The Community I Want to Live In: Steelcase on Diversity

While headquartered in Grand Rapids, Mich., Steelcase is very much a global company, with over 650 dealers and over 10,000 employees worldwide. They have employees in offices and manufacturing facilities around the world including China, India, and Europe. It just makes sense, from a business standpoint, to be an organization that focuses on diversity.
But it's an issue Steelcase also cares about domestically, going to great lengths to champion diversity through recruiting and hiring, as well as to promote diversity and urban education within the Grand Rapids community. Steelcase is also one of a handful of companies to receive a score of 100 on the Human Rights Council's Corporate Equality Index, a survey that measures just practices concerning LGBT employees.
Brian Cloyd has been with Steelcase since 1978 and has spent the last decade as VP of Global Relations. Alongside this role, he is also the Chief Diversity Officer and Chief Affirmative Action Officer. He describes these latter roles as "want-to" and "regulatory," respectively.
As a federal contractor, affirmative action is something in which the company is required to participate, and the company must track and report their hiring practices when it comes to minorities, women, and veterans. That's the "regulatory" side.
"Then, there are those things that we want to do because it's important to us as an organization and the way we do business," Cloyd says.
Steelcase wants the recruiting in their domestic organizations to not only reflect the community in which they're located, but also the community in which they're doing business.
"We pay pretty close attention to our hiring practices," he says. "We have active recruiting activities not necessarily limited to historically black colleges, but really looking at where the talent is and where the diverse talent is. A lot of that starts at the top of the organization with the CEO."
CEO Jim Hackett, according to Cloyd, has a "very strong passion for diversity." One of his many ideas about the topic is that it begins long before the hiring process. Where are the people who are eventually going to be a part of your organization coming from, and how prepared are they to be productive members of the organization? If you want a diverse workforce, you need to have a diverse pool of qualified applicants to choose from. Hackett and Cloyd realized that in order to successfully staff their company the way they wanted to, the organization needed to spend more time focusing on urban education.
Steelcase made a decision to support the West Michigan Center of Arts & Technology (WMCAT). WMCAT is based on a larger organization in Pittsburgh started by Bill Strickland. As Cloyd explains, Strickland almost became a high school dropout in his youth, but was saved by a thoughtful art teacher who became his mentor. This led him to enroll in the University of Pittsburgh where he now sits on the Board of Trustees. As an adult, Strickland founded the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild as an informal after-school arts program for inner-city children. Based on its success, Strickland was later asked to lead the Bidwell Training Center, a career education facility. In 1986, Strickland was able to open a much larger, 62,000-square-foot arts and training center.

Steelcase approached Strickland over a decade ago and went to visit him in Pittsburgh. This led to the establishment of WMCAT in 2005. WMCAT also operates as an after-school arts program, as well as an adult career education center that empowers its participants by training and placing them in careers where they earn a living wage.
Strickland now has a vision of creating 100 similar centers in the U.S. and 100 more worldwide. There are currently centers in Cincinnati, Boston, Hartford, Chicago, Atlanta, Cleveland, and Buffalo, among others.
"We recognize that urban education is a national issue and this is a national organization," Cloyd says. "Every center that opens, we participate with them by doing in-kind donations to create the type of environment they want and that will help the students make the most of their time there."
Steelcase continued the conversation beyond WMCAT and supported the idea of creating a public/private partnership with a school. This resulted in the founding of University Prep Academy (U-Prep). 
"The focus [of U-Prep] is again on urban kids, but this time, with the broader education piece," Cloyd, a U-Prep board member, says. "So, it's a [middle and high school] program and the focus is on 90 percent of the kids graduating from high school and going on to college."
Earlier this month, U-Prep held a ribbon cutting for its new $9.2 million location at 512 S. Division Ave. 
"The idea is that you really can't start with ethnic groups when you're trying to hire them as full-time employees, because the funnel is not full enough at the college level to get people in," Cloyd continues. "You really have to start at a younger age and ideally at some point, with U-Prep as an example, we'll go back and create another type of partnership where we can create the entire K-12 system, or even beyond that, to make sure kids are properly prepared. What we've learned is that the only difference between poor people and rich people is money. There is no difference in terms of creativity or innovation. Put them in the right environment with the right tools and they'll rise to the expectations."
Steelcase was also the first signatory to the [University of Michigan] Supreme Court amicus brief on law school and undergrad admissions.
"That was a milestone for us in terms of the importance of educational institutions having the ability to recruit diverse populations because they, in turn, become a supplier to organizations like us," Cloyd says. (Read more about the 2003 case, Grutter v. Bollinger, here.)
In addition to community activism and equitable hiring and recruiting practices, Steelcase also works to make their employees aware of diversity issues at every level and requires diversity training for all employees. They also offer rewards and incentives to their minority and women-owned dealers across the country.
For more information on Steelcase's diversity efforts and statistics on dealer diversity, click here
Steelcase strives to be an equitable workplace for the LGBT community as well. The company has received a rating of 100 on the Human Rights Council's Corporate Equality Index, a survey that acts as a benchmarking tool on policies concerning LGBT employees. (Notably, fellow Michigan company Kellogg Co. has also received a 100.)
Steelcase achieved their 100 rating in 2011, up from the previous year's rating of 53.
"Every year, there is a rating form that comes out," Cloyd says. "It seems like every year, the questions get a little bit tougher. It really is a question of practices that you have inside the organization -- either you do them, or you don't."
Providing domestic partner benefits as well as other services for the LGBT community are a part of the scoring system.
Cloyd says the first year Steelcase participated in the scoring was at the point during which the organization was implementing domestic partner benefits, something they had already been working on. "The rating didn't drive what we wanted to do," he says. "It was what we wanted to do in the first place."
Cloyd says the LGBT community at Steelcase is one of self-disclosure. Steelcase does not conduct surveys or ask questions, but if an employee does disclose, "the environment is secure enough that people will feel comfortable and they'll be treated with dignity and respect."
Those who visited Grand Rapids' PRIDE celebration this year may have noticed Steelcase's presence as a sponsor, along with fellow furniture company Herman Miller.
"There's a much, much bigger [LGBT] community here than people realize," Cloyd says. "The trick now is to make that more visible, so people can feel when they're in the community. As we break down more of those barriers and issues that people have, the more people will feel comfortable and want to be here."
When it comes to moving forward, Cloyd says the hardest issue Grand Rapids has is its ability to attract and retain diverse populations, especially people of color.
"We do a very good job of tracking people, but then we struggle with the retention piece because we're still evolving as a community," Cloyd says. "We get talented people here, and they love the experience here, and they love the work environment. But it's not Chicago. [Grand Rapids] doesn't have as broad a base of diversity as other communities do."
This goes back to the idea of building a foundation of urban education, resulting in more students coming out of high school, going to college, and coming back to create a diverse middle and upper-middle class.
"You'll start to create that type of environment that when you bring someone from Southern California here, [they] say, 'This is the type of community I want to live in. It’s a win-win for the company, as well as the community,'" Cloyd says.

J. Bennett Rylah is the Managing Editor of Rapid Growth Media. 

Photography by Adam Bird
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