Sometimes diversity in loss prevention can be the big pink elephant in the office. It is an issue that needs to be acknowledged, but in doing so requires action. The choice with diversity is whether to nurture it so that it becomes a part of the corporate culture or have it so well integrated that it is no longer an issue. Many LP professionals aren’t sure which is the right response. Those who have an answer unanimously agree that it’s not which choice you make, it’s knowing what you’re trying to accomplish and how you’re going to get it done.
Loss prevention professionals…both those in the majority and those who aren’t…each have a story to tell and insight to offer on how to promote diversity. Diversity is often synonymous with differences, yet the ideas that emerge in the following interviews are concepts we can all relate to regardless of skin color or gender. Maybe therein lies the key to making diversity work in your department or company. Reaching beyond that which makes us different to how we’re alike makes the discomfort of the unfamiliar merely a temporary pit stop on the road to success.
Each of the following interviews underscores the reality that diversity only works if each person assumes his or her role in making it happen. Natural law tells us we’ll only work for something we believe in. Defining what you believe involves personal discovery that according to Tom Matthews of Saks Fifth Avenue is a valuable experience. How you help people in your company believe in diversity is a personal call to action that Keith White at The Gap believes you have a duty to perform.
Honoring your beliefs is a personal challenge. The following people have met this challenge and their insightsprovide a unique perspective of the issues surrounding the pink elephant of diversity.
Profiling and Professional Integrity
“Do not watch people, watch merchandise! When you take an objective approach to loss control, then gender and ethnicity is irrelevant.”
Tony Fernandez, regional manager of asset protection for Sears, Roebuck and Co., realizes that others sometimes see him differently than he sees himself. For example, once in pursuit of a shoplifter who was spotted on surveillance cameras, he was the one security officers knocked to the floor, mistaking him for the suspect. Being Hispanic in an upscale, predominantly white community predisposed him to this unfair treatment.
What would you do as you pulled yourself up off the floor? Many of us would respond with anger and indignation – the things at the heart of most lawsuits. Fernandez chose to do otherwise. “I realized it wasn’t personal. These people were trying to do their jobs,” he said, “and they were doing it from their own frame of reference.”
Fernandez added, “If your staff and customers are predominantly white and you find you’re only apprehending people of color, help people understand how they’re conditioned and help motivate them to change. After all, customers won’t take such discrimination and there is no reason employees should either.”
Fernandez believes the industry is still apprehending people of color disproportionately to the overall demographics of our customer base. Such treatment, called profiling, if knowingly done, and unintentional bias when it’s done accidentally, exposes companies to law suits and diminishes the reputation of the loss prevention profession.
Fernandez’s response to profiling is to teach his associates to become behavior experts who target actions in relationship to merchandise, not skin color or gender. He believes that product is valuable because it makes money and customers are valued because they buy products. “You protect what’s valuable and honor what’s valued,” Fernandez explains. “So protect the product. That’s our job.” Fernandez uses hard data to help others discover their own bias and realize how their actions put their company at risk and jeopardize their professional credibility. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” says Fernandez. Each month, he requires his investigators to review the profiles of apprehended suspects. If a particular group stands out from the rest, Fernandez pushes for the reasons why. He advises investigators to look at behaviors first and determine if they are based on actual actions or personal perceptions. If perception-based, a direct linkage must then be made to behavior. If a link can’t be made, there’s a good chance bias exists. Fernandez’s approach to this problem includes refining surveillance techniques to focus solely on behavior, resisting the attempt to accept second-hand observations, and training on behaviors and diversity sensitivity.
“Do whatever it takes to build a personal commitment to removing our own bias,” advises Fernandez. “It’s what loss prevention is all about.”
Changing the Culture of LP
“You don’t have to be a member of the good old boys club to belong in LP. As women continue to get results, we continue to build value … and all LP professionals support that.”
As a 22-year-old college graduate in criminal justice, Cheryl Blake naturally wondered where she fit in. She looked around the loss prevention industry and noticed what she called male “dinosaurs.” Most of them were retired from successful careers in law enforcement and were importing their expertise into the emerging world of LP.
Twenty-plus years later, Blake is vice president of loss prevention services for Aspect Loss Prevention and former LP director for FuncoLand. Now, she laughs because she’s now considered the dinosaur, and a female to boot. “The good news is that LP is no longer a private club where I used to feel like an outsider,” Blake says. “I feel I belong because I have proven I can support the business and that’s what counts in today’s world.”
Today the face of LP is in transition. Though Blake knows there are still fewer than fifteen percent women and people of color in key LP positions, she believes the doors are opening to diversity. For instance, LP professionals are younger. College and high school graduates are entering the profession and often experience an enthusiastic welcome.
Loss prevention is no longer considered a second career industry. Blake believes that if the industry gets more aggressive about recruiting in nontraditional venues, such as business management departments of universities or store operations, there is a good chance diversity candidates will pursue the profession versus stumbling upon it and hoping they will succeed.
Blake recognizes that getting a wider range of candidates into the pool needs to be a priority if companies are sincere about promoting diversity. “In the past, the feeder pipe simply hasn’t been filled with women,” Blake reflects. “Attracting women and others is as important as keeping them once they get here.”
Two powerful places to focus efforts are promotions and mentoring. Companies who continue placing competent women and people of color in key positions demonstrate to others that they offer legitimate opportunities to succeed. Informal and formal mentoring builds the skills and professional credibility minority candidates need in order to be promoted. This simple combination ensures everybody, including the company and its employees, benefits.
The other opportunity to promote diversity lies within each individual. Everyone who is different from those in the majority has the ability to add new perspective and additional skills to the team. As a woman in LP, Blake chose to leverage her natural talent of interpersonal communication.
“Starting in this industry when I was twenty-two and weighing only 110 pounds, it was unlikely that I would intimidate a criminal into an admission,” Blake recalls. “Like many women, I used my intuition and emotional sensitivity skills to build trust and openness. I was no longer an authority figure, but more like a mom, sister, or friend. That’s when I got the admission.”
Blake’s advice to women also applies to people of color. “Don’t be afraid to use all the tools at your disposal,” she says. Since the loss prevention world is focused more on results then color or gender, bringing additional competencies to the table keeps the door wide open to diversity.
Over his twenty-two-year career in loss prevention, Malcolm Beckwith, assistant vice president and director of LP at Marshalls, has seen organizations stumble, fail, and occasionally succeed when in comes to leveraging diversity as a business model. Being one of a handful of African Americans in a loss prevention executive leadership position, Beckwith understands the challenges of companies who sincerely want to successfully leverage diversity, but struggle to do so.
Consider his observations at a recent conference where LP executives were required to bring their protégés who were in line to succeed them. Always alarming, but not surprising, Beckwith looked around the room packed with sixty professionals and saw only one other African American man and one British woman. A majority of the executives in the room no doubt valued diversity and recognized the need to incorporate it into their organizations. Yet, why is the top so disproportionably homogenous?
Beckwith believes it’s due to common mistakes that, once recognized, can be overcome. (See sidebar titled Ten Common Mistakes in Leveraging Diversity.) He cautions that before meaningful change can take place, there has to be a fundamental desire for change and a conviction that diversity is worthwhile. The challenge is for executives and others in positions of influence to open their doors and invite those who are different to share the leadership that is necessary to respond to the ever-changing demographics of the retailing environment.
“When two hundred LP professionals get together at Saks Fifth Avenue, it looks like you’ve walked into the United Nations,” states Thomas Matthews, senior vice president of asset protection. When asked how that happened, he explains that diversity wasn’t the focus, but the result of striving for excellence. “Let’s build the best” was what Matthews asked of his organization. When asked if he has succeeded, Matthews replies, “I believe we have.”
Focusing on being the best requires Matthews to challenge himself and his organization. He refuses to tolerate prejudice of any kind and takes responsibility for associates who act in any way short of the best. As part of that focus, bias and discrimination is addressed head on in Saks’ associate training and awareness program. One way is through the use of undercover investigative news footage filmed at another retailer that shows employeespracticing bias and discrimination when targeting and watching potential shoplifters. Matthews also partneredwith a vendor to develop an on-line training program that offers practical steps to removing bias from investigativepractices. The video and on-line training allows Matthews to set a standard of no tolerance for discrimination of any kind.
Building a culture of excellence that includes a diverse workforce requires a strong stance by executives who put company interests before their own. When a company has made diversity a priority, leaders must be the first to act. All executives at Saks Fifth Avenue go through a specialized sensitivity training program that involves role playing, intensive awareness, and skill building. Each leader is also taught to put the company first. For Matthews, that means recognizing that the company is the client. “When you look for the benefit of the company, you’ll naturally attrac tdiversity,” Matthews said.
As someone who sits in a position to influence a major retailer while modeling diversity to his peers, Matthews’s authenticity is what makes the case. “Diversity can’t be forced,” Matthews concludes. “It’s a natural part of my team and who I am. When we all realize the dynamic force that a wealth of experiences and backgrounds brings, diversity is no longer an issue.”
Old Versus New Diversity
When Keith Borders, senior director of associate relations and legal counsel at Luxotica Retail, is asked where his company is on the path to diversity, he’ll say he’s working at understanding the roadmap. As an attorney and the chair of his company’s corporate diversity council, Borders has a helicopter’s view of what is happening in the diversity arena. The changing dynamics surrounding diversity involves moving away from a focus on gender and ethnicity towards a broader scope of differences in general.
“What diversity is or is not, isn’t limited to race and gender. It encompasses dozens and dozens of factors,” Borders cautions. Management styles, cultural idiosyncrasies, interpersonal behaviors, linguistics …these and many more “invisible” differences are changing the face of diversity. The challenge is about moving beyond what we can see and closer to how we interact and ultimately perform together.
Statistics indicate that by 2050 there will be more women and people of color than Caucasian men. In sheer numbers that means today’s population majority will become the minority. Yet, it will likely take several more years before positions of power reflect similar changes in demographics.
“Companies who will succeed in the future are those companies who are already working on understanding differences of all kinds,” Borders says. “Those that do understand not only enjoy the benefits of what diversity provides today, but will be positioned to benefit in the future as well.”
Most professionals will admit that retail, in general, is a bit behind when it comes to integrating diversity, and that loss prevention is even further behind. If diversity presents a problem for LP professionals, Borders advises, “Go back to the basics. Keep it simple. Find a common denominator when you interact with someone different than you. ”Whether the difference experienced comes from something you can see or actions you perform, Borders believes a common goal, shared experience, or mutually shared value always exists.
“There is always an answer,” according to Borders, “It’s more a matter of whether you both believe there is one and that you’re each willing to find a place to start.”
Walking into an industry conference surrounded by hundreds of peers and seeing no other faces quite like your own is like an alien stepping onto another planet, according to Keith White, vice president of loss prevention at The Gap. Yet, it’s not the experience White focuses on, it’s what he does with it that defines who and what he’s about.
“You have to believe in who you are and what you can achieve,” White states. “If you focus on being a person of color or a woman, then you get sidetracked from what you can accomplish.”
As an African American who is considered one of the most successful professionals in the industry, White has made his mark because he doesn’t settle for anything less. White believes that each person who is outside the majority must take personal responsibility to get to where they want to go.
“I’m successful because I know how to show people what I can do and I find a way to connect with them so they can trust me and my abilities,” White declares. When asked about times when his minority status got in his way, he shakes his head and won’t buy it. “I don’t look at the issue of race as the obstacle. If there is something holding me back…whatever it is…I simply find away to go around it,” says White. “I build allies, get results, and find a way to get the job done. If you can accomplish the task, the obstacles either go away or are unimportant.”
Such confidence and sense of self has made White a model for other people of color looking to make it in loss prevention. White defines who he is by knowing what he values and what motivates him to act.
“Integrity is what I’m about,” says White. “Getting results is what drives me to get the job done.” White firmly believes that in today’s business world the only thing that matters is whether you can accomplish the goal and get the results the company needs.
“Making it has little to do with your skin color,” White says. “It’s about whether you believe you can and then finding the way to go about doing it.”
Credentials and Credibility
Ben Guffey, senior partner at King Rogers Incorporated and former vice president of loss prevention at Kmart, acknowledges that climbing the corporate ladder as someone from Mexican-Irish descent has occasionally surprised people. “You don’t look like a ‘Guffey’,” said one corporate president who was interviewing him for an upper management job.
“As a minority, when you encounter someone who is biased, don’t allow yourself to get too distracted,” says Guffey. “Work through it and get on with doing the job.”
Looking over Guffey’s resume you realize he is someone who has always had a vision and was focused on what he wanted to do. Guffey moved his way up from store detective to regional manager and eventually to vice president at various retailers. Guffey admits the keys to his success came from having an internal drive to be in a top position plus the credentials to get there. Being someone in the minority, Guffey realizes you may have to work harder to overcome obstacles. “But keeping your eye on your competence is how you’ll succeed,” says Guffey.
Education and professional accreditation can be critical assets when competing in the growing field of loss prevention, whether you’re in the majority or in the minority. A bachelor of science and master’s degree in criminal justice not only helped Guffey get an edge when up against other competent professionals, but it also helped him deal with senior-level executives and understand their perspectives.
“You need to be able to relate to all levels of the company to do your job well,” Guffey says. “But if you want to be promoted, you need to know what and how upper management sees the world. Being able to connect to them shows them you’re someone they can relate to.”
Guffey also earned his certified protection professional (CPP) credentials. “The education and management experience that qualifies you to take the exams helps open doors,” says Guffey. “It also set’s you apart from others who are competing for the same position.”
According to Guffey, only about 25 percent of LP professionals have their CPP credentials. Achieving this industry standard may provide the edge needed to stand out.
Guffey also believes continuing to gain knowledge throughout one’s career positions a person for success. He recommends participating in loss prevention events and committees associated with the National Retail Federation, International Mass Retail Association, or American Society for Industrial Security. Getting involved in your own company’s initiatives is also critical in order to gain recognition and make a larger contribution. Participating in company-wide projects or workgroups helps others see your expertise goes beyond LP.
Those who want to begin more modestly can start within your own department by taking the lead on an initiative that eventually gets shared with others. Expanding your circle of influence showcases a person’s courage and skills regardless of any real or perceived obstacle.
Making Diversity the Norm
The good news that these interviews clearly demonstrate is that the pink elephant of diversity in loss prevention is getting smaller. Thanks to courageous leadership, companies are learning that creating opportunities for excellence means no one must be left out. While regulations, advocate groups, and social consciousness prohibits most incidents of blatant discrimination, unintentional or subconscious exclusion still persists in many retail companies. Many leaders still don’t realize their own bias or prejudice and often are insolated from its direct impact.
Another stumbling block to diversity is that we all operate from our own frame of reference created by past experiences, childhood imprinting, and social conditioning. We pay a high price, however, for whatever false sense of comfort this familiarity brings. If the world we live in stayed the same, this trade-off might be acceptable. But it isn’t…especially in retail.
People of color and women will represent the majority of the U.S. population by 2050, which means our private and corporate world view will change whether we’re ready for it or not. Hopefully, individuals and companies can embrace the power and potential of diversity before they suffer the losses the failure to do so will inevitably bring. Losses of revenue from lawsuits and erosion of your employee and consumer base are the inevitable result of not promoting a diverse workplace.
The ultimate desire of those who want the pink elephant of diversity to work is to eventually see no pink at all. Authentic diversity is colorless and genderless. It values human capacity and potential first. The epitome of this is bested voiced by Malcolm Beckwith: “See me not as a person of color who happens to be successful, see me as successful person who happens to be of color.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: In the Women in LP column in the July/ August issue, the author will present a dynamic approach to companies who are working to integrate diversity into their corporate culture and business strategies.