That was the final push Duncan needed to talk to the hotel’s general manager about the challenges some employees faced in obtaining proper work attire.
“I don’t want anyone to lose their job because they don’t have the right clothes,” Duncan said. With approvals in place, Duncan worked with the hotel’s 15-member Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee to turn an informal service into a formal resource for employees.
October marks the first anniversary of the hotel’s Career Closet, which allows any employee to “shop” for work attire suitable for the job they have or the job they want.
On average, 25 employees per day visit the Career Closet seeking everything from blazers and dresses for women to black slacks and dress shirts for men. Each employee is allowed a maximum of six items per visit. All items are given free of charge.
The closet is open Monday and Friday (or by special appointment on other days) and has served employees in departments including the executive office, administration, sales, housekeeping, food and beverage and valet. Many of the clothing recipients go on to obtain promotions and other career advancements, Duncan said.
Duncan is proud that the Career Closet falls under the DEI initiatives of the hotel because it is all about equity, she said. While it may not be what we typically think of as traditional DEI training, the Career Closet has the same objectives as DEI programs — determining and removing the barriers to success that some employees may experience.
Hiring for DEI roles exploded in 2020 amid demands for racial equity after the murder of George Floyd, but for some companies, that initial demonstration of support didn’t result in meaningful change or action. DEI programs have taken a hit in recent months with many companies scaling back their staffing or commitments to those efforts.
Companies may view DEI as dispensable, but 56% of employees say focusing on increasing DEI at work is mainly a good thing, according to a recent poll from the Pew Center. Workers under age 30, women, and Black, Asian and Hispanic workers are more likely to appreciate DEI efforts in the workplace.
But DEI or diversity fatigue exists, and at least part of that is the result of DEI programming that is perceived as ineffective rather than as taking tangible action to address disparities in the workplace.
Duncan knew C-suite executives were not likely in tune with the needs of employees who have to wear the same clothing over and over or who miss days of work because they don’t have the proper clothing for the job.
They needed the kind of help that may never have occurred to corporate leaders but that has the potential to improve employee retention, cut down on time off and help some employees grow their careers within the company.
This is, or this should be, what DEI is all about and those efforts still need corporate engagement to make a difference.
Support for the Omni career closet comes primarily through donations which Duncan said have tapered off since the first six months of opening when they were getting 25 donations daily.
They’ve offered employee incentives such as hotel stays in exchange for donations but Duncan sometimes spends her own money to purchase clothing at thrift stores on 50-cent days to make sure there is enough inventory to meet the needs of hotel employees. She also expanded the inventory to include deodorant and other personal care items that employees may need.
Recently, a group of students from Guatemala and Ecuador were hired at the hotel and Duncan set about finding them clothing to get them through a full week of work. She worked with 17 people, making sure they each had 3 to 4 work outfits to wear, she said.
Duncan hopes in the future to engage community collaborators such as Goodwill, local dry cleaners or consignment stores that can help her continue to grow the Career Closet.
“This wasn’t something fly by night,” Duncan said. “This is here to stay.”
If only we could say the same about our commitment to DEI.
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