Accelerating the Advancement of Women Leaders 

PERSONAL CONNECTION DRIVES D&I

July 2, 2019

White Castle President & CEO, Lisa Ingram, joins employees on the frontlines and at informal events to deepen connections & understanding.


At the movies with White Castle’s CEO
Several times a year, White Castle team members can be found sitting in the dark with their coworkers sharing a bucket of popcorn while watching movies like Hidden Figures, Best of Enemies or Crazy Rich Asians. Or, they might attend their local PRIDE parade, a Veteran’s Day event or volunteer with Big Brothers and Big Sisters. The point is bringing people together to deepen understanding of diverse viewpoints. 
 
Positive culture aids performance
A deep body of research points to the impact positive work culture has on employee loyalty, engagement, performance and productivity. And that getting to know employees as people —who also have families, interests and challenges outside the workplace — helps them feel valued and able to bring their whole selves to work.
 
“We do a lot at White Castle around D&I initiatives and we strive to make sure our activities are not just cut and pasted from what other companies do,” explains Bozana Byers, Team Member Services Senior Manager for White Castle. “We want them to be genuine, to resonate with our team members and to take hold naturally.”

That’s one of the reasons they have found a myriad of ways to explore the topics of diversity and inclusion. Yes, they bring in special speakers to talk about topics such as unconscious bias, but they also volunteer together, watch thought-provoking movies and then meet to talk about them, or sit around a camp fire.
 
Unique personal experience
“I took a team on a retreat where we stayed in cabins and gathered one evening to roast S’mores,” explains White Castle President & CEO Lisa Ingram. “An African American team member told me he had never done this before. It reminded me again with this small example that we all have different upbringings, experiences and thoughts and that tapping into that diversity enables us to make better decisions and remain relevant to our employees and our customers,” she said.
 
“It also reinforces the idea that I have to immerse myself in the experiences of others to have empathy and understanding of our White Castle team members,” Ingram said.
 
Team members respond
Team members notice. “I often hear from our team that they appreciate our basic acknowledgement that diversity and inclusion are important topics to discuss,” Ingram says. “They see us prioritize these experiences by literally paying for people to attend a movie during the work day. And that the CEO and senior leaders make time to attend as well. We’re never going to be perfect, but people see the strong and sincere effort to improve and our teams appreciate that,” she said.
 
“The most consistent feedback we receive from team members is that they value the connections these events facilitate with their coworkers,” Byers adds. “They tell us that, not only was the specific experience educational and enlightening, but that it gave them an opportunity to interact with coworkers they don’t normally get to spend time with.”
 
CEO on board
Of course, one of those people is the President & CEO. “Lisa’s direct involvement in our D&I initiatives is 150% the reason people are so supportive of it,” Byers adds. “They see the visible leadership support. She’s there making it a priority and that takes away the excuse that you are just too busy to do it. We’re building relationships with one another and those are the building blocks that enable us to have difficult conversations in an atmosphere of trust and growth.”
 
White Castle also holds Roundtables every few months to dive into D&I topics, benchmarks its D&I efforts against other companies in their hometown of Columbus, Ohio, targets diversity recruiting, tracks supplier diversity and sponsors activities with organizations such as National Urban League, Pride Stonewall and WFF. But it all starts with human connection. And, sometimes, that means going to the movies.


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