Membership update: The path in diversifying and understanding

This article was originally published in September 2020

It’s often shared how Puget Consumers Co-op was started by 15 families in Seattle in 1953. The part of the story that is left out is that those families were white, and the co-op started and grew in predominantly white communities in Seattle.

It wasn’t until 1985, when the co-op opened its Seward Park location, that it entered a more diverse community. For example, at that time the Seward Park neighborhood was about 60% white, 23% Black and 17% Asian. The co-op’s other neighborhood stores, which at that time included Ravenna, Green Lake and Kirkland, resided in neighborhoods that were nearly 100% white. (Source: University of Washington’s Interactive Map of Race Seattle/King County 1940-2010.)

But Seward Park was the exception, as new stores opened in predominantly white communities in the following years, like West Seattle, Fremont, Issaquah, Redmond and more. As a result, PCC membership is predominantly white (84%). There is more diversity in our staff, which is 30% diverse (and mirrors King County’s numbers, where many of our stores are located).

An important tenet of the co-op is that it values diversity—including racial diversity of staff, board, members and partners. The co-op began its work in advancing diversity several years ago, training management in unconscious bias, diversifying giving to include more Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC)-led organizations doing incredible work in their communities, and developing a partnership with Ventures. Ventures is a local organization that helps low-income, mostly BIPOC people, build their entrepreneurial businesses to get their products on store shelves. During the 2019 holiday season, the co-op sold products from two Ventures clients in PCC stores: Capuli Club and Ooliva Body Care.

When presented with the opportunity to enter the location at 23rd and Union in the Central District, and because of the rich history of the Black community in the area, the co-op increased its efforts to listen to and connect with the Black community. The PCC community relations team held community meetings to listen and learn. The co-op hired an expert to assist with the development of curriculum for retail racism prevention and unconscious and implicit bias training for all staff members and will continue to work together to advance our curriculum.

We realize that PCC, alone, cannot dismantle systemic racism; however, there are specific steps the co-op is taking now:

  • More Diversity in Recruitment and Advancement: PCC is committed to actively pursuing more diverse representation across the organization:

    —Board: Catherine Walker, Chair of the PCC Board of Trustees, has met with several members to discuss the diversity of the board and how the co-op might do a better job of recruiting people of color. The Board of Trustees is expanding its network and for the first time has hired an external consultant with demonstrated success in matching boards with qualified individuals who bring racial and gender diversity. The board is committed to adding up to two persons of color by mid-2021 and identifying multiple qualified candidates of color as positions open beyond next year, as well.

    —Staff: The PCC HR team is evaluating the paths to, and development opportunities for, leadership roles to ensure equitable access to those roles to provide more individualized support for current aspiring BIPOC staff. This is in addition to working to hire more people of color in stores.

  • More Voices Represented Across our Network: The Sound Consumer editorial staff has worked for the last few years to elevate and tell the stories of BIPOC people in the Sound Consumer. The team will continue to examine messaging, photos and recipes in a deliberate effort to more accurately reflect the co-op’s diverse community across our digital channels to this newsletter. There will also be an active focus on seeking out more Black and Brown members of the community to instruct cooking classes, to spotlight at member events and whose businesses can be featured for partner discounts.
  • Ongoing Financial and In-kind Support of the Black Community: PCC has a history of supporting many Black-led organizations and those which support the Black community. We will continue to make those investments in addition to rolling out a micro-grant program for diverse entrepreneurs this fall. With the opening of the Central District store, Byrd Barr Place joins the PCC Food Bank Program and will provide a range of quality groceries to support those who trust this neighborhood landmark to bring food to their tables.
  • Staff Training: With the opening of the Central District store, staff participated in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training with an experienced external consultant. This training will happen at all stores and throughout the organization, including members of the board. It will unfold over the next 12-18 months. At PCC stores, the training will include racism prevention and inclusion training with the goal of ensuring that PCC stores are welcoming for all staff and all people to shop.

This is a work in progress and while the co-op might not always get it right, it is committed to approaching it authentically and whole-heartedly. This includes working on a more diverse team, having honest discussions, and listening, educating and empathizing with our community.

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