Award Winning Diversity & Inclusion at Edlong Dairy Technologies

Intercultural Talk caught up with Laurette Rondenet, President & CEO of Edlong Dairy Techonlogies to talk about their year round commitment to Diversity & Inclusion and how it connects to their business success.

What does your company do year round that connects to Global Diversity and Global Diversity Awareness (either client or HR focused?);

Edlong is the only certified Women’s Business Enterprise in the flavor industry.  We are members of and support NMSDC/National Minority Supplier Development Council, DMSCA/Diverse Manufacturing Supply Chain Alliance, BDR/Billion Dollar Roundtable, and the WBENC/Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. (I serve on the Certification Committee and have been appointed to a position on the Women’s Enterprise Forum). We actively seek opportunities to develop the next generation of food scientists—whether they be girls (Girls Inc.) or economically underprivileged students who need career mentorship (high school food science presentation). Our goal is to triple our own diversity spend this year.

How does Global Diversity Awareness connect to your mission and to your bottom line as a company in general?

Our mission at Edlong is “To Enrich the Lives of Those We Touch”.   Our focus has been on putting people first, regardless of their race, religion, gender, age or physical disability.

We value the diversity of all people, as a result:  37% of employees and 43% of managers are minorities, 44% are women, and 65% of our supervisor-level and above positions were filled by promotion.  Because we are a small international company, we also have many bilingual employees which helps both in communication and understanding internally and externally.

There are external benefits as well. By creating a spirit and philosophy of diversity, we have in turn received the attention of internationally respected customers (i.e. Starbucks) by participating in like-minded philanthropy programs. This has resulted in mutual respect and has organically and naturally grown our business. New doors have been opened in meeting suppliers, customers, and partners through our diversity efforts.  We participate in associations and supplier groups devoted to promoting and increasing diversity.

I  strongly believe that by creating an atmosphere where every person is valued no matter what role, it not only helps the individual grow but helps the business grow as well.  We’re a small company, so everyone must work together every day, every hour to drive the business forward. By focusing on a culture that values individual, yet differing viewpoints, we’ve created an organization that is racially, generationally (employees ranging in age from 20 years old (interns) to 80 years old, intellectually, and skillfully diverse—which stimulates new thinking across functions and teams. We value our diverse workplace! These alternative viewpoints for creativity and innovation bring greater value to our customers’ food projects.  We believe this provides a competitive advantage resulting in increased sales revenue and more customers.

With respect to recruiting, by striving to build and maintain a diverse and happy workforce, we have access to a larger pool of candidates, thus improving the odds of hiring the best people.

Tell me more about the award you received…how does Global Diversity manifest in the core values of your company?

We placed 4th in the 2017 Chicago Crain’s Best Places to Work for Minorities.   We have also been recognized both Chicago and Nationally as a Best & Brightest Places to Work for the past 4 years. These awards are given based on employee feedback and surveys—which means by creating an inclusive environment at the company’s core, employees like where they work, are enthusiastic ambassadors, believe in the company values, and choose to stay for many years. Edlong experiences very low turnover, which helps drive continual business improvements and year-over-year growth. When employees feel valued and included they are productive, care about the company, go the extra mile—which results in cohesive teamwork, new innovations, new customers, and increased profits. 

Tell me a story about something that you learned from another culture that you have adopted in your personal or professional life (a way of doing something or approaching a project, perhaps?)

Growing up in a family business, my Dad had a huge influence on my values. One of the personal values he held dear was diversity.  When the business moved from Chicago to Elk Grove, he needed a manager.  He called up Henry, who used to be our mailman in Chicago, and he offered him a position as Operations Manager. Based on many conversations they had shared, Dad knew Henry to be a man of integrity. Back in that era of the mid-1960’s, many potential employees would come in to interview and refuse to work for a Black man.   Then, my Dad would say, “There’s the door.”  He wouldn’t tolerate discrimination. Therefore, all the people who succeeded at Edlong supported inclusion. Dad and Henry stood by each other with huge respect and friendship. Together, over a 40-year relationship they ran the company as a team.  Ten years ago, they both passed away within a few months of each other. In present day, I continue that legacy  I’m  good friends with his daughter, having the special bond of growing up with this important example from both of our Dads.

What didn’t I ask you that you wished or thought I would have?

  • How does your organization define diversity?

Edlong views diversity from a very broad perspective, which goes beyond the traditional Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity definition.  Diversity is woven throughout the fabric of our organization from both an internal and external perspective that includes philanthropy commitments, suppliers, customers, and partners. Internally, the core of diversity at Edlong is supporting an inclusive workplace, with a culture that encourages each person to contribute their best. Everyone is valued no matter their role, employee job title, or pay scale.

  • What are some of the challenges you or your organization have encountered in implementing and achieving your diversity and inclusion goals?

Our goal is create a workplace that supports all people to develop and grow as a team.  Challenges are ensuring that same culture does not support a culture of entitlement.  We have to be aware of how cultural, religious, or political beliefs can affect the workplace by addressing any conflict or morale issues as they appear.

It’s also important for employees to understand that every idea or suggestion (no matter where originated in the company) can’t always be implemented for financial, legal, or process reasons. This means we must have an open, two-way, ongoing communications process so that there is dialog and understanding. It takes constant care to keep communications lines open.

In addition, there can be cultural barriers when employees speak in their native language.  For example, a team speaking Spanish when one member does not understand that language might cause some angst. To create bridges across cultures and languages, we hold communications workshops and plan events that embrace/support various cultures.