Catalyst Awards Conference 2014: Leaders Make the Difference in Diversity

Image via Catalyst

Image via Catalyst

By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Last week marked the 2014 Catalyst Awards Conference, a celebration of successful diversity and inclusion programs. The two winning companies – Kimberly-Clark and Lockheed Martin – managed to substantially increase the percentages of women in leadership through innovative programming, target setting, and incentivizing management to promote and retain women through enterprise-wide goals.

Leaders from both companies were on hand to describe what worked. According to the speakers, the breakthrough was building the business case for diversity into the culture of the company, with programs strongly supported by active and vocal leadership.

“We’ve been doing diversity and inclusion for 30 years,” said Thomas J. Falk, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Kimberly-Clark, explaining that the company had done diversity initiatives when the time and resources were available.

But recently, the company began incorporating diversity goals into its business strategy. “That was a tipping point for us, making it about what we do every day,” Falk said.

Sue Dodsworth, Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President of Executive Development at Kimberly-Clark explained that the goal of the program was to make sure employees and executives throughout the global organization looked more like the people who use its products – mainly women.

“It truly is a competitive strategy,” she said.

Likewise, Lockheed Martin’s program is also designed to capitalize on the strategic benefits of diversity.

“We realized several years ago… this is definitely a business imperative for us,” said Marillyn A. Hewson, Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer at Lockheed Martin, pointing out that only nine percent of aerospace engineers are women. “We needed all the best talent at our table.”

“The more diverse perspectives we have on the issue the better our product is going to get,” she said. The company may have great facilities and laboratories, she said, “but nothing gets done without top talent. That’s what connected with the leaders.”

Shan Cooper, Vice President and General Manager at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, added, “We were very intentional in making diversity work part of our everyday work.”

Mentoring and Sponsorship
Speakers from the winning companies also touched on the importance of mentoring and sponsorship. Cooper explained how Hewson was critical in helping her get her job. “We have a formal mentoring program with a mandate that 50% of participants are women and minorities,” she said.

Hewson, her mentor as part of the program, had put a call into the executive in charge of hiring her for her next promotion, suggesting she was right for the job.

“Sponsorship works and I was determined to make Marillyn proud,” she said.

Similarly, Falk said he works hard to impress upon his team the importance of sponsoring diverse people. He explained how he challenges people on his board or the executive team to name five people they’ve encouraged to pursue stretch opportunities.

“If all those people look like you, we have a problem,” he said. “As a leader, you have to set the tone for that.”

Unconscious Bias
Falk said that one of the more important pieces of the diversity puzzle is helping people to realize their own unconscious biases.

“I think in that area, we’re never done,” he said. “We’re consciously working at it and checking it.”

Dodsworth agreed, noting that women are often socialized to go into staff roles instead of the line roles that can propel them to leadership levels. “We don’t want to do it, but we don’t even know we’re doing it.”

At Lockheed, that meant working to draw white men, many of whom were feeling disenfranchised, into the diversity conversation. “We realized a few years ago… that we had a feeling from some of the white men that they weren’t part of the process,” she said.

“And women and minorities felt that white men weren’t engaged enough,” she said.

Lockheed organized diversity labs to facilitate conversations between diverse groups.

Cooper, who at the time was Lockheed’s diversity officer, said the labs were a life changing experience for herself as well. “It really allowed me to reflect on my assumptions I had about people,” she said.

All in all, Falk and Hewson were genuinely energetic about the importance of diversity at their respective organizations. Through their companies’ programs were driven by benchmarking, goal setting, and unique methods of connecting with the workforce on diversity, their remarks at the conference showed that it was a passionate commitment from the top that drove the two companies’ success in developing more inclusive cultures.