Wi13 Session to Offer Strategies for Fostering a Diverse Workforce

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Booksellers who attend a panel discussion on diversity at Winter Institute 13 will be challenged to broaden their thinking about what diversity means for today’s workforce as well as discover how embracing inclusiveness can boost profitability.

Mecca Santana
Mecca Santana

Mecca Santana, the vice president of diversity and community relations and chief diversity officer for Westchester Medical Health Network in White Plains, New York, will explain how hiring and fostering a diverse staff isn’t just a humanitarian effort but good business strategy.

Hiring for Diversity and Inclusion will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, January 25, in the Chickasaw room on the mezzanine level of the Memphis Cook Convention Center.

Santana will be joined on the panel by Marc Villa, assistant manager of the children and teens department at Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C.

Santana, a former prosecutor who has also served as the chief diversity officer for New York State, said that the key to embracing diversity is understanding that it must be aligned with business goals, strategies, and vision.

“You’ll never hear me speak about diversity from an altruistic standpoint,” Santana told BTW. “An altruistic argument about why we should care about diversity will fail every time. A lot of people are shocked to hear that, but it really is about tying it to the work. Whether it’s a good thing or a right thing, it’s a good business decision. And I don’t care whether you’re a nonprofit and you’re impacting communities, or you’re a for-profit and you’re trying to sell a product, tying this and wedding this work so that it’s concrete and substantive and sustainable is the conversation that evolved organizations are having right now.”

During the discussion, Santana also plans to explain why diversity means more than race or gender.

“Diversity is broader than most people think it is,” she said. “The knee-jerk reaction when people hear diversity is to think this is still a conversation about women and minorities exclusively. That allows anyone who doesn’t fall into one of those categories to divorce themselves from the conversation. So we like to paint it with a very broad brush, not to diminish the issues that plague women and minorities, but to look at diversity in its broadest context.”

Marc Villa
Marc Villa

Villa said that he and his supervisor Donna Wells, the manager of Politics and Prose’s children and teens department, approach hiring for diversity from the perspective of intellectual outlook in addition to personal background.

The current staff ranges in age from people in their 20s to their mid-60s, Villa said, adding that they also reflect a range of ethnicities.

“We look for diversity in staff not just in gender and ethnicity, but in life experience and age,” he said. “That’s a big thing with our department; that’s one of our greatest strengths.”

The store’s employment application also asks about a candidate’s reading taste and exposure to various areas of literature. Every bookseller hired at Politics and Prose is expected to write book reviews, host author events, and handle questions about a wide range of books that reflect a diversity of cultures and experiences.

“We look for not only people who are going to be diverse in their experience, but also that are open to learning and understanding and having the conversations,” Wells said. “We ask that all of our booksellers read beyond what their current interest levels are.”

Hear more from Santana and Villa during the Hiring for Diversity and Inclusion session on Thursday, January 25.

Winter Institute is made possible by support from lead sponsor Ingram Content Group and from publishers large and small. Questions about Winter Institute can be addressed to winterinstitute@bookweb.org.