Confronting the challenge of diversifying Philadelphia’s workforce
More than the three dozen employers were on hand at the 2022 AL DÍA Diverse City Career Fair, looking to recruit diverse talent for their organizations.
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When AL DÍA hosted its first diversity career fair in 2001 — then named the AL DÍA Hispanic Career Fair — Philadelphia’s workforce landscape looked much different than it does today.
While in the two decades leading up to the new millennium Philadelphia saw a significant population decrease, in the two decades since, it has seen growth. This growth is seen in both the population and the level of diversity.
“Today, we have a city that is pretty much transformed,” said Hernán Guaracao, AL DÍA founder and CEO.
While the diversity among the population has seen tremendous growth, the workforce across the region still has a long way to go to even begin to match the level of diversity.
On April 28, AL DÍA hosted its annual Diverse City Career Fair — the first since prior to the pandemic in 2019 — an effort to confront the challenge of finding and recruiting quality candidates to diversify the city’s workforce.
There are many reasons why a diverse workforce is important, and it is a sentiment that was shared among many of the exhibitors present at the career fair.
One prominent reason is that it presents new, innovative business ideas.
“You need a lot of different perspectives in any kind of job, and with diversity brings a different perspective,” said Karen Lash-Anderson, Pennsylvania recruiter for Traffic Plan, a traffic control services and equipment provider company.
Sól Vázquez, senior IT audit manager for CVS Health and a treasurer for Prospanica Philadelphia, has seen firsthand the benefits of working with a diverse staff.
“What I find to be very beneficial is that we're all diverse in mindset… We see things a little differently and are able to contribute a well rounded, comprehensive thought process when we're brainstorming for our meetings, or for any upcoming tasks,” said Vázquez.
At Congreso, a local nonprofit organization with the mission to strengthen Latino communities, a diverse and bilingual leadership team is especially critical to more effectively serve that population.
“We know that in order to be a successful organization, we need perspectives, we need diversity, we need those different opinions,” said Erika Rodriguez, human resource generalist at Congreso.
The positive aspects of having a diverse workforce are not only seen from within. It can also pay huge dividends for clients and those who rely on these organizations.
Take a healthcare organization, for example. Diversity within its staff can literally be the difference between life and death. Having healthcare providers who are diverse, culturally competent and bilingual can be critical towards ensuring patients get the quality care that is needed.
Shawn Hampden, senior talent acquisition partner with Main Line Health, noted diversity and inclusion as one of the most important initiatives at the prominent health systems organization.
“We have diversity committees in each one of our hospitals [and] we contact individuals that would like to contribute to these committees. We also have a lot of events that take place at Main Line Health that are very diverse, and we also have a newsletter that we send out celebrating different, diverse holidays that are coming up,” said Hampden. “So we really embrace diversity.”
The importance of diversity can also be applied to a senior living nonprofit, like HumanGood, which serves many of the diverse communities across the region through affordable housing, independent living, assisted living and nursing care services and facilities.
Erica Michetti, human resources director at HumanGood, noted the continuous endeavor of diversifying its resident base.
“It’s really empowering for people to see not only residents, but team members who are diverse. It’s really important for us to have a lot of different people together,” she said.
While it was the consensus that diversity and inclusion within our city’s workforce is important, some challenges do persist in doing so.
The Wardrobe, a local nonprofit organization and social enterprise, is looking to address a critical factor in this challenge by addressing clothing insecurity.
“[We] know that clothing can be a barrier for some people,” said Tameka Young, outreach coordinator for The Wardrobe. “They might have an interview, and they might not have any money to go and purchase a suit or any professional attire, and they can come to us and receive these items for free.”
Another challenge is simply finding qualified diverse candidates to fill positions, whether through a lack of awareness or opportunity.
The annual AL DÍA Diverse City Career Fair can really make a difference in that department.
Jessica DeJesus, director of the Research Support Center at the University of Pennsylvania's Weitzman School of Design and board president for Prospanica Philadelphia, has a personal connection with the AL DÍA Career Fair, and can attest to this.
Her daughter was recruited during a previous year’s career fair as a college student, and was hired within a week at a job within her field of study.
“It's been a great success story,” said DeJesus.
With her dual role as board president for Prospanica Philadelphia, the local chapter of the professional advocacy organization that helps Latinos grow and reach their full, economic, social and educational potential, DeJesus and her team have access to a great pool of diverse talent who are ready to work.
“We do our best with connecting with other organizations, employers [and] sponsors to ensure that when those positions do become available, that we have our members ready and willing to fill those positions,” she said.
As the city grows more diverse, it is crucial for the workforce to begin to mirror the same diversity.
The AL DÍA Diverse City Career Fair is just one piece of a very large puzzle that will likely take decades to complete.