Nathan Ritz has always been an advocate for fair treatment of others. Now, it’s his job.

Ritz, the director of workforce development, diversity and youth education for the Greater Des Moines Partnership, is helping local businesses move beyond the concept of diversity in the workplace to the concept of inclusion. 

Although diversity always has been a positive word to Ritz, inclusion is taking diversity to the next level. 

“Diversity has always been the buzzword, but you can have the most diverse company that is absolutely not inclusive,” Ritz said. “Companies need to recognize that difference - that inclusion is really about making sure you have that environment that’s warm and welcome to everyone.”

In April 2012, Ritz moved into his current role with the Partnership, an organization he never pictured himself being part of because its primary focus is economic development. But because his job involves what he calls the “human side of things,” he said it’s been a great fit from the start.

“We can’t keep growing our economy unless we have the right talent here,” Ritz said. 

“We have to be able to develop our human capital and make sure that businesses aren’t just working in the communities, but that they’re working for the communities, and that people are giving back as well.”

A ‘Natural’ career path

When Ritz first left Des Moines, he was a professional dancer before he returned one winter and got a job at Principal Financial Group Inc.

It’s been corporate ever since.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the art of human interactions and watching people in social situations,” Ritz said. “This pulled me toward the human resources field.”

Throughout the nine years he spent with ING Groep NV and Aviva USA, it wasn’t all business. Both companies also offered Ritz opportunities to promote diversity and inclusion by finding ways to incorporate it into the corporate culture.

At ING, Ritz was asked to start a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered diversity network in Des Moines, something the company did not have before. The network became reality in 2002, and within five years, Ritz was chairman of the Des Moines chapter of the GLBT Employee Network, a national board member and president, and the local chapter’s point of contact for all Des Moines and national initiatives.

With his background in incorporating diversity into corporate culture, Ritz also was asked to be one of four employees to build Aviva’s companywide diversity program from the ground up. During his time there, he was co-chair of the company’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council and an employee network adviser.

Ritz calls his path into the world of corporate diversity a natural one.

“I did it because I was seeing the impact I had on other lives,” he said. “It was seeing people come out of the closet at work and knowing it was the concept of bringing your whole self to work and doing it in an environment that’s accepting of it. It was seeing employees who were strongly against this and seeing the company saying, ‘This is who we are, and this is how everyone will be treated.’”

Ritz said there is no secret to how he flourished in these diverse roles, but he credits a lot of his success in fostering these opportunities to the existing business culture in Des Moines.

“Our community in general, business or not, is something I’ve never felt anywhere else. There’s a sense of pride, a sense of belonging and a sense of doing,” he said. 

“It’s something where you can move here and you actually feel like you can make an impact on whatever your passion may be. You have that accessibility to the people who matter.”

Capitalizing on an opportunity with the partnership

Ritz said the Partnership and his predecessor built a diversity program with a great reputation. 

The organization’s Diversity Council, a panel of professionals representing various businesses and sectors of Greater Des Moines, allows members to represent their businesses while making connections with African-Americans, Latinos, the LGBT community and other groups. It focuses not only on ways companies can include diversity in corporate culture, but also on what council members and businesses can do to create opportunities for immigrants and refugees.

Attendance at the Partnership’s multicultural receptions has more than doubled in the past year, Ritz said. It also continues to publish INclusion magazine. The magazine’s mission is to reflect the value and importance of diversity in Greater Des Moines, and also serves as a recruitment tool for area businesses.

Ritz also has focused on educating local businesses through free diversity-focused webinars.

“I’d like to provide companies with the tools and resources needed to grow diversity programs or, at the very least, their human resources toolbelt,” Ritz said. 

A new thing Ritz has done in his role is to spend time in area classrooms, hosting “diversity days,” where the students get to experience different cultures. He also includes a lesson on bullying, during which he and the students have candid talks about its effects.

Rona Berinobis, director of talent acquisition and workforce development at Wellmark Inc., met Ritz when he came on board with the Partnership. Berinobis, who sits on the Partnership’s Diversity Council, said his enthusiasm for diversity and passion for helping others is evident. 

“He has fresh perspectives to help others learn about the value of diversity and inclusion, from using social media to webinars to special events.” Berinobis said. 

Ritz is using that perspective to accomplish a goal of keeping many of the Partnership’s ongoing programs while changing a bit of the focus. 

“We’re not getting rid of diversity, but we want to make sure inclusion is a major aspect of it,” Ritz said. 

In addition to supporting business efforts through education, the Partnership this year also changed the name of its annual Diversity Award to the Inclusion Award. The award is given each year in up to three categories - small business, medium-sized business and large business. Previous winners include DuPont Pioneer, Bankers Trust Co., Capital City Fruit and Wellmark.

Ritz also helped organize an employee resource forum to bring existing company resource groups together to discuss what’s working, what’s not working, goals and challenges when talking diversity and inclusion. Currently, 25 people participate.

“We’re all working for the same thing when it comes to this,” Ritz said.

It’s a job that may never be finished, but it’s a goal Greater Des Moines has come a long way toward achieving.

“If you look back to see where Des Moines was 10 or 15 years ago, our city is not the same place when it comes to its diversity,” Ritz said. “We’re not at a state of perfection, nor will we ever be, but so long as we’re keeping our finger on the pulse of the community and the workplace and (we’re) attacking challenges as a collective partnership, Des Moines will always be a great place to live, work and play.”

Creating an inclusive workplace

Ritz lists first steps to take:

  • Want to do it because it’s the right thing for your company
  • The CEO must be involved and committed to efforts.
  • Have your corporate responsibility team or human resources department host a series of meetings. Ask employees what diversity and inclusion looks like to them. Ask them what they would like to see change or remain. What are the current problems? What won’t work?
  • Ask a strong figure, like the company’s CEO, to moderate the discussion. Listen to all opinions.
  • Assign a small group of individuals to draft a plan to create a more inclusive environment.
  • Have a diversity and inclusion week. Get everyone involved. Make it a goal for each employee to attend one event that week. 
  • Identify ways to include diversity in the company’s everyday culture. For example, offer ethnic foods in the cafeteria. Set up an information booth employees can access. 

What should businesses do to attract diverse employees?

  • Start with your company’s website. Are the photos visually diverse? Don’t be satisfied with just one photo showing diversity. Ideally, photos should be of actual employees.
  • Have a strong, visible diversity statement on your website.  
  • Include diverse employees in company marketing materials.
  • Have a presence at community events.