Audria Henderson

Audria Henderson, HR representative for Amazon, spoke at the Southaven Chamber of Commerce on the company's diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

The Southaven Human Resources Association (SHRA), a part of the Southaven Chamber of Commerce, hosted representatives for Amazon Tuesday morning to hear about the company’s positive work environment and how it can translate to small businesses.

The SHRA was established last April by current chamber members to provide access to resources for small businesses to meet modern staffing needs and issues.

Southaven Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Debbie King says the subgroup was the brainchild of Beth Snow, who currently serves as membership coordinator for SHRA.

 “We formed a committee that has now turned into our officers,” King explained. “They are April Strickland with Buff City Soap, Kim Jones with Chick-fil-a, Brittany Hamlin with Advance Dental Implant and TMJ Center, Beth is our membership coordinator.”

SHRA’s mission and vision is to fill in some gaps for small businesses that didn’t have resources and didn’t have a human resources department. 

“(Members) can have a legal tip or a legal liaison in James Harper,” King said. “He’s also an officer and works at Harper Little Law in Oxford. That connection has been huge for us just to continue to provide resources. We can be knowledgeable and not convey untruths to the business community. We wanted a legal stance and someone who knows employment law.”

Chamber members met with the DeSoto Economic Council last year and modeled SHRA from their human resource group. 

“We wanted to be able to bring something similar to small businesses,” King said. “As a chamber member you do not have to pay a membership fee for SHRA. If you are a non-member it’s $60 a year. We wanted to make that very affordable. Most of our meetings are typically 8 a.m. so not bite too much into the business day. We started this mid-2021. Our first meeting was in April of last year. We had about 70 people.”

Harper, who presented at the session via Zoom, spoke about how employers and HR departments can deal with employees who use medical cannabis on the job.

“Tate Reeves signed the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act which basically says that under certain circumstances with certain ailments, people in this state can legally use marijuana,” Harper explained. “Of course, they’re going to have to have a prescription from the doctor and specific kinds of medical ailments. The act lists ailments and goes into effect this summer.”

Harper stressed that businesses establish clear and concise rules for use of the medicine, potential intoxication, and safety issues. He cited forklift and truck drivers as employees who would cause a potential hazardous situation if using cannabis.

“You may have to take these requests for using marijuana and treat it like an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) accommodation,” Harper said. “If you have zero tolerance policy, that’s fine. If you have ten or more employees, you’re close to that 15 employee range, now you’re going to have to look at ADA accommodations.”

Guest speaker for the event was Audria Henderson with Amazon’s HR team. She spoke on Amazon’s work environment of diversity, equity and inclusion, positive reinforcement, employee appreciation and celebrating the differences among the workforce.

“We want a culture that is inclusive of everyone,” Henderson said, “and where everyone who joins feels they have an opportunity to succeed and grow. It’s one of my specialties making sure each individual that comes in my path is successful with Amazon.”

Henderson serves a regional area that includes Memphis, Little Rock and Nashville. Daily routines encourage employee engagement from morning Jokes of the Day, tips of the day, celebrating birthdays, celebrating every possible holiday, awareness day and awareness months.

“Diversity is a combination of unique skills, experiences, perspectives and cultural backgrounds that makes us who we are and ultimately benefits our global customers,” Henderson said. “It’s a full range of visible and invisible identities including but not limited to gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, physical and cognitive abilities, sexual orientation, military status, education, religion, age, generation, social class, language, etc.”

Henderson said Amazon understands the lived experiences and unique competencies of individual employees that contribute to an overarching identity for the company. 

Employee groups that promote Amazon’s inclusion include Black Employee Network, Women in Amazon and Body Positive Peers.

Henderson said the company encourages employees to learn about other employees but are not required to do so.

“No one at Amazon has to be afraid,” Henderson explained. “When we produce a great atmosphere, everyone gets their packages on time.”

Anyone business or human resource officer interested in attending a session or speaking at a session should contact the Southaven Chamber of Commerce via Facebook or call (662) 342-6114. 

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