Be authentic with DEI efforts


June 29, 2023

Scarlett Nolen

Scarlett Nolen

During the height of busy season, one of the first things that can take a hit is your culture. Everyone is busy just drinking from the proverbial fire hose and surviving the heat of summer. A team’s culture — and more specifically, employment engagement levels — can easily be put to the test as everyone and everything is abuzz.

Despite the chaos, now is a great time to pause for reflection on how we engage our employees. Often, I am focusing on doing this through career pathing. However, engagement comes in many layers, and a current hot topic in many executive meetings nationwide is diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

It is no secret that pest control has historically been a predominantly white male industry, and still heavily skews void of diversity. I think we have not only an ethical responsibility as an industry, but also a business opportunity to widen the lens of perspectives to reach our full potential. I have touched on this topic in other blogs noting the importance, and the subject continues to persist in relevancy. In 2019, countless articles came out reporting on the companies with gender diversity in leadership outperforming companies that are “one-note.” The same impressive results are reflected in companies with diversity in ethnic and cultural backgrounds of leadership.

In the last couple of years, companies adding DEI programs are more prominent than ever before. The likes of Microsoft, Target and Allstate have jumped on this strategy to direct their company culture to the culture of today. These giants have allocated sizable resources, often with the hopes of aligning their brands to reflect societal trends, increase employee retention, and perhaps gain favor with their shareholders politically.

Where does this leave small and even mid-size companies without the same resources as these giants? Realistically, the majority of pest control firms do not have space in their budgets to create entirely new DEI departments or hire expensive DEI consultants. But it’s this very reason why I believe these same firms have an opportunity for a more authentic approach.

Where to start

  1. It starts from the top. Company leaders must reflect on their own biases, because we all have them! It starts by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. It starts with relating to that feeling of being the “odd man out.” Regardless of our color or creed, everyone has experienced the feeling of not fitting in somewhere or in some way. It may be as superficial as showing up in a blue shirt when the team is wearing red, or everyone at the watercooler is caught up discussing the latest episode of Yellowstone while you are in the dark.

    For minorities in our industry, that feeling of being the “odd person out” runs a bit deeper, like being the only Jewish person at the company’s Christmas party or the only Black person at a conference. Or, the people that they notice are getting promoted all look the same and seemingly have their own club for which they do not feel they have an invitation. That reality can be distracting, discouraging and disengaging.

    As leaders, it is our responsibility to make ourselves aware of these often subtle and occasionally overt obstacles. In order to reach our potential as an industry, we should be intentional about creating an environment that fosters open conversation that challenges our assumptions and pushes us to be better.

  2. Listen. Take the time to facilitate conversations that open the door for minorities in your business to share their stories and experiences. I have learned many things through these conversations that I believe has helped me as well as our company. One of our area managers, Emily Cruz, recently summed up this concept perfectly when she said, “You can have an open and supportive environment within the company; however, our partners still have to navigate and contend with the world where there are many biases. It is important that we recognize and see those experiences.”
  3. Find resources that expand your mind. Our termite specialist and brand ambassador Lynden Turnquest recommended the book The Other Talk by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds. It is an easy read and tremendously relatable, illustrating white privilege in a way I had not seen in presented before while giving new insight.

Taking action

Beyond reflection, listening and understanding others’ experiences, all of which is important, sometimes action can be necessary. James Adams, Truly Nolen’s Area Manager of Phoenix, AZ, shared one of his proudest moments as a manager: the time he fired a customer. It is every company’s mission to grow, and gain as many customers as possible. However, there are times when some customers simply do not fit our core values. This customer requested that we do not send people of color to his home for service. While we always try to find a way to say yes to a customer, sometimes a customer is wrong. James respectfully fired this customer and, as president of Truly Nolen with a daily mission to grow my customer base, I am incredibly proud of James and support his decision.

In conclusion, try not to let difficult answers change the important questions you should be asking. If we want our industry to stop having a stereotypical vibe from outsiders, we need to make sure our company cultures have diversity as a standard key performance indicator (KPI), with grassroots DEI efforts as an attainable goal throughout out industry.



About the Author

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Scarlett Nolen was promoted to president of Truly Nolen of America in March 2019. Nolen has worked for the company since 2012 in multiple roles. Most recently, Nolen was the district manager for the “Growth District,” a district of new service offices throughout Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Prior to joining the company, Nolen graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of South Carolina with a Bachelor’s Degree in Experimental Psychology and Summa Cum Laude from the University of Central Florida with a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.

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