A place for variety
Inclusiveness programs benefit companies and workers alike
In 2008, Michael Figueiredo told State Street Corp.’s human resources department that he wanted to start coming to work as a woman.
“I was very nervous,’’ said Figueiredo, 39.
To Figurado’s surprise, the HR representative said, “OK, we support this,’’ and started planning how to tell co-workers and clients.
“From their very first reaction... I have felt so empowered,’’ said Figuerado, who now goes by Michelle and is a member of State Street Pride, which has 150 members.
State Street is one of a growing number of companies that have employee programs to support different ethnicities, ages, religions, sexual orientations, and physical abilities — both in and out of the office. The programs not only help to retain talented workers of diverse backgrounds, but also can boost the bottom line.
“The more diverse an organization, the more potential for being creative,’’ said Mauricio Valesquez, president of the Diversity Training Group, a consulting business based outside Washington, D.C.
People of color made up 16 percent of the labor force in the state last year, according to the US Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey — up from about 10 percent in 1990; nationwide, the number is 32 percent.
This disparity, in part, reflects that Massachusetts is less ethnically diverse than the country as a whole. Minorities make up 34 percent of the national population, according to 2008 estimates from the US Census Bureau, but only 21 percent of the state’s.
The makeup of the state’s labor force needs improvement, according to the Commonwealth Compact, a project formed by business and civic leaders to promote diversity in Boston.
Commonwealth Compact’s 2009 report, based on data from 111 organizations that have signed the compact, found that nearly half weren’t satisfied with the diversity of their leadership team.
Gisele Michel, executive director of the Boston Center for Community and Justice, said many companies maintain diversity programs to buffer themselves from discrimination claims, but “there are very few places that actually incorporate it as a core business practice.’’
Some firms are moving in that direction, though. State Street’s Global Inclusion program, which has 39 networking groups for everyone from military personnel to disabled workers, last month was honored at the Arnold Z. Rosoff Awards, an annual program by the Ad Club of Boston trade group that recognizes companies that achieve diversity.
One of the State Street groups, the 200-member Muslim Professional Network, put on an interfaith panel on fasting last year, open to all employees. The group also lobbied the company to turn eight empty offices and “quiet rooms’’ into prayer rooms for Muslims, who pray five times a day, and other faith-based groups.
“It helps people within the company who don’t practice Islam have a better understanding of minorities of faith,’’ said Shatha Al-Aswad, 32, who is Syrian. “It’s the reason why many of us stay at State Street.’’
That kind of loyalty is one of the goals of diversity programs.
Maggie Louie, 31, who works in finance, and Christina Khoo, 44, a research scientist, talk more about their children than about their shared Chinese heritage, but they have dis cussed where to find Chinese markets and the challenges of being a working mother in traditional Chinese culture.
“It has helped me feel more comfortable having a friendly face that I can smile or wave to,’’ Khoo said.
Sometimes, a company’s diversity program can help everyone — not just those with diverse backgrounds — feel more comfortable in the workplace.
In five years, Deloitte’s local Hispanic business networking group has grown from 4 to 35 members, who help recruit new workers and hold lunchtime events with Latin food and trivia. And as the firm’s awareness of Hispanic culture has grown, so has its understanding of cultural differences. At first, the partners at Deloitte didn’t know what to make of Andrew Rodriguez’s physically affectionate ways, which he said are more common among Hispanics. Now, he said, “it’s more visible and more accepted in the firm.’’
Companies also know a diverse workforce can boost the bottom line. The law firm Goodwin Procter, for example, has had an increasing number of potential clients ask if female lawyers or lawyers of color will be working on their cases.
“Our clients care about diversity because they understand that diverse teams of lawyers solve their problems more effectively,’’ said Scott Westfahl, director of professional development.
Of the 440 lawyers in Goodwin Procter’s Boston office, 172 are women or people of color. In fact, the firm’s chairwoman and managing partner, Regina Pisa, was the first woman to head up a top US law firm.
Lawyers on Goodwin Procter’s Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity, which is open to anyone and has 16 members in Boston, do pro bono work for immigrants becoming citizens — as well as catch the occasional
“It shows that the firm is supportive in recognizing that there may be unique issues or circumstances that diverse lawyers are facing in a predominantly white environment,’’ said senior associate Damian Wilmot, who is president of the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association.
In 2004, the Woonsocket, R.I., company instituted a “snowbird’’ program that allows employees, many of them older, to work in different locations throughout the year. Because stores in warm states are busier during the winter, the company has to add staff anyway, said Stephen Wing, director of workforce initiatives, and moving in seasoned employees makes more sense than training new ones.
“Even younger people will come to an older person to ask them for advice,’’ said Wing, who noted that CVS has 38 employees in their 90s.
CVS clerk Howard Yeaton, 75, from Portland, Maine, is working at a store in Ocala, Fla., where two of his eight daughters and five of his 50 grandchildren live, until the end of June. “I’ll do it as long as I can count the money right,’’ he said.
Likewise, Michelle Figueiredo plans to keep working at State Street for a long time. Figueiredo, who recently urged the state to follow her company’s example at a judicial hearing about transgender employment protections, said she’ll never forget the first day she came to work dressed as a woman. “I walked through the door and had goosebumps when my black pumps clicked on the lobby floor,’’ she said.
Now, Figueiredo, who manages a resolution desk in investment services, is scheduled to have a sex-change operation on Jan. 31, the day before her 40th birthday.
“It would not have been possible without State Street’s buy-in,’’ she said. “It’s made me just blossom.’’
Katie Johnston Chase can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.