Diversity Must Be a Professional — And Personal — Journey

Carol Evans, president of Working Mother Media, CEO of Diversity Best Practices and CEO for National Association for Female Executives, sat down with Diversity Executive magazine at the recent Multicultural Forum on Workplace Diversity. Among other topics, she discussed the importance of the individual in diversity work as well as new initiatives she’s launching for the hourly worker — a neglected group in the workforce — as well as one to address women’s increasing need to be savvy at social business.

You did a panel on innovation and the new global diversity paradigm at the Multicultural Forum on Workplace Diversity. What were some key takeaways?
I thought it was really illuminating because Steve Pemberton [chief diversity officer at Walgreens] and Roz Taylor O’Neale [chief diversity officer at Campbell Soup] are two really creative thinkers. They like to challenge, and they’re not conventional.

Roz talked about her background, growing up in the ’50s in the segregated South, which I could tell everybody was kind of surprised about. They didn’t really think about her in that context, and it’s hard for us to connect to the Deep South past, although it’s getting easier. But she said that her past heavily pulled her into this work, that it was her past that was allowing her to innovate and to create renewal and refreshment in this industry by assessing where we are at this moment against what she grew up with. That was a fascinating thought: how your past pulls you to be innovative.

Steve talked about adding a new layer to that push-pull, which was stand. He said that standing for [something] and not being moved was part of innovation because when things are being created, it’s really important to allow that to take place. He took a stand as a young man. He was in foster care and was a ward of the state for most of his childhood. He took a stand for being a productive, healthy, normal human being at the age of 16 when he was probably on the road to not surviving. I always try to bring the personal in at these conferences because we’re seen as representations of our companies, but we’re really individuals. There was some discussion about programs and policies, but it was really more: How do we innovate? Who are we when we innovate? that was much more important to the audience, I think. It’s important to set the framework to think about the theme and connect to each individual.

Many people stay away from the personal or even are leery of too much diversity talk in order to push the business angle and gain traction in diversity. What’s your perspective?
I think everything is personal. We’re human beings. We’re employees. But when we come to work or come to a conference, we’re ourselves — with our own very interesting backgrounds and mindsets and beliefs, and we come to conferences to learn but also to shift our thinking and world view big or small. Networking is important, learning is important, but you’re always trying to find that thing that will shift you a bit, and you can’t do that without bringing your whole self to the conference.

I’m a huge believer in authenticity, not to the point where you can’t function within the team because it’s all about you, but authenticity where you bring as much of yourself to work and to each situation at work as you possibly can. I try to encourage that in the people who work for me, and I think that each person’s diversity journey is three-fold. It’s what’s happening in your company, industry or place of work; it’s what’s happening in your community, your impact on diversity and inclusion; and then it’s what’s happening internally to you. It’s a journey for each individual to learn and grow and become culturally competent, to become authentic, to learn as much as we can about the world and the way it works, to know history. All of that is what diversity and inclusion is about. If it’s not a personal as well as professional journey, you’re not going to be successful getting to the best place you can get to.

What new things can we expect from Working Mother Media?
We’re always trying to replicate our ability to shift culture, society, individuals and companies, so the latest thing we’ve been working on is Best Companies for Hourly Workers. This is extremely important. It’s only in its third year. We consider it still a baby initiative, but it’s taking all 33 years of Working Mother Media and putting it out there that there is a group that still hasn’t really been addressed, and that’s the hourly worker.

It’s a group that there’s very little data about, there’s very little attention to, and yet it is the heart and soul of so many of the Fortune 500 companies. The Hourly Workers Initiative was created just for companies that have 50 percent or more hourly workers, and the average company that is involved in the initiative has 85 percent hourly workers. These are huge companies with huge amounts of employees [including] Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens and on and on.

The one that we’re launching next is our social media initiative. Social media is really changing the way we do business, and anything that changes our processes, our thinking, our communication, we need to pay attention to. Women were largely left out of the last Internet revolution because it was all about tech and software and software development, and we were really kind of weak in those areas back in the ’90s. Now this revolution is about communication, networking, relationship building — and women are so good at that, I want to make sure that women know how to and why to apply social media to business.

We’re using Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest for our girlfriends, our children, our parents, we’re communicating with our neighbors, other countries, with the world, but we’re not really on board with how it’s going to be utilized front and center in business. Sandy Carter of IBM calls it social business. She says we shouldn’t be calling it social media; it’s going to be a business process like everything else. Our initiative is to get women to be early adopters of social business the way they’ve been early adopters of social media.

Kellye Whitney is a managing editor at Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at kwhitney@diversity-executive.com.