Going for the Diversity Gold

Since 2010, the Dow Chemical Co. has sponsored and provided infrastructure for building products and venues used in the Paralympic Games. Darlene MacKinnon, director of culture and employee engagement and human capital planning and development at Dow, oversees the global company’s cultural change initiatives, like its involvement with the Paralympics. MacKinnon discusses Dow’s impetus to become an official partner for Paralympic Games, the company’s program Champions of Inclusion and the next big breakthrough in diversity and inclusion.

Why did Dow Chemical decide to become an official partner of the London 2012 Paralympics?
With more than 4,200 Paralympic athletes from 165 countries, the Paralympic Games is the world’s largest stage to showcase the skills and talents of world-class athletes with a disability, helping to break down barriers and stereotypes about disabilities. Dow’s partnership with the London 2012 Paralympics reiterates the company’s long-standing commitment to including people with disabilities in the workplace – while calling attention to the talent of people with disabilities and the critical need for enhanced employment opportunities.

What message do you hope this partnership sends to Dow’s employees and customers?
Dow’s visible presence at the games helps position us as an employer of choice for individuals with disabilities. Internally, it generates dialogue about building an inclusive workplace and furthers our effort to advocate for people with disabilities. The games offer a unique platform to shift mindsets and breakdown stereotypes regarding disability.

Being not only a solutions-provider, but also a proud partner of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Dow showcases its corporate commitment to the promotion of diversity and inclusion in all areas. We hope our customers have the same sense of pride that we, Dow employees, have as we see our solutions — like the innovative Olympic Stadium wrap or the celebrated pink and blue artificial turf of the Riverbank Arena — enabling safer, more sustainable and higher-performing games.

Can you explain the Champions of Inclusion program? What kinds of things were employees recognized for?
In February 2012, the Disability Employee Network (DEN) partnered with diversity and inclusion and the Olympic operations team at Dow to call for nominations for Champions of Inclusion, a program to recognize Dow employees around the world who are championing the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace and in our communities. Twenty employees were selected from more than 800 nominations to represent Dow at events in London during the Paralympic Games. In addition, we have a robust internal communications plan that has put disability inclusion center stage at Dow during the games. We also have activated DEN chapters around the world to complement the Champions of Inclusion program through local activities. Examples range from hosting Dow Disability Games in Michigan to giving employees the chance to play parasports and meet Paralympians in Japan.

What steps have you, and Dow Chemical more broadly, taken to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
We are guided by a strong business case. As a solution provider to the world, it is essential that we reflect the world. We want to be a pacesetter at bringing diverse perspectives to the table. Our D&I strategy includes a focus on women’s advancement, building a robust pipeline of underrepresented minorities in science and engineering, supporting cross-cultural learning, and catalyzing an inclusive culture. We are focused on creating change by both embedding diversity into our talent management efforts, developing inclusive leaders and creating a respectful workplace.

Our Disability Employee Network is one of seven networks that are chartered with helping us attract and develop diverse talent, as well as catalyze an inclusive culture. As an example of the work of our networks, DEN, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2012, has chapters around the globe. DEN hosts workshops on disability awareness and business etiquette, provides input to assure an accessible workplace, and supports networking and mentoring programs for employees living with disabilities.

In your role as director of culture and employee engagement, how do you ensure that Dow continues to attract a diverse pool of talent?
It is essential to build external partnerships and develop sourcing strategies that reach diverse talent. It is also critical to build a reputation as a truly inclusive employer. Our Paralympics outreach is a great example of how this can work and has resulted in our ability to hire para-athlete interns. We plan to continue to build on this. We have similar relationships with organizations supporting women and underrepresented minorities, particularly in engineering and the sciences.

It is also important to have an inclusive workplace. Employees, and their experience, really are your best ambassadors. That’s why we often engage our networks to help us share the Dow story with diverse candidates.

What’s your favorite part about your job?
Seeing people succeed. While our D&I and engagement metrics are global and enterprise-wide, it is the individual stories of our employees that truly let you know you have impacted real change.

What do you see as the next big breakthrough in D&I? How is Dow working to align its business strategy to be prepared for such a change?
Overt discrimination is truly rare. We must now go to work on the unintentional and deeply rooted mindsets and behaviors that maintain the status quo. Research on unconscious bias has given diversity practitioners an exciting new set of tools to create dialogue and catalyze change. We have created a leadership workshop on unconscious bias and gender that is having a significant impact on addressing the very subtle, unintended barriers to women’s advancement.

Jeffrey Cattel is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. He can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.