The tremendous diversity of our country has provided a foundation for our unique strength, prosperity, and resilience. We are a nation built on the promise of inclusion and acceptance, where every individual has the opportunity to find their place and make a difference. Realistically, this has been an evolving concept, with the culture of an entire country developing on a persistent pace with the maturation of our views on tolerance, adaptability, variety, and change. None of us needs a reminder of the hurdles that we’ve faced along the way, but we’ve learned through history and sacrifice that a blended but unified culture is one of our most important assets, laying the groundwork for some of our greatest achievements.
Embracing diversity is becoming more and more important as the world continues to shrink and the demographics of our society transform in a global environment. This is just as important in the workplace, where we have come to recognize the value of an employee population that respects and supports our human differences. By learning to better understand each other we can better appreciate the unique contributions that people with variable backgrounds and experiences can bring to the workforce; creating a positive and nurturing work environment that maximizes the potential of all employees.
As an industry, loss prevention has made significant strides in addressing diversity and inclusion. We have learned that there is an essential value that comes from those with different backgrounds and points of view that can be vital to the overall success of an organization. Respecting individual differences encourages flexibility and the ability to adapt to the ongoing changes in the retail world. It can provide a larger pool of ideas, insights, and experiences, leading to more effective business strategies. A diverse workforce also tends to be more adaptable, offering a greater variety of solutions to the many challenges we face. Company-wide strategies are then executed more effectively; resulting in higher morale and greater productivity.
When the subject is diversity, the message should be one of workplace inclusion. Our differences should help bring us together; finding common ground that lays the foundation for what is to come. This not only encompasses how we perceive others, but also how we perceive ourselves. But change is a process, not a destination. Workplace inclusion shouldn’t be perceived as a goal; it should be accepted as a core component of our team dynamic. While we have made great strides, there are additional steps that we can take to encourage workplace inclusion. We need to continue to build a culture of acceptance and mutual respect where both attitudes and actions will encourage understanding; creating an environment where people of all attributes and backgrounds are valued, where every voice has a chance to be heard, and every individual has an equal opportunity to be successful.
Bringing Ideas to Action
Great things are often built on basic principles. Sometimes it just takes a group of extraordinary individuals to set things in motion. Once those ideas are brought to action, progress can be hard to stop.
Late one afternoon in September 1982, six security professionals had a chance meeting in the city of New Orleans. While each knew someone else in the group, not one of them knew everyone. All were in the city for a shared event—the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) annual conference. After several days of meetings and seminars, they were looking for an escape from the week’s activities. Their agenda was no more complicated than to take advantage of an opportunity to meet some new friends with common interests and expand their professional networks. Instead, they formed a bond that would change the lives of thousands of young men and women for decades to come.
Berele S. Brereton, Curtis Hayes, George Logan, Marshall Thomas, Oliver Wainwright, and Stonewall Scott were all seasoned leaders in the security industry. Serving with prominent companies such as Smith-Corona Marchant (SCM), Sun Company, General Mills, Traveler’s Insurance, Mobile Oil, and Guardsmark, these men had impressive backgrounds that included doctorate-level degrees, extensive military service, and diverse experience in the field.
They had all taken different roads to get to the top of their profession, working hard and making sacrifices to reach their goals. They knew that they wanted to share their experiences with others and raise awareness of the opportunities that are found in the profession. But they all had something else in common, and held a shared concern. The conference halls and sessions had been filled with professionals from all over the country. Thousands had participated in this national conference. However, these six men were the only African-Americans in attendance.
As they explored all of the various reasons why there appeared to be such limited diversity in these top positions, there were many difficult questions that needed answers. Still, the conversation remained constructive and professional. Rather than disparaging the hurdles, questions focused on searching for solutions. How can we create additional opportunities to encourage workplace inclusion? Are minority candidates aware that these types of jobs are available to them? Do our young professionals have sufficient mentors that will provide the guidance and direction they need to lead them down this potential career path? What is the best way to reach these individuals? Are we providing them with the resources that they need to make informed decisions about their career opportunities?
“We were all aware that there were very few people of color in technical, management, and other leadership positions in professional security and loss prevention,” recalls George Logan. “All of us knew that we wanted to make a difference, but understood that it wouldn’t be an easy road and a lot needed to be done. We committed to making it happen. I never envisioned where it might go.”
Building a Plan
“We knew that if we were going to be effective, we needed to have a clear plan,” says Curtis Hayes. “Our message needed to be positive and constructive. Many simply didn’t realize that these jobs existed. Students were coming out of college looking for positions in law enforcement, and they didn’t understand that they had other options. Others were looking to extend their careers beyond law enforcement and needed guidance to put them on the right track.”
“We needed to raise awareness of the possibilities,” states Oliver Wainwright. “We wanted to build through networking and gain visibility through education. That’s how we started the International Organization of Black Security Executives, or IOBSE.”
Once the mission was defined, the pieces began to fall in place. By the time they met the following year in Atlanta, they had a plan and had identified clear objectives.
■ They would address high-ranking law enforcement personnel, sharing information with prominent departments across the country to enlighten officers of a career path following their service with the police department or other agency.
■ They would target corporations, identifying other minority leaders from across the country to support their efforts, provide additional leadership and direction, and mentor those looking to enter the career field. They also looked for opportunities to discuss additional gateways with company leadership to help open doors and invite participation.
■ They would identify colleges and universities with prominent minority enrollment, visit those campuses, and provide seminars for the student population to educate them about the opportunities in security and loss prevention.
It was important that the students were viewed as the focal point of any program designed to enhance workplace inclusion. As tomorrow’s leaders, their involvement was essential.
“We had clear messages,” states Logan. “We wanted to introduce them to the world of security and loss prevention, while making it clear that they had options. There are different areas within LP and security, and endless possibilities with the different types of jobs that you can explore.”
“We also wanted to stress the necessity of being well-rounded and well-educated,” adds Hayes. “We would develop topics based on student needs and interests, but emphasize the importance of learning as much as possible.”
“Having substantive information makes you more effective and efficient both personally and professionally,” states Wainwright. “It helps you gain visibility, and contributes to credibility as well as learning.”
The message that took root during that chance meeting in New Orleans began to grow and gain momentum. While there were challenges to be faced along the way, commitment and dedication was rewarded with membership, and then results. Together, these men held the right combination of professional maturity and personal fortitude to get the job done. With a positive message and a professional tone, others began to listen, and then lead.
Passing the Torch
“I remember attending a conference years ago and coming across a young man that worked for Marshall Field’s in Chicago. He was carrying a bag of golf clubs and was on his way to a local course,” recalls Hayes. “I told him that he needed to put his clubs down and talk with me. He said that he wanted to golf; but I persisted, telling him that he could golf anytime, and I just wanted a couple minutes. He responded by saying ‘No one talks to me like that except my father,’ and I replied ‘Well, today we both have the same goals in mind for you.’ I guess it got his attention, and it turned out to be a very important conversation for us. He agreed to sit down and talk with me, and eventually helped take IOBSE to another level.”
That young man was Keith White. At the time, White was the loss prevention manager at the flagship store for Marshall Field & Company in downtown Chicago. Today he is the senior vice president of loss prevention and corporate administration for Gap Inc. Hayes credits White and “a group of exceptional leaders that supported, and then followed him” with “raising the bar even higher” for IOBSE.
Men and women who are leading loss prevention and security programs from across the country are now actively involved in continuing the initiatives that began more than thirty years ago, promoting workplace inclusion by providing education, learning opportunities, job opportunities, networking, mentoring, and professional development. Today, IOBSE holds two primary events each year—a Fall networking reception, networking booth, and educational program that coincides with the ASIS International conference, and an annual Spring conference that focuses on learning, education, and the development of tomorrow’s leaders.
“Our primary mission is to impart professional resources, provide education and training, and facilitate the exchange of information, ideas, knowledge, and experience,” states Will Baker, senior director of LP for Ross Stores and current president of IOBSE. “Our message is one of workplace inclusion rather than separation; with the fundamental goal to broaden the thought processes of our teams. We are focused on the identification and development of talent, and helping to develop the leadership skills that translate to success in the business environment.”
For the past several years the IOBSE Spring conference has been hosted by leading retailers across the country. In addition to the member events, a select group of thirty to forty college students are invited to attend the event and participate in educational programs, guidance and learning exercises, and a networking reception. Workshops are also held with subject-matter experts from various companies that share strategies for communication, networking, resume building, and job interviews.
For several months prior to the event, committee members will visit a number of colleges and universities, speaking with professors, holding seminars, and evaluating students in order to hand-select the participants that will be chosen to attend. Committee members will consider a variety of factors in the vetting process to include academic performance, character, enthusiasm, community service, leadership, and other qualities that exemplify a winning attitude. Individuals can also apply for inclusion through the IOBSE website.
Candidates are then selected and brought to the event with their expenses paid through the IOBSE. Following the event, scholarships are awarded to three students, each in the amount of $1,500, to help support their college education. Many of the students have been hired by retailers immediately following the event. Further, the Loss Prevention Foundation donates ten LPQualified certification courses, including the exam fees. Successful completion of the LPQ courseware can also be submitted for college credits.
“IOBSE does a superb job of identifying talented young professionals and bringing them to the conference,” says Gene Smith, president of the Loss Prevention Foundation. “We are proud to be a part of these efforts. Offering the LPQ scholarships is our way of supporting the program and educating the students on the benefits found in retail loss prevention. The LPQ designation will further set them apart and make them more marketable in the job market.”
A common thread throughout the success of the organization has been the support offered by the various companies, conferences, and service providers over the years. From the beginnings of the program, Hayes, Logan, and Wainwright all spoke of the tremendous cooperation that they received from their companies, providing the time and resources that allowed the IOBSE the opportunity to grow and flourish. That same support is found today, with companies providing financial resources to make these programs successful, and offering additional assistance by inviting the conferences into their facilities.
The 2014 Spring conference sponsors include Walmart, The Home Depot, Limited Brands, Cracker Barrel, Ross Dress for Less, Gap Inc., Sears Holdings, and solution provider Tyco Integrated Security. Recent IOBSE conferences have been held at the corporate facilities for Walmart (2011), Sears Holdings (2012), Limited Brands (2013), and Ross Dress for Less (2014).
“These companies have always shown tremendous support,” states Wainwright. “This only further validates that there is a genuine reason why these talented individuals should consider loss prevention and security as a career path. It is a growth industry with tremendous opportunities and mobility.”
Supporting Diversity in the Workplace
Successful organizations and successful people are flexible, adaptable, and open to change. As our society has continued to become more diverse, our views and approach must continue to diversify as well. The complexity of our society and the cultures reflected by the people within the community must be incorporated into our business models. We must focus on managing change; developing and supporting the work environment to make it more inclusive. Team motivation, satisfaction, and productivity can often hinge on our ability to appropriately and effectively lead a diverse team, improving the overall climate of the workplace, reducing conflicts, and improving retention. Workplace inclusion can also enhance awareness and encourage our team members to be more innovative and responsive.
Workplace inclusion requires a commitment throughout retail leadership and at every level of management. It should be an integrated component of business planning and management initiatives, directly tied to key business processes, objectives, and operational decisions. We have to understand the value of workplace inclusion and provide an environment where diversity is not only welcome, but one where every member of our team can flourish.
■ Information is the driving force behind understanding. Ownership is important, and employees are much more likely to support programs that they understand and believe in.
■ We have to be able to identify potential mentors within our organizations that can provide leadership and support.
■ We should continue to look for creative ways to help recruit talent into loss prevention. Recruiting functions, job fairs, websites, and other media channels that support various diversity groups should be explored as a means to bring talent to the forefront.
■ We must provide a work environment that is conducive to workplace inclusion and a diverse work force; where every member of the team feels welcomed and comfortable.
■ We have to learn to be more sensitive to different perspectives. This may refer to team dynamics, work/life/family issues (for example, a sick child and family care), and other factors that can accentuate our differences.
■ We should also focus on retention and finding ways to make all team members want to remain with our team.
Embracing our differences and working together requires that we look for ways to assess people for who they are rather than what we see. As loss prevention professionals, we should make every effort to champion diversity efforts and workplace inclusion by example and in practice. A spirit of inclusion and acceptance should be reflected in the way that we approach our working relationships and the way that we interact with each other.
Our LP departments should encourage and accept a balanced and diverse workforce by driving workplace inclusion efforts. Our teams should be represented by both men and women, promoting an environment that welcomes individuals from all races, cultures, creeds, ethnicity, and any and all diverse backgrounds. We should provide an environment where all opinions and ideas are welcome, and all individuals feel comfortable, accepted, and appreciated.
This article was first published in 2014 and updated June 13, 2016.