For the past five years, PCT has had the good fortune to partner with the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) on a series of industry research studies sponsored by BASF. The studies have focused on an array of topics of interest to PMPs, including employee recruitment and retention; benchmarking your business; and industry compensation and benefits. This year, we decided to address a topic we believe is particularly timely given the industry’s ongoing challenges attracting and retaining quality talent in a very tight labor market — diversity in the workplace. If we surveyed PCT readers/NPMA members about this important topic, we wondered, would we be better equipped as an industry to pro-actively address our labor challenges?

What we learned is many people are reticent to talk about the subject, with our initial outreach efforts producing a lower response rate than previous PCT/NPMA surveys. Ultimately, with some modest adjustments to our email efforts, more than 450 industry professionals responded to the survey, less than previous efforts, but still sufficient to produce statistically valid results. Our experience, however, reaffirmed the fact that workplace diversity is a sensitive topic.

We also learned that if you ask 10 people to define workplace diversity, you’ll get 10 different answers. That’s because diversity is more than race and ethnicity; it’s gender, age, life experiences, skills, abilities and disabilities, culture, sexual orientation, learning styles, political views and more. Even one of the most ethnically diverse companies in the world, Facebook, has been called out for not having enough diversity of thought, an issue that may be contributing to some of its most recent challenges.

While not everyone defines workplace diversity the same way, virtually everyone agrees it’s a complex, emotional topic rife with potential land mines. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a responsible, drama-free discussion about it, which is what we’ve tried to do in this month’s special report. “I don’t look at the ethnicity of my company as a determinant of diversity; what I’m looking for is people that think differently enough to help us make the best decisions,” observes Ravi Sachdeva, CEO of American Pest Management, Manhattan, Kan.

Leila Haas, director of human resources, Sprague Pest Solutions, observed similarly, “I think workplace diversity really means that you are trying to build a team from all types of backgrounds, experiences, cultures, learning styles; it really encompasses just appreciating our differences.”

While workplace diversity is beneficial for all types of businesses, cultivating a sense of inclusiveness and belonging should be the ultimate goal of any long-term HR effort, for that’s what drives workforce engagement and innovation, according to Camille Patrick and Ella Washington of the Gallup organization¹. “Humans have an innate need to be valued, respected, accepted and encouraged to participate fully in whatever culture they are a part of,” they write. “As companies have become more aware that their employees’ psychological needs don’t end at the office door, they’ve started to expand their definition of diversity and inclusion to include belonging as well.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Faye Golden, governmental affairs manager at Cook’s Pest Control, Decatur, Ala. “If you feel included in the team, (that) your voice is (being) heard, then you feel you can grow with the company,” she says. If that’s not the case, however, you may say to yourself, “let me find something else to do.”

With the unemployment rate at historic lows, the competition for talent has never been more intense. Looking in new places and examining new ways to address the industry’s employee recruitment and retention woes are ways to ensure the industry is positioned for continued growth in the future. Yet another is actively supporting the efforts of the NPMA’s Diversity Committee, PestVets initiative and Professional Women in Pest Management organization. The future of our industry depends on it.

The author is publisher of PCT.

1, 3 Ways Millennials Can Advance Workplace Diversity and Inclusion by Camille Patrick and Ella Washington, Gallup.com.