HIGH POINT, N.C. (June 6, 2022) — Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategies are top of mind for many forward-thinking companies in the home furnishings industry, and research suggests that younger consumers will continue to make buying decisions based on a brand’s commitment to the issue.
In a 2022 Deloitte Insights global marketing trends report, 94% of the Gen Z respondents reported that they expect companies to “take a stand on important social issues.” Additionally, 90% of the youngest (18 to 25 years old) respondents said they are more willing to purchase products they deem “beneficial to society,” adding that they notice if brands are not making a genuine, authentic effort to support diversity and inclusion values.
Founded in 1946, Skyline Furniture is a family-owned furniture company based near Chicago that has always supported diversity and inclusion, according to the company President Meganne Wecker.“For more than 75 years, our company has been proud to represent a diverse mix of race, ethnicity, age, religion, gender, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status,” Wecker said. “Today, we strive to remain a leader in this effort by working to ensure diversity in all departments, from entry-level positions to management. We want our products to be accessible to all, so it is important for us that our team reflects the customers we serve.” Wecker added that while Skyline Furniture has always offered company benefits, educational support, and financial and health classes to its employees, she is pleased to see other companies in the industry taking note as well.
“Diversity and inclusion have become more of a conversation at markets, from both suppliers and retailers,” Wecker said. “Minority-owned businesses and designers are more sought after and celebrated, expert panels are more inclusive of talent from broader backgrounds, and industry awards are beginning to honor more diverse candidates.
“While I am encouraged by these advances, I believe there is still so much more work to be done and hope we will continue to see progress in the markets ahead.”
Wecker believes there will be adverse bottom-line consequences for companies that do not take a stand on the issue. “Companies that do not prioritize diversity and inclusion will ultimately find their bottom-line suffering,” she said. “In today’s fast-paced world, having a diverse mix of employees is the only way to ensure that your company stays relevant, innovative and ahead of the competition.”
Ashley White, the new vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at Top 100 retailer Big Lots, says the Columbus, Ohio-based retailer’s vision is to be the big difference for a better life.
“One of the ways we do that is by building a ‘best places to work and grow’ culture. We recognize the value of creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace so that our associates feel valued and supported,” White said.
“As a result, DEI is a significant component of our human capital management. In support of this work, we created our first vice president of DEI position to drive the work further, faster.” Additionally, White said Big Lots leverages its business resource groups to help build a strong sense of connection, both internally with associates and with external community partners.
The Top 100 retailer has built partnerships with a number of organizations that promote diversity, equity and inclusivity, including the OnePulse Foundation, the Urban League, Hispanic Unity, Stonewall Walk Foundation and the Prosperity Project.
Within the store ecosystem, the retailer’s sales associates can wear “Everyone Can Love Like This” T-shirts throughout June, and it also will have a Pride Truck as part of its fleet. “We want one truck per Distribution Center that goes on the road spreading love every day,” Koenig said.
In the second quarter, Koenig will participate in a pair of CEO town halls focused on DEI in the organization, and he expects to get feedback and answer questions from City Furniture team members.
The company plans to name a diversity officer soon and will build a five-year plan to measure and track performance.
Culp recently initiated a new program called CULPgrow that has a goal of providing a workplace where every associate has the resources they need to grow, develop and reach their career goals as a part of the company’s focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.
The company said its efforts to foster a DEI environment take many shapes, including implementing internal programs to support all employees.
The company offers educational classes and programs such as ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages), computer literacy, GED, communications and leadership.
It also provides resources such as financial educational assistance, as well as mentorship opportunities where associates can be matched with a company mentor.
When Kelly Richardson acquired The Farmhouse Store in August 2021, the Bracewood Capital managing partner paired his financial commitment with a goal to expand and diversify the customer base.
In addition to the inherent physical charm of the store as a destination, the previous owners were actively involved in the day-to-day operations and well-known for their customer service.
“When I took on the business, our customer base was fairly homogenous,” he continued. “But we see a broader county shift and more ethnic diversity coming into the city. We’re adding to the styles available in the store slowly with assorted colors and patterns with a goal of creating a fun place to shop for everyone.”
Richardson’s goal of increasing the diversity of his customer base requires merging legacy success strategies with a new vision focused on inclusion. Stating that he wants all people of color to feel that The Farmhouse Store is a “safe place” for them to shop, he added that his team is incorporating new styles along with inclusive messaging.
The textile producer is working with consulting company BSR to help guide the company’s journey to greater diversity, equity and inclusion. Last year, the company created a core DEI team to lead, develop and champion Glen Raven’s evolution.
To date, the company has performed a thorough review of existing DEI policies and initiatives to identify areas of opportunity; conducted focus groups with a wide variety of associates across levels and functions to gauge perspectives on DEI; more clearly defined what constitutes leadership across regions and divisions; and established goals to drive DEI efforts, including increasing diversity in the leadership team by 20% and increasing the number of women serving as front line supervisors by 25% by 2025.
The company has also created several new positions to help foster associate growth and inclusivity, including a new dedicated talent acquisition manager as well as a new director of talent development, both of whom have the charter to recruit talent and support the company’s diversity goals.
GXO Logistics created a new position of vice president of diversity, inclusion and belonging. Letitia James will serve in the role, working to champion the advancing and evolving the company’s DEI vision, strategy and initiatives.
GXO says James brings a breadth of experience in cultural change, social responsibility and diverse talent development, most recently serving as director of diversity and inclusion with Compass Group.
GXO says it strives to set the benchmark for environmental, social and governance (ESG) across the supply chain. GXO received an “AA” ESG rating from MSCI, a leading provider of research-based indexes and analytics, and has been recognized by the Human Rights Campaign on the Corporate Equality Index for LGBTQ+ inclusion.
The company has been working on its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts for the past two years, and recently celebrated the first year anniversary of its AIDE committee, Advancing Inclusion Diversity and Equity.
Working with a DEI consultant to ensure the application process for the committee was inclusive, Hooker didn’t want to appoint employees but rather to attract as broad a group of voluntary applicants as possible.
The committee has worked on meeting employees where they are. At the plant level, the committee has put up resource boards to address some of the challenges of everyday life, providing advertisements for government agencies and medical organizations the workers might need access to.
With plans to do a follow-up DEI survey this year, Hooker hopes to try to measure the improvements made over the past two years, while recognizing that this is a long-term project.
High Point Market Authority
The High Point Market Authority is in the early stages of formulating a diversity, equity and inclusion initiative and board.
This new group has secured social innovation firm, Change Often, to facilitate the action plan creation and execution.
The working group is comprised of active industry peers to help generate and execute a DEI-focused action plan. Patti Carpenter, global trend ambassador and DEI activist, will be the group’s chairperson.
Once the group is in place, she will help lead the group through the execution phase and will be a voice on the team, alongside Christi Barbour, keeping the Market Authority board up to date.
“In broad strokes, we’re looking for areas within the home furnishings industry where improvement in the realm of diversity, equity and inclusion is needed and then calculating how our group can best help,” said Ashley Grigg, director of marketing/communications, High Point Market Authority. “
Direct-to-consumer home furnishings designer and retailer Interior Define is largely women-led, with 50% of its directors and 72% of team members.
“We’re committed to creating a more diverse and vibrant workforce within our own walls,” CEO Antonio Nieves said. “Diversity, equity and inclusion are key pillars in our hiring process and play a large role in our commitment to ensuring all employees are equipped with the proper tools for career growth.”
One of Chief Customer Officer Jill John’s, and in turn Interior Define’s, core values are placing customers at the center of the design and decision-making process. Also, Catherine Colwell, chief experience officer, works to make the customer feel empowered, respected, and pleased.
At a local level, women such as Angela Rosenow, regional manager, ensure that these core values Interior Define has established are being implemented in retail stores.
Interior Define relies on Jayme Allen to maintain the brand’s integrity and high standards of customer service. As director of training and development, Allen is tasked with coming up with inventive strategies for training new and current Interior Define employees to uphold the brand’s ethos.
International Textile Alliance
The International Textile Alliance is focusing on the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion with a goal of supporting and encouraging initiatives throughout the textile industry.
The association also plans to offer support and allyship for underrepresented groups, establish collaborative partnerships with antiracist and social justice organizations, and highlight companies, executives and individuals that celebrate and honor these values.
“We formed a committee that is currently investigating educational opportunities with the ultimate goal of sharing those resources with all ITA members,” said Carrie Dillon, ITA managing director. “We also plan to support and collaborate with other organizations such as the International Society of Furniture Designers, WithIt, High Point by Design and the High Point Market Authority to share DEI best practices and learnings.”
This year, the company focused its internal efforts on three key areas: creating awareness, assessing the company’s current state and working on accountability towards meeting DEI goals.
Creating employee resource groups, La-Z-Boy wanted to underscore a sense of community and to provide resources for underrepresented employees and their allies. Currently three ERGs are offered to all employees: LZB pride, working parent and multicultural.
La-Z-Boy’s internal “LZB communications platform” is used to post “consumable content” to help educate employees and to provide a forum for employees to learn together. The platform includes blog posts, podcasts and an engagement video initiative called “Our Words, My Voice.”
It launched a Supplier Inclusion Program to try to ensure inclusion is a component of every product it makes, sponsored various events and programs like the Motor City Pride Festival and Parade in Detroit, and has a charitable foundation that provides funding for a diverse group of non-profits in the area.
For FY2023, La-Z-Boy is adjusting its recruitment strategy to create a broader reach for candidates and to enhance the talent pipeline for historically underrepresented groups in the industry.
The office and contract furniture giant has undertaken a variety of initiatives:
First, it established Diversity in Design (DID) in 2021, a collaborative aimed at fostering equitable ecosystems for black designers, with a current roster of 48 members.
In 2020, CEO Andi Owen signed the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion Pledge and joined more than 1,000 businesses around the world working together to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
It is supporting other organizations aiming to advance racial equity, including partnering with the Grand Rapids Art Museum on an “In Dialogue” exhibit.
The company provides an open forum through its LENS (Listening, Empowering Narratives and Speaking Up) initiative, which foster conversations on DEI and racial inequities.
And, MillerKnoll created seven global equity teams, or employee resource programs, to advance the understanding and inclusion of employees with a common background, set of interests and shared goals.
Room & Board
“We feel we have good seeds planted that we want to grow.”
That’s how Nancy Greatrix, chief people officer for Top 100 retailer Room & Board, describes the company’s ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts that have spanned her decades-long tenure at the retailer.
Room & Board’s DEI work has evolved over time from offering domestic partnership insurance coverage to taking a deeper dive through conversations with Black, Indigenous and People of Color, LGBTQ+ and female staffers and then sharing their stories with peers in a video series, “Better Together.”
Among the most recent initiatives was the formation in late 2020 and early 2021 of the Multi-Cultural Advisory Council, made up of 10 to 12 employees, which is exploring how to weave DEI into four key areas: recruitment, work environment and culture, community philanthropy and growing a more diverse vendor base.
On the cause and community front, Room & Board’s DEI efforts have been celebrated internally as employees from different backgrounds talk about their lives, traditions and culture, and with its public-facing blog posts that bring to light companywide efforts.
Tempur Sealy International dedicates a section of its 2022 corporate values report to ethics and diversity.
The company’s 12,000 employees — 7,000 in the U.S. and 5,000 throughout the rest of the world — break down as 53% minority with 30% female and 53% aged 40 and over.
In its report, Tempur Sealy said it is committed to providing opportunities to all employees and applicants and prohibiting discrimination and harassment.
To do that, the company said it pushes for a diverse pool of qualified candidates during the hiring process; reaches out to organizations in its communities to increase the number of minority, female, veteran and disabled applicants; conducts periodic gender and minority pay equity analysis; and is involved community-based events sponsored by organizations that assist women, minorities and veterans.
Managers at Ultrafabrics are undergoing diversity training since the company has long believed in having multiple voices and backgrounds at the table.
“Our male-to-female ratio has been 1-to-1, often leaning more towards female,” said Nicole Meier, Ultrafabrics director of branding. “We look for diversity with respect to many areas including background, race, position within the company, etc.”
The HR team is currently organizing a diversity training program for supervisors that will then be shared with the entire staff.
The current initiative is just the beginning of something that will become more formalized over time, according to Meier, who said the company is laying the groundwork for even greater diversity in leadership positions in the near future.
WithIt, the women’s leadership development network for the home and furnishings industries, has been bringing a diversity of speakers to its events for years.
The association recently signed a contract with Dr. Shirley Davis, author of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Dummies, to speak at the upcoming WithIt conference June 22-24 in Arlington, Va. Also, Dr. Carmen Landrau, a cardiologist and business coach from Houston, will also be speaking at the conference about how women can embrace their brilliance.
“Embracing diversity is really baked into our DNA,” said Amy Van Dorp, WithIt executive director. “Learning from a variety of speakers enables our members to incorporate those learnings into their careers and therefore make their companies better.”