diverse talent, but what are you doing to retain them? The panelists provided some tips, including mentoring diverse talent, giving them opportunities to demonstrate excellence, encouraging them to develop their career goals, and checking in with them to make sure they are not feeling detached. Invest in these employees and show them that you value them, and chances are that they will return the favor.

If you are serious about diversity in your workplace and resonating with a diverse consumer base, be prepared for some disruptive but effective conversations.

[1] Pew Research Center. (2016). 10 demographics that are shaping the U.S. and the world. Retrieved from  http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/03/31/10-demographic-trends-that-are-shaping-the-u-s-and-the-world/

Erica Rosales represents clients in mergers & acquisitions, reorganizations, and financing transactions with an emphasis in the food, beverage, and restaurant industries. Erica can be reached via email at EricaRosales@dwt.com or directly at 503.778.5497.