There’s a big difference between diversity and inclusion. While diversity goals are undoubtedly important, they mean little if there are inherent obstacles in the workspace that prevent employees from advancing because of their color or gender.
As Lindsey All puts it, diversity without an inclusive work culture is a lot like being invited to a dance, but not actually being asked to dance. Director of marketing, programs and business development for the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council in Baton Rouge, All recalls her own struggles as a young project manager in the energy industry.
“I worked for a large consulting firm in the oil and gas market,” she says. “I was young and female, and they would literally laugh when they learned I was project manager.”
Though hard in the beginning, she proved herself to be capable and ultimately developed “a lot of great relationships.”
Alta Baker, president and CEO of Safe Haven Enterprises LLC in Jennings, had a similar experience when launching her blast-resistant modular building company in the late 1990s. Much like All, she had to prove that she could stand on her own. “I can remember when I used to go to facilities and the comment was always the same: ‘Look, they sent the secretary.’ That was a lot to overcome.”
Today, Baker makes sure that her own culture incorporates inclusive policies, and that she actively seeks out other WBEs. “I use women-owned businesses any time I can,” she adds. In fact, Safe Haven recently finished a project at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut with the help of four WBEs, one based in New Orleans.
Some industrial companies are doing better than others in addressing inclusion and removing traditional barriers to advancement.
Many companies are making a purposeful effort to hire from Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) and are launching initiatives aimed at bringing parity to education and providing equal opportunities to all races and genders. They’re also examining their work culture to determine if minorities and genders have equal access to advancement.