By Penni McLean-Conner, Northeast Utilities
Chief customer officers are talking about diversity and inclusion because they recognize that unlocking superior customer service comes from a work force that is diverse and feels included.
Diversity is more than creating a team that reflects the customer demographics utilities serve. Successful organizations are realizing that companies benefit from a diverse work force when each employee contributes ideas based on his or her background and experiences. In other words, successful organizations are building an inclusive culture of engaged employees.
Diversity is the rich difference of human characteristics and experiences found in any group that produces a complex mixture of individual styles, perspectives and ideas. Diversity recognizes and values diverse personal and professional backgrounds, along with unique perspectives and skills.
Inclusion is creating a positive environment in which everyone’s unique characteristics are appreciated. It is an environment in which everyone is engaged and collaborates effectively by using differences and similarities to achieve the organization’s goals.
The most successful organizations are addressing diversity and inclusion. This series of articles will touch on diversity and inclusion strategies. This article focuses on diversity strategies.
Utilities have diverse customer bases, which makes it even more important that customer care teams also be diverse to best understand and meet the needs of their customer bases. Sharon Bueno Washington, a diversity and organizational consultant, suggests that an ideal future state to strive for is a work force that is demographically representative of the communities you serve. But because this ideal state is unattainable for most organizations, it is important to understand the cultures of the communities you serve. Bueno Washington recommends parallel initiatives of hiring for diversity and educating existing employees on the diversity aspects within those communities.
Hiring for Diversity
Achieving a diverse candidate pool requires passion by the hiring organization for a diverse candidate pool along with a good relationship with human resources. The business and human resources teams must work together and brainstorm on posting options that will yield a diverse candidate pool.
For some jobs, the normal human resource posting process might not be adequate to ensure a diverse candidate pool. A combination of creative sourcing strategies with management accountability work well to build diversity.
In today’s economy, creative sourcing strategies are needed to find and attract diverse candidate pools. For external hires, effective strategies include tapping into social-based websites such as LinkedIn. Creating sourcing strategies that target high school or college campus candidates can also be successful.
Let’s look at an example. In our customer care group, we recognized a need to recruit women for technical and craft jobs, such as field metering. We worked with human resources to identify some creative sourcing strategies. One of our most effective was outreach at a job fair at a local technical school, where our own female meter technicians met with potential candidates. This turned out to attract women to bid into the meter technical openings.
Create an expectation and accountability on management to build diverse teams. This includes intact work teams and teams put together to address special projects. Accountability can be achieved by training management on the business case for diversity and incorporating a diversity initiative into performance plans.
One utility went as far as implementing a candidate review form that was signed by the manager. On the form, the manager would indicate whether the candidate pool was diverse, and if not, explain why an exception should be made. This is a great tool that increases attention and accountability on line management for ensuring a diverse candidate pool is considered.
Educating on Diversity
Diversity training and education is particularly helpful to sensitize customer care employees on the cultures and needs of the customers they serve. This increased awareness of diversity in your team can help surface ideas and suggestions to better serve your diverse customer base. Content to consider in diversity training includes providing a demographic overview of your specific customer base along with some insights on each group’s preferences.
As leaders, it’s important to demonstrate a passion to create diversity. We can start by growing the diversity of our work force.
We can build on this by creating an inclusive workplace environment that taps into the creativity, ideas and solutions that will result in new products and services for our customers.
Penni McLean-Conner is the chief customer offcer at Northeast Utilities, the largest energy delivery company in New England. A registered professional engineer, McLean-Conner is active in the utility industry, serving on several boards of directors including CS Week and the American Council for an Energy Effcient Economy. Her latest book, “Energy Effciency: Principles and Practices,” is available at www. pennwellbooks.com. Reach her at penelope. email@example.com.