Moving toward an inclusive economy


Here in West Michigan, we have several companies driving the growth of a more inclusive economy. These companies envision an economy in which businesses collaborate to be more inclusive, hire people from all backgrounds and cultures and protect the environment — all while earning a profit.

Over recent months, I have been chatting with Local First members to see what they’re doing to grow a more inclusive economy. It was exciting to hear how their commitment to diversity and inclusion encourages innovation, sparks new ideas and creates opportunities for all people and businesses.

Here are three takeaways from my conversations that West Michigan companies can apply to their own businesses to create a more inclusive economy:

1. Create job opportunities for all people

People are at the heart of a successful economy. A strong, inclusive economy provides jobs for all people, regardless of their culture or background. It also develops, invests in and retains local talent.

For example, Cascade Engineering started its Welfare to Career Program in 1997 to provide job opportunities for low-income communities in West Michigan. As part of the program, Cascade Engineering had an onsite social worker who helped employees transition into the workforce, connected them with transportation options and ensured they had child care if needed.

This program has been very successful in retaining employees for Cascade Engineering. In fact, many employees have been promoted throughout the business. Cascade Engineering also has a Returning Citizens Program in which they recruit formerly incarcerated individuals and invest in their professional and personal development.

This spring, The Image Shoppe participated in B Corp’s Diversity & Inclusion Challenge, in which B Corps where challenged to identify three or more inclusion metrics and measure their progress toward creating a more diverse and inclusive business. The Image Shoppe team was earnest in examining and measuring improvement of their diversity and inclusion policies, and identified opportunities to create more openness in their workplace. Through the challenge, they committed to developing a 90-day work plan around target areas such as providing employee training, ongoing education for staff and creating a written policy demonstrating inclusion of women and minority suppliers.

2. Promote inclusion in all aspects of business

Diversity and inclusion are critical to creating a welcoming workplace, business environment and marketplace.

Essence Restaurant Group is another example of implementing inclusive workplace policies and practices. For example, the restaurant company ensures women have opportunities to step into leadership roles. They also provide cultural competency training for employees so they are aware of and sensitive to different cultures. This allows Essence Restaurant Group to provide a welcoming experience for every person who visits one of their restaurants.

“There are huge benefits to ensuring our employees are exposed to different backgrounds and cultures. We often serve guests from around the world, and our cultural competency training ensures our entire staff is responsive and respectful of all customers,” said Lauren Jaenicke, marketing and sustainability director at Essence Restaurant Group.

Cascade Engineering also is committed to creating an open and welcoming workplace. They promote openness by having an open-door policy and welcoming employees to speak about issues that may affect them, whether personal or work-related. This establishes trust in the workplace, which ultimately creates happier and more productive employees.

As I learned from Keith Maki, director of marketing and public relations at Cascade Engineering, “Creating harmony in the workplace is very important to us. When people know they’re valued, they’re willing to fully immerse themselves in their work. As a business, we value our employees’ perspectives and ideas. When we bring the entire team into the decision-making process, we can make better decisions for our employees, customers and business.”

3. Tap into a diverse group of suppliers and vendors

Building an inclusive economy goes beyond creating a welcoming environment. It’s also important to keep business local. Essence Restaurant Group supports local by working with a diverse group of vendors, including dozens of local farmers from across West Michigan.

“We’re a food-first organization, so we believe it’s important to educate people about where their food comes from,” Jaenicke said. “This is why we source our ingredients from local farmers and support local nonprofits like Urban Roots that educate the community about our food system.”

Let’s work together to create an inclusive economy

There’s still a lot of work to be done. By implementing some of these inclusive practices in your own business, you can help us support an inclusive economy here in West Michigan.

Not sure where to start? Take our Quick Impact Assessment to measure your current practices and identify goals that support diversity and inclusion. You also can learn how to build a diverse and inclusive team at our upcoming Measure What Matters workshop on July 19.

What are some ways your business supports a welcoming and inclusive economy?

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