NH drives to diversify

·6 min read

Sep. 26—Shoemaker Ecco held town hall sessions about Black Lives Matter and formed a committee to focus on diversity and inclusion.

An investment consulting firm, Prime Buchholz in Portsmouth, created a mentorship program and promoted more diversity in its workforce and in the investment portfolios of clients.

And Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, the state's largest private employer, hired an outside diversity consultant as well as expanded its reach of remote workers to 32 states that further diversified its workforce.

Those are some of the changes the three employers have undertaken to embrace the changing times and respond to the state's growing minority population. Focusing on the issue boosts business and makes workers feel more like they belong to their organizations, the companies say.

"The more diverse the group is, the better the group is and the better the conversations," D-H Health CEO and President Joanne Conroy said in a phone interview.

New Census figures showed that New Hampshire's population grew more diverse over the past decade, with 87.2% of people identifying as non-Hispanic and White alone in 2020. That compared to 92.3% a decade earlier, according to Kenneth Johnson, senior demographer at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire.

Compared to a decade earlier, New Hampshire had 14,400 fewer people who identified as White alone and not of Hispanic origin in 2020. The state also had a net gain of 176,900 minority residents.

"I've lived in New Hampshire for almost 30 years, and in the last five-10 years there has been a notable increase in the visibility of efforts to create welcoming communities for a wider diversity of people," said Michele Holt-Shannon, director of NH Listens at the University of New Hampshire's Carsey School of Public Policy.

NH Listens partners with public officials, organizations and leaders to gather broad input that can lead to improved practices and policy.

"Learning, talking and listening are key first steps" to tackling the topic of diversity and inclusion, Holt-Shannon said.

"We all have gaps in our knowledge about other people, our history, and the new information we keep learning about — gender identity is new to many people, but it is easy to do a little reading to learn more on your own," she said in an email.

"Talking with each other is one of those things we have to do to solve problems and make important changes, but many people are uncomfortable having conversations about things like religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities," she said.

The topic often transcends race, according to Cheryl Garrison, Ecco's senior director of human resources.

"This is a topic that is important to so many people, even those who aren't in a minority group who want to work for a company that embraces inclusion," Garrison said.

Ecco, with its U.S. headquarters in Londonderry, employs around 130 in New Hampshire and 650 across the country.

"The greater emphasis certainly came right after George Floyd's murder and as things ramped up last year," Garrison said.

Four former Minneapolis police officers were charged in connection with the May 2020 death of Floyd, who was Black, after he died in police custody in a widely viewed cellphone video. Then-officer Derek Chauvin, who is White, kept his knee on Floyd's throat even after Floyd lost consciousness. Chauvin was convicted for his actions while the other three former officers await trial. Floyd's death sparked protests in dozens of U.S. cities.

Stepping up recruiting

While doing business in 90 countries already created diversity, Ecco "wasn't intentional enough to make sure those in minority groups were really getting the attention they deserved," Garrison said.

Ecco formed an internal diversity, equity and inclusion committee with workers from different backgrounds and job types.

"We're less than 50% White in total from a race perspective" throughout Ecco's U.S. workforce," she said. "Our New Hampshire corporate office is majority White" with much of Ecco's diversity coming in its stores across the country, she said.

Ecco has stepped up efforts to find more minority job candidates.

"There's more recruitment efforts," Garrison said. "We found some job boards and websites more specifically designed to attract more diverse candidate job pools."

Studies, she said, shows diversity "drives change. It drives innovation. It drives better results."

Ecco changed its marketing material after complaints it featured too many White people.

"It really stemmed from our stores telling us that our marketing material didn't reflect the communities where they live and work," Garrison said.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health has grown to nearly 2,500 employees working remotely permanently in 32 states, boosted by the pandemic.

"We can actually recruit nationally for a lot of our opportunities, which is going to give us greater diversity," Conroy said. "This is silver lining for COVID for many of us."

Record Diversity

Last year, Eastern Bank achieved a record in its diversity hiring, with 43% of all hires non-White in the three New England states where it operates.

"To help drive diverse recruiting, Eastern partners with external organizations that develop diverse candidate pipelines and supply diverse talent, and has a talent acquisition team led by and comprised of diverse colleagues," said Kathleen Henry, chief human resources officer at Eastern Bank, which counts 1,900 workers, including 82 in New Hampshire at six branches.

The bank provides a series of diversity, equity and inclusion training sessions across all divisions and employee types and offers mandatory employee training on the company's strategy.

Prime Buchholz, which employs about 100 in New Hampshire, was a founding member of the Diversity Workforce Coalition, which was formed to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace through training, education and networking.

"We found more and more of our clients were asking about it. Most of our clients are nonprofits," said Valentina Dingle, a principal and director of diversity and engagement. "They have missions, and diversity has become increasingly important to them and their mission."

More clients are asking how they can introduce diversity, equity and inclusion into their investment portfolios, Dingle said.

The firm also holds training programs, conducts a diversity roundtable and discussion groups and surveys employees.

Women and underrepresented groups make up more than 40% of its employee base.

Several employers, including Ecco, said they don't hire unqualified people who are minority candidates for the sake of boosting diversity.

"We work with hiring managers, third-party hiring partners and our own professional networks to ensure we have diverse slates, so that the talent we hire have both the qualifications we require and the diversity of experience we need to serve a wide range of customers and clients," said Eastern's Henry.

At Ecco, "You still ultimately want the right people in the right positions," Garrison said. "At the end, we're still going to choose the best person for the job."

What's Working, a series exploring solutions for New Hampshire's workforce needs, is sponsored by the New Hampshire Solutions Journalism Lab at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and is funded by Eversource, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the New Hampshire College & University Council, Northeast Delta Dental and the New Hampshire Coalition for Business and Education.

Contact reporter Michael Cousineau at mcousineau@unionleader.com. To read stories in the series, visit unionleader.com/whatsworking.

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