The Retail-Diversity Determinant, and Its Implications for a Retailer

Clark Hill PLC
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There has been a fresh call by consumers demanding that retailers embrace their diversity, inclusion, and equality practices. This retail uprising has encouraged various industries to reinvent their ad-campaigning strategies, partnerships, and leadership make-up to meet the latest customer expectations.  Failure to acknowledge the consumers’ demands and implement policies and practices to foster diversity, inclusion, and equality is a near-certain way to earn a “do not shop badge from the consumer, who is now paying very close attention to a retailer’s mission statement, and whether that retailer is adhering to the promises set forth in same.

Fortunately, many retailers already have the resources available to heed this call from the general public for greater and more prominent diversity and inclusion practices. Nonetheless, retailers should be aware of the legal issues presented when implementing diversity, inclusion, and equality initiatives, particularly if those initiatives are metrics-driven.

The Mission Statement

With many consumers now holding retailers to a higher standard, the first step to renewing a commitment to diversity and inclusion practices is to emphasize the importance of diversity, inclusion, and equality in the retailer’s mission statement. An effective inclusive mission statement would be mindful of language, specifically utilizing gender-neutral and other non-exclusionary words. Inclusion may also be demonstrated by emphasizing the importance of community building within the organization and identifying employees and customers as other vital stakeholders beside the organization’s executive leadership. Finally, to demonstrate a commitment to diversity and inclusion, the mission statement would commit to leveraging a diverse workforce and workplace, at all levels. Consumers are eager to support retailers that, in turn, support their workforce.

While consumers look to a retailer’s mission statement, their appraisal likely will not stop there. A consumer’s in-store experience can be influenced by the promotional visual displays in the store, the retailer’s ad-marketing campaigns, and the consumer’s interactions with the retailer’s staff and security policies.

The In-Store Experience

The consumer’s in-store experience could be influenced within the first few moments a consumer enters a store. The most immediate way to cultivate a welcoming environment is to foster a diverse workforce so that consumers automatically feel represented when they enter the doors. It is best for a retailer to consult with a trusted advisor when making hiring/firing decisions with the aim to foster diversity in the workplace. Further, providing diversity training to staff and security personnel is vital to promoting a diverse and inclusive work environment. The store’s layout and promotional presentations may also have an impact on how welcomed a consumer feels upon entering the store. When a consumer is able to identify with an ad campaign or promotional image depicting an individual that looks like them, that consumer will feel more welcomed to shop.

A retailer may also make adjustments to its store operations, on occasion, to promote inclusivity among other underrepresented groups. For example, in 2018, an English supermarket chain introduced one-hour time periods every Saturday of each week to accommodate shoppers with Autism. The hour entails dimmed lights and no music, radio, or other unnecessary intercom announcements. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, supermarkets throughout the United States also made changes to their store operations to promote inclusivity. During the pandemic, several supermarkets implemented special operating hours for senior citizens and other high-risk individuals only to ensure their comfort when shopping for groceries. These are just two examples of how retailers have adjusted their operations to promote inclusivity.

Resources for General Counsels

While these are just a few examples of many ways by which retailers could better cultivate their diversity, inclusion, and equality practices, there are resources available for retailers to explore other ideas to achieve the same end. In the last year, there has been an emphasis on Diversity and Inclusion summits and conferences around the United States, in which General Counsels from across the retail industry are invited to discuss diversity opportunities and the leadership role of General Counsel in promoting inclusion.

Most recently, on July 14-15, 2021, the National Retail Federation hosted the Retail Law Summit led by in-house lawyers from leading retail brands across the nation. Prior to that, in March 2021, the Association of Corporate Counsel hosted a Virtual General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer Summit, in which in-house attorneys discussed the ways in which they do, and could, promote diversity, inclusion, and equality within their own departments. In October 2021, the Women in Retail Leadership Circle will host the Women in Retail Summit to allow women in leadership positions at various retailers to network and discuss the unique needs of women in retail leadership positions.

Historically, retailers have adopted various diversity, inclusion, and equality practices in their operations. However, the recent retail revolution has prompted retailers to listen to the consumers’ call to action, and to reassess their commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equality, or else lose the consumers’ business. Fortunately, many retailers already have the resources available to heed this call. However, it is recommended that retailers become familiar with the legal issues presented by implementing various diversity, inclusion, and equality initiatives, and to ensure that any adopted practices are consistent with state and federal laws.

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