About Mixed Nuts and Diversity
Adding value and a competitive edge. 7/27/2021 | Joel Schaffer, MAS, The Take Away
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It is hard for me to walk an aisle in Costco without grabbing a container of mixed nuts. Next to them sits jars of cashews only.  I love each and every one of the mixed nuts. Yea, I really like cashews but picking out cashews only makes my wife go ballistic. On the other hand, she always leaves out the licorice and green gum-drops and I won’t say a word.

When I entered the promotional industry in 1968, we were akin to a jar of cashews. Here and there we saw a woman, the number of minorities on both the supplier and distributor side who were employed in any other position other than manufacturing, shipping and front office was negligeable. We were a white male industry and so many other industries were as well. I have watched our industry change. First, we saw a significant increase of women, particularly in the field of sales. Before this growth, women were either part owner in a mama-papa company or in customer service and order entry. We saw a growth of Americans with ancestry in Asia as our industry began to look to Asia and the sub-continent as a source of supply. Our industry began to attract Americans with Latin American ancestry. The growth was noticeable in South Florida, California, and the border states. Many distributors focused on export sales to Latin America. I do not recall any campaign or effort by our industry, up until the millennium, that was aimed at increasing diversity in our industry and promoting careers and opportunity in our industry for minorities. From the 60’s - 90’s there was hardly a person of color walking a show floor. To qualify my statement, it was less than 5%.  It can be said the state of the industry evolved in terms of diversity and it can be said that we are woefully short of having fully evolved.

As a 76-year-old, there is a lot I am not comfortable with. That includes the word “woke”. So, that is exactly why I am going to use it in a sentence right now. The promotional products industry is now “woke” in terms of diversity and the need for all within to become more knowledgeable, accepting and proactive in the quest to move faster to where we should be. PPAI “woke” me. They asked me to serve on a volunteer task force and, as usual, I said, “gladly.”

I serve on the DEI Task Force in consort with PPAI staff. The mission is to expand Diversity, Equity and Inclusion throughout the promotional products industry and its workforce by creating education networking opportunities and perhaps more. I must say the small group of supplier and distributor volunteers  I am working with is incredible. They are so aware and so activated to promote diversity, it is like I have been asleep throughout my career. I will say the vast majority of business owners and managers in our industry have also been sleeping. It is time for all of us to learn about diversity, the need to be diverse and steps that can be taken to build said diversity.

Diversity is a broad term that does not have one definition. Diversity and inclusion in the workplace aren’t new but it has become less a case of simply factoring in age, gender and race, and more about hiring a wider range of people to add value to businesses. Yes, add value and even offer you a competitive edge.

Diversity includes the alphabet soup used to delineate different groups. LGBTQ++++. The number of letters in the soup grow as we recognize people who have been excluded from our hiring and our remediation efforts.

Diversity in the workplace means a company embraces multiculturalism, gender and gender preference, race, ethnicity, age, sexuality, language, education, background, and so on.” It is not only about hiring but ensuring that the participation of these employees is equal. Symbolism by just hiring a diverse workforce is not enough. Equal opportunity and inclusion are what is needed.

Look within. Is your organization truly diverse? Are you a jar of mixed nuts or just cashews? If you feel the is significant diversity within, do all employees have an equal opportunity? This is a sensitive subject to many who shy away from talking about themselves. This task force is trying to provide a safe place for people to talk about their concerns, issues, and ideas for a better future. The task force is in the early stages, but I can see the future. This is your “woke” up call. Get woke, start your education, and get away from tokenism and lack of concern. If that is not enough and you need to monetize this…. Lack of diversity will cost you business. Lack of company diversity says a lot about you, your corporate culture, and your leadership. 


Joel D. Schaffer, MAS is CEO and Founder of Soundline, LLC, the pioneering supplier to the promotional products industry of audio products. Joel has 48 years of promotional product industry experience and proudly heralds “I was a distributor.” He has been on the advisory panel of the business and marketing department of St. John’s University in New York and is a frequent speaker at Rutgers Graduate School of Business. He is an industry Advocate and has appeared before the American Bankers Association, American Marketing Association, National Premium Sales Executives, American Booksellers Association and several other major groups. He has been a management consultant to organizations such as The College Board and helped many suppliers enter this industry. He is a frequent contributor to PPB and Counselor magazines. He has facilitated over 200 classes sharing his industry knowledge nationwide. He is known for his cutting humor and enthusiasm in presenting provocative and motivating programs. He is the only person to have received both the Marvin Spike Industry Lifetime Achievement Award (2002) and PPAI’s Distinguished Service Award (2011). He is a past director of PPAI and has chaired several PPAI committees and task forces. He is a past Chair of the SAAGNY Foundation, Past President of SAAGNY and a SAAGNY Hall of Fame member. He was cited by ASI as one of the 50 most influential people in the industry.
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