When an executive recently reported to Nicole Johnson-Reece that Aramark Corp.'s workforce is 40 percent diverse, the company's new vice president of diversity said she replied: "No, you have 100 percent diversity of Aramark employees."
To Johnson-Reece, 39, diversity issues extend beyond gender, race and sexual orientation to include age, experience, education, cultural background and interests.
"Everyone that walks in the door brings something to the table that is valuable to us," she said, adding that companies have to figure out how to respect and best leverage the talents and perspectives of their employees.
"We're competing in the 21st-century global economy," she said. "You have to be nimble, you have to be innovative, and that is going to come from the people who walk in the door. You have to provide them an environment and the tools to reach their potential."
In addition, she said, employee programs addressing diversity issues can help a company compete in the "war for talent."
Johnson-Reece, a native of Teaneck, N.J., started her career with a finance background, moved into marketing, and then transitioned into a job that has spread throughout corporate America: diversity officer.
She received a bachelor's degree in economics and finance from Rutgers University in 1989. After college, she worked in finance for AT&T for five years before she realized she wanted her professional role to have more "people impact." So she shifted into consumer marketing, focusing on sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean region at AT&T and, later, Verizon.
Cendant Corp. then hired Johnson-Reece for a diversity position. In 1999, the lodging, car-rental and financial-services company promoted her to vice president of global diversity and inclusion for its Cendant Hospitality Group (which in July became Wyndham Worldwide).
At Aramark, Johnson-Reece is in charge of the diversity program called Kaleidoscope, which involves training, recruitment, partnerships, and supplier diversity programs. Aramark, with headquarters in Center City and with 240,000 employees in 18 countries, provides food-service, uniform rental, and other professional services. The company recently went private in a $6.3 billion management-led buyout.
Johnson-Reece was attracted to Aramark because, she said, "it is a brand that touches every part of our lives - from the day we're born to the day we go. Our people are in schools, in hospitals."
In addition, she said, "our product is our people." This was important to Johnson-Reece, who said she wanted to make a positive difference in the lives of others. "When you work in a company where its product is its people, you have the greatest opportunity to do that," she said.
Married for 13 years with two children ages 10 and 6, Johnson-Reece lives in West Orange, N.J., but plans to relocate to South Jersey. - Janet Pinkerton
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