Workforce diversity is 'a must have,' expert says

Dr. Jason Wingard, center, dean of Columbia University School of Professional Studies, enjoys a moment with Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, left, and president of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce Christy Gillenwater Wednesday at the Diversify luncheon held at the Chattanooga Convention Center.
photo Dr. Jason Wingard, left, dean of Columbia University School of Professional Studies, keeps the conversation light-hearted with Maria Noel, second from left, Dyan Wingard and James Wingard Wednesday at the Diversify luncheon held at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

DIVERSIFY MARKETPLACE

On Friday, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring the Diversify Marketplace at First Tennessee Pavilion from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The marketplace will showcase small, multigenerational, culturally diverse, innovative and creative businesses as well as nonprofits, according to the Chamber. CARTA will have free shuttles running between the downtown Marriott stop and the pavilion.

Businesses once were able to slide by without workforce diversity, but data shows those days are over, a Columbia University dean said in Chattanooga on Wednesday.

Globalization, technology, speed of production and regulatory change requires diversity, said Dr. Jason Wingard, dean of the Columbia University School of Professional Studies.

"That's not just me. That's the data talking," said Wingard at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's Diversify luncheon that drew about 700 people.

He said the companies which have taken the lead and diversified their workforces are doing better than those which haven't.

"It is a must-have to be a diverse workforce for your business to be successful," the dean said.

Wingard said that when company officials think about diversity, they need to consider more than just race.

"You want to think about race, culture, religion, gender, physical abilityall these things," he said.

Christy Gillenwater, the Chamber's chief executive, said that business group's members say inclusion and diversity are important.

"We're adding new initiatives and programs based on feedback from members," she said. "Economic inclusion and diversity make the workforce well-rounded."

Wingard, who served as the chief learning officer at the Goldman Sachs investment firm before joining Columbia, said businesses need talent to grow and develop.

"Businesses are growing, making more money, things are thriving. They need not just people, but good people," he said.

Wingard cited several best practices which influence diversity, such as "cause positioning."

"What does your business stand for?" he asked. "Take a stance on something, but if you're trying to recruit talented employees from a diverse pipeline you've got to be able to do things to satisfy what they're looking for."

The Columbia dean also looked at the issue of market responsiveness, citing gun maker Smith & Wesson and toy company Toys R Us.

He said Smith & Wesson, in the wake of school shootings, saw that sales were slipping and the stock price was falling.

"Employees who worked for that company didn't feel proud about telling people that they worked for Smith & Wesson," Wingard said.

He said the company changed its name to American Outdoor Brands, made Smith & Wesson a brand, and started selling camping and emergency response gear "a lot more than they sell guns."

But, Wingard said, a business that didn't respond to market conditions was Toys R Us, which is winding down its operations nationwide.

"It didn't deal with the online challenge like it needed," he said. "It didn't adapt. They don't need to talk about diversifying the workforce because they don't have one."

Wingard also cited the idea of development innovation as a best practice, offering contrasts between Kodak and Google.

He said the average tenure of employees at Kodak is 20 years while just about one year at Google.

"The market cap at Kodak is bad, going down. Innovation is going down," Wingard said. "Kodak was on top of the world. It didn't see digitalization. It didn't see around the corner."

Google, meanwhile, has one of the biggest market capitalizations, he said.

"It's really thrivingnew products, new innovation," Wingard said.

He said he's not saying companies want all employees to leave after a year, but Google is adapting.

"They're allowing people to come in, make a contribution and then leave," Wingard said. "Kodak is not doing that and suffering for it."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.