When the St. Pete Pride Parade marches down Bayshore Drive, principal partner Tech Data will be front and center with a festive float and hundreds of employees and their families walking alongside.
“This will be our third year in the parade,” says Cal Jackson, director of diversity and inclusion global programs at Tech Data. “Last year we had the largest corporate footprint of any local company with over 650 people participating. This year, we’re aiming to beat that number.”
While the parade might be the most visible manifestation of the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, Florida’s largest company has shown unwavering support for equality in the workplace for years. Tech Data earned a perfect score on the 2018 Corporate Equality Index for the 13th consecutive year and was named 2018 Business of the Year by Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber of Commerce.
Research backs the business case for diversity and inclusion. In its 2015 Diversity Matters Report, management consulting company McKinsey & Co. found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity outperform their competitors by 15 percent. Those in the top quartile for ethnic diversity outperform their competitors by 35 percent.
Tech Data has seen first-hand that diverse groups of people can produce better, long-term results. “We’ve seen more diversity breeds creativity and innovation,” Jackson says. “It also makes us more competitive. It makes us an employer of choice. People want to work here.”
In a March 2019 article, Harvard Business Review pointed out that many businesses are working to improve their brands and their internal practices on diversity and LGBTQ+ issues. This is due, in part, to rapid opinion shifts of the public,namely millennials and Generation Z. Millennials are now the largest group in the U.S. workforce and the majority want to work for inclusive and diverse companies.
At Tech Data, employees have made it clear that diversity and inclusion are important and should be a company value. “We surveyed all of our employees around the globe about what our shared values should be,” says Jackson. “Diversity and inclusion came up in the top five.”
Those survey results, coupled with the support of the board and executive leadership, led to the adoption of diversity and inclusion as core company values and to the creation of five employee resource groups. Colleagues spearhead these groups, which are dedicated to empowering the LGBTQ+ community, women, veterans and their families, African Americans and the Hispanic/Latino community.
“What’s different about our ERG’s is that they are colleague-driven, meaning employees asked for them, and every employee is a member of all five groups,” Jackson says. “These groups embody the notion of inclusion. When one group has an activity, or an event or a lunch-and-learn everyone is invited. It’s an opportunity to engage with, and learn, from colleagues you may not otherwise come into contact with.”
Spectrum, the company’s LGBTA resource group, is dedicated to promoting a safe and welcoming environment, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. It was founded by colleagues who felt comfortable beginning the discussion of diversity and inclusion with John Tonnison, executive vice president and chief information officer.
In 2017, Tonnison was honored as the “voice for equality” by Equality Florida, the largest civil rights organization working to secure full equality for Florida’s LGBTQ+ community. “People felt comfortable talking to him because he was an LGBTQ+ advocate and he was out and proud,” Jackson says. “Employees saw someone they could connect with and that’s what we want with all our resource groups. It makes a culture where employees feel comfortable to be themselves.”
Although Tech Data is a leader in diversity and inclusion in the Tampa Bay region, Jackson believes the company has only scratched the surface of what can be done. “We’re our toughest critics,” he says. “My role is global. People are learning more about diversity and working next to people who aren’t just like them. We need to continue to engage all voices and make sure all aspects of diversity are out in the open and part of the dialogue.” ♦