” align=right border=0>HOLLAND — Tony Castillo sees diversity in the workplace as much more than a corporate policy or executive edict.
It’s a way of thinking, he says; one that brings people out from their comfort zone to acknowledge an increasingly diverse world and deals openly and honestly with ethnic and racial differences.
“The point is not whether there are differences, but whether we can learn from those differences,” Castillo said during a Feb. 5 address at the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Early Bird Breakfast.
Castillo, a former educator and the owner of Malagro Six Inc. who acquired three McDonald’s restaurants in Holland when he moved to the area last year, said that with Hispanics now being the fastest growing segment of the population both nationally and locally, businesses need to embrace the ideals of diversity both internally and externally.
“The true challenges in our businesses is whether people build on their differences or whether they are divided or destroyed by them,” Castillo said.
In making his case for diversity from a purely business perspective, Castillo cited 2000 Census data that shows the growing economic strength of Hispanics in America.
Hispanics now represent 12.5 percent of the U.S. population, up from 10.3 percent in 1995.
Locally, the Hispanic population in the city of Holland is 22.2 percent; almost double that of the national percentage. Hispanics comprise 33 percent of the Holland Public Schools student enrollment, and 14.3 percent in the neighboring West Ottawa Public Schools.
As an economic class, Hispanics had a collective purchasing power of $3.48 billion in 1990. That grew to $4 billion in 2000, and U.S. Census Bureau projections suggest it will grow to $4.2 trillion by 2020.
Hispanic families are generally middle class, younger and larger than non-Hispanics, meaning their economic clout will only grow substantially in the years ahead, Castillo said. As an example he pointed out that the Spanish-speaking network Univision is now the fifth largest television network in the U.S.
Preparing for diversity and reaching out to tap that growing market “is indeed good business,” Castillo said. Businesses need to ask themselves whether they are prepared to tap the market, he said.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” Castillo said.
Businesses of all types need to do more to reach out to Hispanic customers and make them feel welcome and comfortable. The Holland area and its business community have done a “remarkable job” catering to the growing Hispanic population, although more is always needed, Castillo said.
“I’m favorably impressed,” Castillo said. “We listen to numbers. We listen to buying power.”
He is, however, particularly disheartened when a customer asks for advice on where to go to buy a car or apply for a loan. He often hears from Hispanic customers about their not being made to feel welcome at some businesses.
“There are areas where we can improve. We have to create an environment where, when these clients walk in the door, we have to make them feel comfortable,” he said.
But diversity is much more than responding to growing economic forces.
It is largely still a moral issue, Castillo said, that comes down to “what is right, ethical and just” and requires an earnest commitment from people and companies in order to “create a whole that is greater than the individual parts.”
“There is no such thing as a dynamic organization created by executive order,” Castillo said. “We must be prepared to move outside of our comfort zones if we want to embrace diversity.”