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“The people are the heart and greatest asset of a company. It all starts with us, the people. Us together,” says Lourdes Diaz, VP- Diversity & Inclusion at US Foods. A company can have the best business objectives in the world, but if the people that make up the company are not actively involved, those goals won’t be met or exceeded. People and culture are the true backbone of success.

Lourdes, along with her colleague Constantine Vutsas, Senior Manager- Diversity & Inclusion Recruiting and President of US Foods Employee Resource Group (ERG) PRIDE, joined Orion Talent’s Steve Amsden for Episode 7 of the #PeoplewithPurpose Podcast: The Human Connection- Allyship and Inclusion at US Foods.

The trio discussed US Foods’ commitment to fostering an environment that values a diversity of experiences and the inclusion of different perspectives. By leveraging ERG partnerships and connecting diverse groups within the company, US Foods celebrates and represents the vibrant communities in which they live and work. “It’s not just a slogan—it has to be the experience of each individual to feel valued in order to stay in the company,” Lourdes says, “That loyalty and longevity is going to be what turns into success. It’s all in the human connection.”

Pay It Forward

Lourdes has dedicated her entire career to the diversity space and is thankful for the privilege to positively impact lives and communities. One thing she’s particularly proud of was the opportunity to work with the National Gay Lesbian Chamber of Commerce to institutionalize the first LGBTQ+ Business Certification for LGBTQIA+ 51% owners of small and medium-sized businesses.

“Allies are the first ones that need to open the doors and create the access for change,” she says, “Unless active allies lead change and break down those barriers, then we’re not going to have equal access to business through certification process…The moral of the story is: We [often] don’t see that we can be the change agent, and, indeed, we can.”

She is committed to educating, informing, and promoting active allyship across all communities. “When you think about the fact that when we step out of our company and we touch our personal communities, and every person touches 20 people, then you know you are creating change,” Lourdes says.

“This has been a golden opportunity that I envisioned I would have wanted early on in my career, but you just never know when it’s coming. To me, this is the opportunity to bring all of my collected experiences to make a difference at a company at a really nice size. When you’re almost 30,000 employees strong, you could really create a change… US Foods represented the opportunity to make societal change 30,000 at a time.”

For Constantine, it’s important to be an inclusive leader and truly support and impact communities. “D&I is part of my DNA, being a part of the LGBTQ+ Community. [Since] the beginning part of my career, I wanted to make sure every voice had a seat at the table and every voice is heard at the table,” he explains.

“For me, culture is key. I’ve experienced [the positive things] I heard about the culture [at US Foods] and the passion and commitment from everyone. The D&I team, the Talent Acquisition team, and pretty much everyone at the organization is committed to this journey that we’re in, and I love everything we do every single day.”

Amsden agrees with the importance of creating an authentic culture of change, “We can do the attraction piece, but if you don’t have the culture, purpose, and belonging, [talent isn’t] going to stay. It all goes hand in hand as a diversity strategy.”

Becoming Allies

Constantine believes that allyship is key. “I have been an ally throughout my life because I knew the importance of what they did for me to find my voice,” he says, “Allies were such an important aspect in my life. I came out in the 90s when we didn’t really have internet or support mechanisms out there… Allies were the most important thing to help me find myself and they guided me in a very gentle way to be my true, authentic self.”

He talks about how even small gestures of allyship matter in the corporate world. Referring to partners rather than husbands or wives, being open-minded and confronting biases, and actively listening are a few steps individuals can take. “Open-mindedness is key,” Constantine adds, “Being willing to talk is important.”

US Foods is doing a lot to celebrate diversity. For Pride Month, their theme was “I matter, you matter, they matter.” It’s all about empowering people to be their best, authentic self both at work and in their personal lives. But supporting differences goes far beyond Pride Month—US Foods offers ongoing groups and programs exploring and supporting diversity among its workforce.

Amsden points out the power of bringing diverse ERGs together. “It’s about everyone understanding that everybody is different and that they have adversity [too],” he notes, “There’s almost fragmentation in the gay community, and that’s the exact opposite of what we’re trying to do. It’s pulling together whether you’re bi, whether you’re trans, whether you’re questioning, you’re whatever the word is or fringing on three of those. It should be spoken about. We don’t want this fragmented group. I love that.”

Supporting authenticity goes beyond being an ally of the LGBTQIA+ community. People’s identities are multifaceted. “I’m a huge fan of bringing the ERGs together,” Steve says, “People often don’t belong to just one group. You can be straight, disabled, AND a Veteran. It’s wonderful when people know they can be multidimensional at your company.”

Employee and Community Engagement

Communication is key when it comes to building a strong D&I program. Internal communication focused on increasing awareness as vital; so is external communication promoting your organization’s commitment to change. Lourdes discusses the need to measure and track success- don’t be afraid to stop something if it’s not working and try something new. She points out the importance of both top-down commitment and bottom-up engagement. “Work is done feet on the ground,” she says, “Get people excited about the fact that they matter.”

She also points out the power of partnerships, encouraging individuals within a company to raise their hands and get active. That’s how change is made. Organizations working together for a common goal with other organizations is also a powerful next step.

Amsden agrees, “It’s a trickle-down effect. You want everyone in the organization to be part of it, not just the leadership. You want the employees. That even affects your customer experience. If they’re seeing that you guys are not a diverse workforce, they don’t want to buy from you anymore. It all goes hand-in-hand. This affects everything.”

Finding Purpose

Every episode of the #PeoplewithPurpose podcast ends with a powerful question: What advice would you offer young professionals? Lourdes and Constantine were happy to offer simple yet impactful advice.

Constantine recommends that new grads carefully consider what a company stands for. make sure the company culture matches your values and what is important to you. Lourdes agrees and encourages candidates to discover their passion and pursue a career that allows them to do what they love.

“Follow the path that is a passion to you, that will fulfill you, that you would almost do for free because it’s almost like a hobby,” she says, “If you could turn your hobby and favorite thing to do into your job- which you can- follow that path. I strongly encourage you to do the research and work for the companies that share your values.” While you may not always get there right out of the gate, come up with a plan and be laser-focused on getting where you want to be.

Check out #PeoplewithPurpose Episode 7- The Human Connection - Allyship and Inclusion at US Foods for more of this discussion. If you don’t already to subscribe to #PeoplewithPurpose wherever you get your podcasts, be sure to follow us and check out previous episodes.

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