Laz Parking's Drive For Gender Diversity
At the annual NPA convention in October 2013, I was fortunate enough to bump into Michael Harth, Chief Culture Officer of Laz Parking. CCO Harth, COO Michael Kuziak and President Jeff Karp had an intriguing proposal: They, along with Chairman and CEO Alan Lazowski, had determined that improving their company’s gender-balanced workforce was a key initiative in 2014.
With this on their radar, they invited me help kick off the initiative at their annual company meeting in early February. Specifically, they asked me to facilitate a panel discussion of parking executives to discuss the importance and value of gender diversity from the perspective of clients and partners of the firm.
That conversation led to Laura Longsworth, Vice President National Parking from Brookfield Properties; Sarah Blouch, President of CampusParc; and Jody Blackinton, Regional Director of Operations at Hersha Hospitality; also joining Laz at their annual meeting. Our task was to challenge their team and share our thoughts on promoting the advancement of female professionals within the parking industry.
Our audience included about 120 individuals from the company such as Senior Executives, RVPs, GMs, Business Development professionals, and more than 30 women currently working for Laz.
We led with an energizing 90-minute session with Maureen Berkner Boyt, Founder of The Moxie Exchange Movement, a group dedicated to giving companies and people the tools they need to promote gender diversity. We followed with our interactive panel discussion.
What began that morning as a simple Q&A between the panel and me led to a highly charged discussion with the Laz team, who were interested in ways to apply the lessons they were learning back home in their respective regions.
As far as I know, this was the first time an operator formally organized and launched a company-wide strategic initiative to improve its workforce gender balance. In the many conversations I’ve had with its executive leadership during that time and since, it has become clear to them that cultivating a management team profile of this nature isn’t just “the right thing to do”; it also brings about financial and intrinsic value.
As Alan Lazowski stated recently, “Once the ratio of male-to-female professionals was recognized as imbalanced, we knew we had an opportunity to improve the numbers, which we believe internally will also increase retention of key talent and externally provide us a different type of competitive edge.”
His last point resonated well with the panelists; given the rise of female key decision-makers year over year, the clients on the panel recognized gender balance from their operators was a lever that has yet to pulled to its fullest potential.
As anyone who institutes the strategic planning process as part of their business model knows, identifying initiatives to improve profitability and operational efficiency is easy; actually developing and executing the related tactics across an organization to effect positive change is the challenging part.
Laz has met this piece to the puzzle head on.
As a champion of improving gender diversity, Andi Campbell, Vice President of Human Resources at Laz, recently shared with me the project’s key “deliverables” related to their employer branding program, recruitment practices and employee development strategy.
One of the company’s action items included joining Women In Parking, which was backed up by sending female employees to attend this year’s Inaugural WIP Conference in Chicago and participating in the 2014/15 Mentoring Program.
Taking their WIP involvement a step further, Laz is the first Platinum Corporate Sponsor, with more than 25 professionals as active members within the association. Alan Lazowski sits on the WIP Leadership Board.
As Campbell shared during our conversation, “The Laz team, from CEO to cashier, has been highly engaged in playing a part in furthering this initiative, and the positive results to date reflect our employees’ commitment to improving our workforce diversity.”
She echoed the executive leadership’s insight when sharing the key metrics her team tracks to evaluate both the progress of the strategy’s implementation and the intended value.
“We know the targets we want to reach when it comes to our employee hiring, development and retention practices, and each supporting ‘deliverable’ is tracked and communicated regularly.”
I’ve been connected to the Laz team now for a few years, and their company culture continues to hold my interest. Their internal slogan – “Never, ever give up” – a phrase often demonstrated throughout the organization, is the embodiment of their focus on promoting gender balance.
With this attitude, I am optimistic that Laz will continue to yield results and benefits well beyond the expectations first discussed in October 2013.
Colleen M. Niese, a Principal of The Marlyn Group, is Chairperson of Women In Parking. With nearly 20 years’ experience in the parking industry, working with three national operators, Niese has held several leadership positions to either oversee or drive the startup of a wide number of corporate support functions. Contact her at email@example.com.