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Greenville Business Magazine

Top Workplaces honoree for diversity, equity and inclusion: Lee Distributors

By Amanda Capps

Their ambition is “to be the elite beverage distributor in the United States,” and that begins with an outstanding team.

With that in mind, the leaders behind Lee Distributors go to extraordinary lengths to recruit, interview, hire, promote and support a diverse group of people who love their jobs and bolster their co-workers. One look at Suzanne Anderson’s business card shows the company’s markedly different approach. Instead of “human resources,” her title is “human capital manager,” a deliberate distinction emphasizing that their employees are their strongest assets. An essential element of her mission is to hire the right people to become part of Lee’s family-oriented culture.

“We want to attract and retain the best of the best,” Anderson said.

Part of their success in doing just that results from the leaders’ commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), which is becoming increasingly important to today’s workforce and giving a competitive advantage to the forward-thinking. Operating from Summerville with a branch facility in Ridgeland, South Carolina, Lee has been part of Reyes Beer Division since 2006.

Anderson pointed to Reyes’s extensive policies on hiring, promotions, retention, training and pay when discussing Lee’s approach. They routinely review and correct job description language for bias, utilize diverse hiring teams and track goals they’ve set for representation.

Job descriptions include equivalent experience as an acceptable substitute for educational requirements, and accommodations for interviews are clearly communicated. Additionally, there is an intern program for underrepresented/marginalized groups and an internal and external pay audit at least every three years.

Lee implements targeted recruiting efforts for women, individuals with disabilities, veterans and members of specific groups. They also monitor promotions and layoffs to ensure representation and parity.

Anderson said Lee’s management takes pride in the ability to maintain high engagement among employees and provide substantial growth opportunities across the entire Reyes organization. Employees surveyed about the workplace atmosphere consistently pointed to avenues for advancement. One said the company “provides team members the tools needed to grow” in both their careers and personal lives, and another credited the environment and success on the job with boosting overall confidence. Lee offers ample chances for professional development and education on topics such as financial literacy and presentation skills.

According to Anderson, Lee promotes an open-door atmosphere that stems from the top of the organization, and its leadership wants all employees to work hard and have fun in the process. Employees substantiated that claim as well, reporting that the company cares about its people and their families, listens to all employees and fosters healthy competition that inspires all to reach for one of the company’s ideals: Be the Best.

Managers, senior leaders, hiring teams, hiring managers and Lee’s board of directors undergo thorough training on inclusive recruiting, interviewing, hiring and managing, along with running inclusive meetings. All employees receive training on cross-cultural issues and unconscious bias. Management’s visible efforts have resulted in an overwhelmingly positive staff whose written comments indicate the utmost degree of camaraderie and satisfaction.

One person noted that senior leaders have direct contact with the front-line workforce, making themselves available to “hear firsthand what’s going on.” The spirit of collaboration and solidarity espoused by Reyes and the managers at Lee permeates the culture and makes teamwork a given. Employee comments on that count included: “I know if an issue presents itself, and I’m not able to solve it, my team is there for me” and “Everyone at Lee works together to succeed as one.”

According to recent survey documents, Lee’s employees have access to affordable medical plans and multiple options that include mental health benefits, dental, vision, and an option to purchase long-term care plans. They can also receive assistance from a benefits specialist who explains coverage and helps them make choices. Further, eligibility for benefits extends to same and differently gendered domestic partners and spouses, and there are parental leave policies (including paternity leave), caregiver leave policies and an employee assistance program available to full- and part-timers.

As Covid reshaped the business landscape in 2020, Anderson said the company focused on providing all employees a safe working environment and as many resources as possible to help their families. One associate said she feels appreciated “beyond what any other company has shown.”

The company’s commitment to DEI is publicly communicated and shared regularly through internal publications and posted in high-traffic areas. Lee has an internal DEI committee and performs regular audits of systems, policies and practices for bias. They also provide technical accommodations to make phones and computers accessible to all.

Reyes Beer Division is the largest beer distributor in the United States. Company officials say they continually strive toward the aforementioned goal of being the brewers’ distributor of choice through unparalleled service and a desire to grow their customers’ profitability. Founded by Henry J. Lee Sr. in Charleston in 1961, Lee now sells and annually distributes nearly six million cases of some of the world’s best-known brands, along with a selection of craft beers, to nearly 3,000 accounts.

Commentary on Lee’s website says, “It’s the resources we devote to developing our employees’ skills and reinforcing that their safety is always our top priority. And it’s our promise to do everything we can to leave this planet better than how we found it.” Employees of this top workplace agree they’re already achieving that.