Top Workplaces program recognizes Columbus companies for DE&I efforts

Virginia Brown
For Columbus CEO
S-S Bendure-Hartwig team members.

Diversity and inclusion efforts have become big business. A 2020 report by McKinsey & Co., which examined more than 1,000 large companies across 15 countries, shows that the emphasis on a diverse workforce remains robust, and for good reason: The most diverse companies are now more likely than ever to outperform their less-diverse peers when it comes to profitability.

Each spring, Pennsylvania-based employment research company Energage crafts and executes the Top Workplaces awards program for Columbus CEO. In 2021, the company offered a new set of questions to the area’s highest-ranking companies, all surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. The questions sought to look more closely at what companies are doing to encourage policies that support workplace DEI.

Columbus CEO Top Workplaces 2021: Here's who ranked

Kinsey Smith, a senior data analyst with Energage, spearheaded much of the new survey, collaborating with a consulting group and the company’s product and technology divisions.

“We’ve been overdue for a broader conversation on this topic for quite a while. And certainly there are going to be leadership teams or leaders who assemble a task force or someone to research the issue, do a couple of small actions, and call it a day,” Smith says. “But organizations that are going to succeed in the long term are the ones who prioritize [diversity, equity, and inclusion],” she says.

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Diversity, equity and inclusion survey highlights action over appearance

The survey went beyond employees’ opinions of whether they felt their workplaces supported diversity and, instead, directly looked at what companies are doing in practice.

“Some customers were adding diversity demographics—things like race and ethnicity or gender, and not necessarily doing much with it,” Smith says. “We realized that we were doing them a disservice by not suggesting or recommending that they dig deeper into those results, to better understand and experience some of their underrepresented population.”

The detailed questionnaire gave companies an opportunity to share what they are doing around DEI, from recruiting and hiring efforts to compensation and benefits, plus professional development, employee involvement, among other actions.

In all, 10 Top Workplaces companies with operations in the Columbus area chose to respond to the questionnaire. Energage then scored each company based on the questionnaire responses. Two companies stood out.

S-S Bendure Hartwig stands out among Columbus-area companies for diversity efforts

Patrick Bendure addresses S-S Bendure-Hartwig employees during the quarterly awards meeting.

S-S Bendure Hartwig, a Columbus-area insurance agency, part of Texas-based parent company Globe Life Insurance, reported concerted efforts to recruit and retain employees from racially diverse backgrounds, plus women, LGBTQ+, veterans and those with disabilities.

According to the survey results, at SSBH, all positions require the consideration of at least one candidate from an underrepresented background; the makeup of the hiring teams must be diverse, too, and include at least one woman. Applications also exclude questions about criminal background, giving them a chance to review an applicant’s experience and qualifications without the stigma of an arrest record.

Receiving high marks in DEI comes as little surprise to agency co-owner Pat Bendure. “We’ve always tried to be extremely diverse in everything that we do, and very inclusive with our teammates,” he says. “From the senior levels of leadership … to the person who got hired yesterday, we try to always put our feet in the shoes of where we started and never forget what it’s like to be at different levels.”

Technology has provided access to many, and has been a major factor in increasing diversity, according to Bendure. Especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, when the majority of the business went online, Bendure says, “The female production alone has increased 50 percent. … A lot of moms that stay home can do what we do now, and single [parents] that maybe have trouble with childcare or other challenges.”

Analysis from a 2019 McKinsey report found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity, specifically on executive teams, were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than the companies in the fourth quartile.

To better foster a team-like environment, leadership also encourages social time—at least one day per month—away from the office. “Whenever we have a serious discussion or it involves culture, we try to do it away from the office,” Bendure says. They gather at area restaurants, Top Golf, or meet at each other’s homes. “[Being out of the office] is maybe not as rigid or as formal. It really opens the doors to different ways that we can communicate with each other and how open and honest we can be.”

Open, honest communication from the top down is highly valued, he added. “Transparency Is very important to us.”

Manifest Solutions employees photographed for the annual Top Workplaces award.

IT consulting firm Manifest Solutions stands out among Columbus-area companies for diversity efforts

Similarly, IT consulting firm Manifest Solutions earns high ratings for its diversity efforts. Vice President Doug Deken says it started at the beginning, and from the top, when founder and CEO Nancy Matijasich created the company in 1994.

Today, the company employs roughly 120 and places high emphasis on changing the barriers to access in the tech field through its Agility Bootcamp. Created in 2011, the bootcamp educates and provides potential tech-field employees with the tools they need to work in technology–things many colleges don’t address.

The company teams up with Columbus State Community College and Central State University to recruit its candidates, who each receive payment, coaching, and get assigned real-world projects. Many of their current employees came out of the program and have gone on to other advanced roles in major tech companies from Google to Amazon.

Leadership also places strong emphasis on continuing education in the fast-paced, ever-changing field of technology. “We’re in a business where there’s such an emphasis on continued learning,” says Deken. “If you’re not moving forward in technology, you’re left behind.”

The company has its own self-taught programs and also keeps an open policy when employees feel they need supplemental learning or other educational opportunities, according to Deken.

Overall, they honor the unique individual. “[We believe in] the concept of celebrating the individual, empowering the individual to make a difference in the company,” says Deken. “If we do that successfully, then we’re going to have a successful company.”

Virginia Brown is a freelance writer.