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Real World DEI

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Real World DEI – Interview with Colby Bracy

In this episode of “Small Business Big World,” we’re diving into the world of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the workplace alongside our special guest, Colby Bracy from Hello Humans HR Consulting and the esteemed Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport. Join us for an insightful discussion on how DEI practices influence real-life workplaces, promoting inclusivity and driving business success. Colby will provide practical strategies that can help shape a more diverse and equitable workplace environment.

Chris Cluff (host): Welcome to Small Business Big World. This is our weekly podcast discussing all things small business, all the challenges, fun, excitement, things that we deal with as small business owners every day.  I’m Chris Cluff with Paper Trails. Today my guest is Colby Bracey with the Nonantum Resort and also Hello Humans Consulting. Cool name. I’m kind of jealous we didn’t come up with something so fun like that, but welcome. Thanks for joining me today.

Colby Bracy (guest): Thank you for having me. Yeah, this is great.

What does DEI mean?

Chris: So Colby’s a great friend and a client of ours and one of the things that we talk a lot about is DEI and the small business workplace these days. You know, I think… you and I have had these conversations before. It’s not about the sparkles, not about the flags. It’s about the real world and it’s about finding staff and keeping staff and engaging staff. And certainly that’s something that’s real for all of us as small business owners. And so what are your kind of thoughts on the kind of DEI movement and where we’re headed and what we need to be thinking about as small business owners?

Colby: Yeah, absolutely. I think that DEI or Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, it’s basically about keeping your employees safe, making them feel valuable at your company, hiring people from all different backgrounds and making them feel like they’re able to advance within your company and able to grow and again, feel safe, feel comfortable, have friends within your company. It’s not about going on this crusade to specifically hire certain groups of people based on their ethnicity or their sexual orientation. It’s a lot more than that. And there are a lot of kind of small things that a company can do in order to make their space feel safer.

What are some things companies can do to improve their DEI?

Chris: And what are some of those things that you’ve seen folks do or you guys have done?

Colby: Yeah, so a really easy one is to use inclusive language that can be in your job listings. The Nonantum, where I work is a wedding venue, so we have kind of steered away from saying bride and groom, and we just say couple. It seems minute, but people will see that, and if they see bride and groom, and it happens to be two men, they’re like, “Oh, you know, I’m probably not going to feel welcome at this place.” So they are small shifts.

Another thing that I think is really valuable is to offer floating holidays. If your business, like mine, is open 24 /7, it really doesn’t matter if everybody can take Christmas off. Actually, I would prefer they don’t. So if they want to celebrate something else , I would like to pay them for that because I’ll pay other people for Christmas. So things like that.

What else? I think that promoting from within is super valuable. and shifting your compensation philosophy and making sure you’re not just handing out raises because you like somebody. We do all have these kind of inherent biases. So if you say, okay, on Chris’s evaluation, I gave him five out of 10, so he’s only going to get a certain percentage raise, whereas somebody else, I think they’re really great. They got a nine out of 10 on their performance. They’ll get it. X percentage raise. So you’re really kind of structuring your evaluations and your development to be, you know, inclusive of everybody and everything, right?

How to be more inclusive with your workforce

Chris: Yeah. It’s not, and again, we talk about inclusivity and it has nothing to do with what you look like or, you know, what you do at home, it has everything to do with your job performance, right? Are you doing a great job in the workplace? Are you, you know, helping us grow as a business and achieve our goals, right?

Colby: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And then if you did happen to have… somebody, so recently we hired somebody who uses a wheelchair. And no, I didn’t go out and look for somebody who classifies as disabled just to add to our DEI, but that person is adding a new perspective. And although we try not to lean on her too much to help us to improve our accessibility, she does offer some suggestions and we’ve sort of had to adapt on how we do things. because, for example, our management team goes on a weekly walk, but we don’t do that anymore now. We get coffee instead. So just kind of making those changes to make sure that everybody feels like they’re part of the group is really important.

Chris: And even things, certainly, ADA has been around for 30 years, right? But we had a conversation, Colby and I serve on a board together, and our meeting room is on the second floor. And we had an elderly board member that wanted to join us at meetings but wasn’t able to join us and we have to think about where we’re gonna hold those meetings and just like you changed your weekly management meeting to be you know a coffee instead of a walk right. You know certainly there’s benefits you’re still probably getting the same engagement right you know it doesn’t change anything it’s just making sure that you’re actually getting the feedback and can work with everybody.

How to incorporate real world DEI in hiring

Chris: You spend a lot of time on hiring and you’re really really good at it. You know as in a world where recruiting and hiring is an enormous and sometimes insurmountable challenge for a lot of small businesses, I mean we hear every day small businesses are going out of business because I can’t find people right, you’ve told me I don’t have a problem with that. You have a whole toolbox of things that you’re doing. What are some of those things?

Colby: So for my business in particular, it doesn’t matter necessarily what the education level is. And I understand that there are a lot of industries that that does matter of finance, medicine, etc. But for as many as the education does matter, there are plenty where your education level, your background, whether you’ve been incarcerated, for example, it doesn’t really matter. So that’s what I look at is what are your skills? What is your motivation for working? Why did you choose to apply at this particular job? What things stood out to you? And I use those responses to really gear my process and see whether that person seems like a good cultural fit.

If they have some really kind of good motivation for wanting to work at our business, I hear a lot, oh, I saw your sustainability page and I’m really interested in that. And that really spoke to me. And so I was drawn to your business over your neighboring business. So I really try to capture people who are interested in something specific that we’re doing and they share our values and that’s very helpful with retention too. Like you said, we don’t have a ton of turnover and we don’t have a lot of open positions and it’s because people have these values that align with ours and we help each other to grow and we’re very open. They are able to make suggestions and we hear them.  For example, we go to people and say hey, I heard that you’re really into sustainability. Can you let me know if what we’re doing seems good to you?

Thinking of other ways to improve DEI

Chris: And that’s that something because you’re seasonal business right? You shut down operations for three or four months a year and most of these people return. You have 80 plus percent return right?

Colby: 92% our staff returns year after year after year.

Chris: And that makes hiring easier right? (laughs) But certainly, I know you’ve done a lot of work as a recovery -friendly work place, right? There’s a lot of stigma around folks in recovery. Obviously, we have national issues to deal with that, but what’s some of the stuff that you guys have done with that and how are you building that into your culture and so forth?

Colby: We’ve really tried to ingrain in our existing staff that being in recovery is okay, that we’ve all had different challenges. Whether it has to do with substances or something else. Everybody’s had some sort of troubles in their life. So the first step was really getting people to just understand that we’ll be doing this. We’re gonna be actively hiring people who are in recovery but they’re just the same as you and I are. The second was to get the management team on board as far as just being a little bit more supportive. A lot of these folks have been out of the workforce for quite a while. Most of them are also coming from from incarceration, so that sort of adds a layer. But just doing a little bit of extra hand -holding and sort of teaching them how to engage with coworkers and management respectfully, advocating for themselves if they have some sort of interpersonal problem to just come to somebody and solve it right then and there rather than letting it brew. Those are things that we’ve sort of had to work through, but we’ve gotten good at sort of figuring out what we need to do to make sure that people are integrating properly.

And then on an HR level, I have found that a lot of folks, especially the ones leaving incarceration, don’t necessarily have everything they need to be work ready. They don’t have an ID. They don’t often have a bank account. Sometimes they don’t have somewhere to live. They don’t have a vehicle, etc. So instead of getting the application and I hire them and they can’t fill out the I -9 because they don’t have an ID, a lot of employers are like, “Sorry, I guess you can’t work here”, but I physically will drive them to the DMV to get that for them. I drive them to the bank to get that set up. And I think having that little extra bit of help is really important to people because from day one, they can see that I’m invested in their success. I want them to have this job I want them to be able to do life. You need these things So it really helps to form a good relationship with people for sure. And I certainly I mean I’ve seen it across the board where if you don’t have a stable home life, you’re not gonna have a stable and successful work life, right? So I think that’s really telling that to folks and really build that stability at home and help them find housing which we certainly know is another huge challenge for a lot of folks.

Engaging the management team

Chris: So I think that’s really awesome. It’s the little things, right? Unfortunately these things take time, right? And then we have to invest in our staff and certainly that’s hard for a lot of business owners because they’re the chief cook, bottle washer and everything else in between. So how do you engage the rest of your management team who’s busy cleaning rooms and checking guests in and and those types of things.  Are they participating in these types of activities too or you as the HR director kind of shouldering a lot of that burden?

Colby: It’s both. I do most of it and first of all it’s something I’m really passionate about so naturally that’s what I want to do. Also, yes managers are busy but some of them are really passionate about it as well. Most of us I think have somebody in our life who has struggled struggled with mental health, with substance use, with incarceration, whatever it is. So people are generally pretty sympathetic and they want to help. We actually had one manager when we sort of announced that we were going to be doing this who burst into tears and said, “Oh, my brother has struggled with addiction for so long and it has never been able to hold down a job and I just wish that there was some business out there that would have given him this chance.” Maybe his life would have ended up differently. But as it is, he’s unhoused and on this circle of addiction and just not able to get it together because nobody will help. But yeah, the management team has come around. It does take a while. It’s definitely different. But what I’ve learned is that if you don’t tell people, like your other employees, they won’t know who is in recovery and who’s not. They’re exactly the same. Right. We’re all people. We’ve all seen that thing online, I’m sure, where it’s, you know, 10 skeletons. Well, okay. On the inside, we all look the same, right? Exactly. On the outside, who knows what’s going on, but that stuff shouldn’t matter.

Training staff to enhance DEI

Chris: You talked a lot about promoting within and developing folks. You talked a lot about supporting different folks, but… but do you guys do a lot of education? What does that look like? How are you kind of helping these folks that may not have worked in a while? And sometimes it might be basic communication skills, right? You know, how do you do an email? How do you communicate? How do you act professionally, right? I mean, what kind of training and things like that are you doing?

Colby: Tons of things. So we do have kind of lunch and learn sessions for any employee and it doesn’t have to be just people who are in our recovery. It can be any employee who’s interested in furthering their skills. So we have those kinds of Lunch and Learns.

We partner with our local community college because you mentioned we’re a seasonal business, so during our off time, we will pay for people to go to classes at community college, and it can be in whatever they want. Some people will take culinary classes or something that’s applicable, but other people want to take biology, and that’s fine, we’re really happy if they want to continue learning and building.  And maybe that means they’re going to find a different job but that’s okay. That’s actually great because that means that they are improving themselves and doing something that they’re more passionate about. So we do a lot like that.

You mentioned promoting from within, so we’re very passionate about that as well just because we’ve chosen this person. We know that they’re a good fit. They’re representative of our values and we’d like to see them grow. So maybe somebody starts as a dishwasher and they want to become a cook. So we’ll help them take classes and figure out what those skills are that they need. And they’ll do a lot of on -the -job training as well. But even though that person may not have a degree in culinary, they still are able to learn the skills. And I think that’s an important thing to keep in mind for most industries, even on my drive here I was thinking about retail or grocery. If you want to become a manager, do you need an MBA? Probably not. I think you can learn how to manage people. You can learn how to be a kind person just by being on the job and maybe taking some classes or seminars outside, but you don’t need all the degrees in order to become a manager.

Hiring for fit

Chris: Right, that’s always the budgetary question, right? What happens if we train them and they leave? Well, what happens if we don’t train them and they stay, right? And now you’ve got bad employees walking around that you don’t care about. So I think it’s always important to continue to develop those folks. And like you said, it doesn’t have to be in any particular skill set. I mean, personally, I always say we hire for fit, right? I can teach you just about anything, right? It might take me a little while, but we can develop you into whatever you want.

We’ve started doing, I will say, assessments with our candidates where we’ve taken assessments as a management team and we know our motivations and our drives and the assessments that we’re doing help in our hiring to understand your motivations and drive, not necessarily your skill set. I mean, you could be the smartest person I’ve ever met and actually we had this. In December, we had a candidate who was technically super, but we all had this little pit in our stomach that it just wasn’t the right person. And we ran her through this assessment and it came back and the gentleman that we work with, he basically said, he’s like, yeah, this is a high risk of failure. She’s gonna be here less than six months. And so, I always say, higher for fit, not for skill. And I think that is certainly inclusive of everything, right? If they have the right motivations and the right drive, that’s certainly something that’s wonderful too.

Other accommodations to make

Chris: At the beginning a lot about policies, and I think a lot of our clients really have struggled with that, as you know, because we reach out to you a lot to help. Some of the other policies, you talked about uniforms and the abilities. We all have, particularly in the hotel industry, we all have these visions of walking into the hotel and everyone’s in crisp uniforms and looking sharp, but that might not be the right fit for everybody. I mean, what accommodations do you make?

Colby: So uniforms, we’re pretty flexible. You can really present yourself in your own personality. There are certain jobs, say like a server at a wedding, they all wear all black. That’s just how it is. But we do provide some of the uniform pieces and I think that’s a really important thing for pretty much any business that requires a uniform because, typically employees who have to wear uniforms are generally lower paid and they might not be able to provide themselves with those clothing, especially at the beginning if they’re just starting a new job. So if you provide those for them, that just takes a burden off of them. They feel like they’re part of the team. So we do that. We also have some extra pieces. So typically an employee is responsible for providing their own pants, but we provide everything else. But we do have a little closet that has some extra pants in various sizes in case somebody either doesn’t have them or maybe they tear during the work day, something like that. But just to have those there, I think is really important. And again, inclusivity of a diverse group of people, I think that a lot of people who think about diversity are thinking specifically race. And it’s not just that, it can be economic diversity, educational diversity, religious diversity. There’s just so much out there, so to really embrace people from all backgrounds I think is really important.

Real world DEI is not just about the buzzwords

Chris: So we were talking a little bit before about, you know, the stigmas associated with DEI, right? I mean, we see that, you know, it’s all about the glitter and the flags and the protests. But it’s not, in my opinion, not about any of that. It’s about finding people to work. It’s not the buzzwords, it’s not all that stuff that’s out online and everyone’s got an ax to grind with somebody ’cause they said something mean to them. It’s in the workplace, it’s in my opinion, it’s about finding the right people. It’s not about all those things. You want to be inclusive, but just be you and be who you want to be, right?

Colby: Yes, inclusivity is the one that really stands out to me from DEI. I think that we want everybody to feel comfortable at work and we want to hire the right fit for the job. So if it happens to be somebody who is a person of color or a person who is homosexual, that’s fine. I’m not actively going out to sale. “Oh, we have to hire 10 gay people today.” And I think that that’s the wrong approach to DEI, and I think that’s what a lot of people are thinking of when they think DEI, and it’s really become kind of a political problem. But it’s not about that. It’s really saying, “I would like to hire you regardless of who you are. I really don’t care.” We don’t have diversity hires, right? No, not specifically. If there is a person of color and a white person applying for a job and they have different sets of skills, I will hire based on skill. I want the best person for the job, so whichever one it is, that’s the person who’s gonna get the job.

How DEI impacts work culture

Chris: By having these different backgrounds and everyone’s different experiences, have you seen culturally that making a shift anywhere?

Colby: I actually have. It’s been quite transformational actually, both the recovery hiring that we’ve been doing and we have a couple people on our team who have some pretty profound disabilities and I think that has really opened the rest of the staff’s eyes to some of the challenges that people are going through in their day to day life. For example, we have a gentleman who has autism, he’s non -verbal. And we’ve come up with a job that works for him and that works for us. It’s not a pity job just because he needs something to do. It’s something that’s actually productive for our business. But people have seen that and realized that not everybody has as easy a time as they do. And I think they’re very appreciative of our business for hiring somebody who’s in that circumstance because that is a type of person who would have a really challenging time finding a job. But, you know, we have that opportunity, although his job didn’t exist before, parts of it did. Somebody was doing those, yes. It just, it wasn’t a job, but we pulled a piece from here and pulled a piece from there and said, okay, he can do this and the other and made it work. And I think that’s a really important thing to consider. When you’re hiring somebody that maybe they don’t meet the 10 bullet points that you have set out for the job, but maybe they have seven of them and somebody else could take the other three.

Chris: Sure, right, just changing your job descriptions, moving resources around, creating capacity here, whatever, right, that’s– – Yeah, just being flexible with what each person needs to do as long as all of the things get done, it really doesn’t matter who does them.


Chris: Well, we’ve covered a lot of ground today, Colby.  Any other closing thoughts, things that you think about when, you know, every day life you’re working on different things across your career, right?

Colby: All I would say, I think, would just be advice to employers, and it’s to figure out what your values are. I really look for people who are kind and people who are hardworking, and those are the two most important things to me when hiring.  So, if you figure out what’s important to you and use that lens always when hiring, you’ll find people who are stellar and maybe aren’t the people that you thought you would hire. But it turns out they’re going to be with you for years and years and they’ll really shine within your business.

Chris: But where can folks find you? If they want to know more information about you and the great work that you’re doing and how can people get in touch with you?

Colby: Absolutely. My HR consulting business is called Hello Humans. I’m on Instagram at Hello Humans Consulting. Also,

Chris: Well, thank you all for joining us today. This has been Small Business Big World. Be sure to like us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, all those fun things. Follow us and subscribe in your favorite podcast app. Keep checking on those for us. Certainly leave us any reviews or give us any comments you might have on us.

Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Small Business, Big World. This podcast is a production of Paper Trails. We are a payroll and HR company based in Kennebunk. Kennebunk, Maine, and we serve small and mid -sized businesses across New England and the country. If you found this podcast helpful, don’t forget to follow us at @papertrailspayroll across all social media platforms, and check us out at for more information. As a reminder, the views, opinions, and thoughts expressed by the hosts and guests alone. The material presented in this podcast is for general information purposes only and should not be considered legal or financial advice. By inviting this guest to our podcast, Paper Trails does not imply endorsement of or opposition to any specific individual organization or product. or service.