At Gagen MacDonald, when new consultants are introduced to the firm’s values, culture, and norms, everyone hears the same message: When in doubt, do the loving thing. When presented with two choices, the loving one is nearly always right.
Over the last year, large corporations have all confronted incredibly complex and deep-seated problems regarding racial inequity in the workforce and broader racial injustice in society. We’ve been inspired as a firm by the bold and courageous responses of many leading companies. While there are dozens of tremendous examples of corporations leading with love as it relates to equity in the workplace, here are three examples that have especially shined to us.
Planting a Stake in the Ground at Johnson & Johnson
Our purpose as a firm is to help transform the companies that transform the world. It’s no wonder, then, why we are always so proud of and humbled by our partnership with Johnson & Johnson, the world’s largest and most broadly based healthcare company and a brand known and trusted in homes worldwide. However, we’ve never felt more proud of our association than we did with the recent announcement of their Race to Health Equity initiative.
Part of the Race to Heath Equity—a five-year program already funded with a $100M commitment aimed at eliminating racial disparities in healthcare—involves internal transformation. To promote equity in society, the company realized it needed to do more to achieve equity within its own walls. In particular, like many companies, Johnson & Johnson recognized that while it has made great progress in diversifying its overall workforce in recent years, it has struggled to see equitable Black representation at the manager levels & above.
Rather than tucking these unfavorable statistics in the back of D&I reports in order to present a favorable façade, the company has courageously owned up to them. In fact, as part of the Race to Health Equity, they’ve drawn a line in the sand and set a specific target for improvement. As part of their overall push for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion, they have committed to 50 percent growth of Black representation at the manager and above levels in the U.S. over the next five years. To achieve this goal, they’re substantially changing large parts of their work experience, including new systems to improve transparency, partnerships with organizations that recruit diverse talent, and a re-imagined hiring and interview process.
The more complex the problem, the easier it is for companies to express lofty ideals but leave wiggle room to explain or excuse any future lack of progress. Johnson & Johnson did the harder and more loving thing in setting a firm target that people inside and outside the company can turn back to over years to come.
Courageous Conversations at General Mills
One of the biggest impediments to equity in the workplace is that simply a lack of conversation. Unfortunately, the “polite” way to discuss race is too often not discuss it at all. While this approach diminishes the risk of uncomfortable verbal confrontations, it ultimately perpetuates the status quo. It’s hard to solve a problem we can’t even discuss, and there is no way for Black colleagues to share their experiences or express their voices without explicit forums and permission.
General Mills—a company with a highly diverse employee population spanning the country and including a mix of both corporate and manufacturing employees—recognized how severely fear of confrontation was stifling inclusiveness for Black employees, women, religious minorities, and many other groups.
In 2016, they took an action few would: they not only tolerated discussion of our most sensitive cultural and political subjects, but specifically convened them. Following remarks by external keynote speakers, General Mills trained volunteer employees to serve as discussion facilitators among their coworkers. Their goal was to encourage candor while requiring safety and respect. Since the “Courageous Conversations” program launched, the company has hosted dialogues on topics such as Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel for the national anthem, the #MeToo movement, Islamaphobia, and immigration.
The program has proven a massive success. Hundreds of employees voluntarily attend these dialogue sessions, which have rolled out beyond corporate offices to manufacturing sites and sales conventions.
The company has generously made their approach to “Courageous Conversations” freely available in order to help others eliminate barriers to dialogue and advance inclusion. You can access that document here.
From Evaluation to Development: P&G’s Manager Training
Procter & Gamble is a proud Gagen client whose presence is felt in every American community, and nearly every American household. To understand and fulfill the needs of its incredibly diverse array of customers, the company must reflect the communities it serves. For years, P&G has invested in diversifying its workforce, making tremendous strides in areas such as gender parity and overall ethnic representation. However, struggles to both recruit and retain Black talent have remained persistent. Black employees have been under-represented as a percentage of the company’s overall workforce and have had a disproportionately high turnover rate. Rather than simply resting on the successes of the rest of their DE&I efforts, the company realized it needed to examine and act on its shortcomings with Black employees.
In particular, the company invested in its managers to truly change P&G’s work experience for Black employees. Rather than simply attempting to recruit a greater percentage of Black talent – also a priority – the company aimed to create a culture of inclusion that would allow each employee to shine. This meant helping managers continue to evolve from evaluating employees to truly developing them.
In particular, the company has created a robust and multi-faceted manager training program centered on bolstering managers’ abilities to lead with empathy, practice inclusivity, and provide constructive feedback. They’ve also conducted extensive unconscious bias training to root out the invisible but destructive barriers that too often inhibit Black employees’ success.
As result, the company has seen a consistent uptick in employees’ satisfaction with their managers. All the while, P&G is moving forward in its journey to achieve not only diversity in the workplace, but true racial equity as well.