Commitment to Diversity

3-peopleAt Zingerman’s, we define diversity as an inclusive work environment in which all individuals are welcomed, treated respectfully and fairly, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success. We are a place where we can be ourselves at work, bringing our uniqueness to the business while fulfilling our work duties.

Zingerman’s Vision of Diversity for the year 2015

Awaking to Radical Commitment

Back in 2010, a few Zingernauts asked the question, “Does our company reflect the diversity of people in our local community? Could we be more inclusive?” Led by Paul Saginaw, their persistence led all of us to realize that there were untapped opportunities to show all kinds of people the “love and care in all our actions” as our mission states. We wanted to do better at giving the Zingerman’s experience to every guest and every employee. We knew that formally committing to diversity at Zingerman’s would yield better decisions and leadership, in addition to being the right thing for the people in our community.

So, the time had come to build as many bridges between our business, our staff, our clientele, and our local residential communities as we could possibly imagine. Thinking of inclusion in how we operate as a company was a new thing for us. How would we measure “inclusion” or “diversity”? How would we know we were doing the right thing by our fellow SE Michigan residents? We didn’t have the answers but we committed to finding out and putting our conviction for social justice into action. The beginning of the process felt like open-book finance had once felt – we realized that we had a lot to learn and that we were beginning to work toward something that could never be fully complete.

As we discovered once again, the ZCoB has proven to be the perfect place to make a difference in the local economy. Wow, it’s incredible to think how far we’ve come!

Building Bridges

Nowadays, the word “diversity” is something we are both very aware of at Zingerman’s, and yet it has become second nature. When you look around at our staff, you’re going to see tons of colors, languages, abilities, ages, socioeconomic situations, backgrounds, sexual orientation, sizes, personality styles, styles of gender expression, ethnicity, religion and places of origin – just to name a very few. We are discovering new variations of human expression and identity everyday among our coworkers, guests and vendors! We are the employer of choice for people of all kinds because they know they will be part of a renowned company where they are welcomed, honored, respected, and where they can feel good about what they do.

It started by connecting with networks of people in our area that Zingerman’s hadn’t ever approached before. We made sure that most everyone who wanted a job in the SE Michigan area community had access to our job postings. Many hadn’t ever considered Zingerman’s because their friends or family hadn’t ever worked here. We hadn’t shown up on their radar, and they hadn’t shown up on ours – until now. Confident in their skills, experience, and character, we looked future Zingernauts in the eye, said, “Come work with us” and shook their hand. It was as surprising for us as it was for them. Our commitment to developing strong leadership in all our people rubbed off on our increasingly diverse staff. The barriers of race or socioeconomic status or background or personality type seemed to dissolve as people of all kinds and experiences became successful ZCoB managers and partners. And then… as more people saw that Zingerman’s was diverse in its leadership, people who might have once thought they wouldn’t fit in suddenly applied with confident gusto. It’s magic, really. Success stories just multiplied as Zingerman’s became a part of the family life of the true cross-section of our local community. People relocate to Ann Arbor to work with us, so we are contributing to the local cultural scene by virtue of our diverse employment base alone. Now, we like to think of ourselves as a multifaceted mosaic of people of all kinds who live in SE Michigan. Our common denominator is that we choose to work at Zingerman’s.

Cultural Shifts We Can All Delight In

Our internal culture is tighter and stronger than ever. The atmosphere buzzes with the excitement of food, customer service, and flavorful finance. It’s also an atmosphere alive with openly sharing our traditions, backgrounds, and cultural values. Many of us have discovered that we are more different from each other than alike – and this variety makes working at Zingerman’s a whole lotta fun! We create an environment where we can include more of ourselves at work and with each other thanks in part to the enhanced training that we receive in our classes, huddles and summits. Our training emphasizes that we have biases but that we can acknowledge and transform them so that we can be employees with open minds and radical dedication to the best service for every colleague, customer, and food tradition. The conversations around the cheese tasting or the coffee cupping table have gotten “deeper” as we start saying things like, “wow, this really reminds me of the holiday pudding my aachchi (grandmother) used to make in Sri Lanka”, followed by another person saying “oooh, tell me more about that at the break!” Our huddles are filled with small anecdotes about our home-countries or stories about how our bilingual children are handling being in their first all-English class. Our interest is constantly piqued as we stimulate each other’s curiosities. People feel welcome to bring their uniqueness to their business and feel safe to be themselves while they fulfill their duties at work. And guess what? We actually know that ZCoBbers feel that Zingerman’s is a safe and inclusive environment because the Diversity Workgroup maintains a DOR board that empirically demonstrates this fact! The Workgroup develops new initiatives based on staff feedback, ensuring that inclusion is going up, just like the NOP!

Amidst all the sharing and learning, many of us remain fairly reserved and are happy that way. We don’t feel required to engage in these conversations, but the open environment is a resource for anyone who wants to share and receive the experience. Having different kinds of people and different levels of expression has trained us all to respect each other’s personal space – a small but important improvement in our culture at Zingerman’s.

More Businesses, More Guests, More Profits, Oh my!

Well, you can imagine that our customer service has improved as we have also attracted new hoards of hungry guests, all chomping at the bit for our outstanding breads, cheeses, Asian street food, mac-n-cheese – just to name a few. Our training has evolved to include ways we can demonstrate social sensitivity and affirmative behavior to make sure that every customer who walks through our doors or gives us a call is given the BEST customer service. Many ZCoBbers speak more than one language and so the service we can offer to our ESL customers, vendors and business partners locally and abroad is just as outstanding as the service we give to our customers who speak English primarily. The recipe continues to offer the best advice: find out what the customer wants, get it for them, go the extra mile. It’s miraculous how that works if you truly follow it.

As a result of being a part of so many peoples’ lives, we have seen a proliferation of new foods that we offer by choice and by sheer demand. The same artisanal and traditionally-made, full- flavor rules apply – and thank goodness because it’s getting us in touch with some of the most nuanced flavors and tasty foods we’ve ever sold! The 2020 vision of having 12-18 vibrant businesses is a reality as we’re seeing ethnic food businesses pop up and bring in whole new clientele to Zingerman’s. Diversity once was a matter of principle alone; now it’s also one of our biggest financial assets.

“This place feels like something special to everyone we touch.”- From the 2020 Vision

As it says in our 2020 vision, “We believe we have been successful because we have a vision and a strategy that seeks to promote the human potential that surrounds us… We continue to create something of significance that is inclusive, positive and life-affirming.” Today, more than ever, we’re thrilled to proclaim that “we” expands everyday to include all the unique people in our SE Michigan community who have included Zingerman’s in their wide-ranging life experiences. We know that the work of inclusion is ongoing, taking us into broader networks and connecting us with new business partners, customers, and staff members all the time. The constant newness makes the company thrive and keeps our work vital. As a result, working at Zingerman’s is a rare opportunity to conduct business with the multifaceted mosaic of people in our local community and the communities we are connected to around the world. It tastes good, it feels good, and we see over and over again that it is the right thing to do.