Stephen J. Cafiero may be in charge of diversity programs for Panasonic’s American branch, but he is quick to correct anyone who calls him the head of diversity. “It’s inclusion and diversity,” he says. “I like to make sure we talk about both inclusion and diversity. The reason I put inclusion before diversity is because diversity means a lot of different things, but at the end of the day, it often means race, gender, disability, and veteran status.” To Cafiero, inclusion and diversity is much more than those categories.

Cafiero, group manager for equal employment opportunity, affirmative action, and diversity at Panasonic’s U.S. headquarters in Newark, will be part of a panel on the best practices of minority and women-owned business partnerships at the Capital Region Minority Chamber of Commerce diversity summit on Wednesday, May 11, from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tickets are $50. For more information, visit www.capitalregionminoritychamber.org or call 609-731-0960.

Cafiero’s job is to make Panasonic stronger by bringing in people from as many different backgrounds as possible and ensuring the work environment welcomes their differing points of view. While that means hiring minorities, veterans, women, and people with disabilities, it also means looking for people who bring different life experiences to the table. This has real effects on how Panasonic makes its consumer electronics products.

For example, the company was recently hired to create an outdoor LED display for a NASCAR track. The firm had previously done large screens for indoor sports arenas and horse racing tracks. But for the NASCAR project, it found it was helpful that people on its team happened to be race fans.

“There are different audiences for different types of activities,” Cafiero said. “You can’t have just one way of thinking.” The company already knew how to make large screens, but it wanted to cater to the user experience that NASCAR fans were seeking. “Some people have gone to NASCAR races, and other people haven’t. Where you come from and having been to a race makes you think about NASCAR in a different way than someone who maybe watches NASCAR on TV. All of those different things help make more creative solutions for the customer.”

To Cafiero, inclusion means creating a work environment where different perspectives are welcomed. “If you don’t create an opportunity for all voices to be heard, then you did just the opposite, which is devalue people’s opinions. With inclusion everyone contributes, not just certain people.”

To advance the goal of inclusivity and diversity, Panasonic has organized a number of outreach efforts in its hometown of Newark. The company actively recruits in the local community and is involved in many community service efforts. It also has ties to veterans organizations. Cafiero said the company recently proposed building a training facility equipped with Panasonic laptops that are also used in the military. Panasonic employees would help teach veterans job skills valuable in the civilian work force.

“These relationships are really important,” Cafiero said. The company also has relationships with women’s and minority organizations, churches, high schools, and colleges in the city of Newark.

Panasonic recently launched two “business impact groups,” which are commonly called employee resource groups in other companies, for women and veterans. They are essentially affinity groups. The veteran group has about 62 members around the country.

Its mission is to work with Panasonic recruiting to bring veterans into the company, work with the marketing team to improve outreach efforts, engage with community service groups, and advocate for veteran’s issues within the company.

Cafiero grew up in Fairfield where his father owned an air conditioning and sheet metal business and drove a bus. He earned a bachelor’s in economics at Villanova with the intention of going on to become a lawyer. However, he said his grades after graduation were not the best, so he wanted to get some work experience before attending law school.

His job in the legal field, where he worked in affirmative action administration, led him down a different career path. He became an expert in affirmative action law, and worked at several different companies, eventually landing at Verizon Communications for 18 years. He was laid off when Verizon’s land-line and wireless divisions merged, and joined Panasonic in 2013.

Cafiero, who is married with one college-age daughter, has seen changes in the way younger generations view diversity. Part of Cafiero’s job is teaching inclusive practices to the workforce. He said older workers often need training on working with people from different backgrounds, but that it comes naturally to younger employees.

“I observed that with my own daughter,” he said. “I met her friends and roommates and hallmates, and my perception is that college kids don’t so much look at race as they do friendships, and it doesn’t matter what race or ethnicity or religion you are.”

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