In her 25-year career, Angela Jones has held director of operations, plant manager and other supply chain leadership positions at the Clorox Co. and Procter & Gamble while providing leadership for culture transformation initiatives. She brought her business and operational experience to developing talent management and D&I strategies at ConAgra Foods.
Jones recently spoke with Diversity Executive. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.
Given your engineering background, how did you get into the diversity and inclusion field?
I got started doing this work as a young engineering professional at P&G when the company asked a group of us to be leaders in the Black Women Manager’s Initiative. The BWMI was a strategic initiative designed to increase the representation and advancement of African-American women in the laundry and home care division. What was unique about most of the D&I work at P&G at that time was that it was driven by leaders within the business. I became engaged in the development of ERGs at P&G and as a facilitator of several of our signature inclusion training programs. Similarly, when I left P&G to go to the Clorox Co., I was asked to be an operations representative on the CEO’s task force to figure out the D&I strategy for the company.
My work as an HR professional has similar roots. In P&G, operations professionals who aspired to be plant managers needed to be strong HR professionals as well. So much of my development centered around leading initiatives that in most companies would be led by dedicated HR and OD professionals.
What has been one of the most challenging aspects of your work at ConAgra? How have you faced the challenge?
Our biggest challenge as an organization is that we started late in the inclusion game as compared to our peers. As a result, we lacked infrastructure, a common language and a way of thinking about D&I as a strategic enabler. And, we had to overcome the perceptions that diversity was about compliance and “fixing” leaders. We’ve overcome this by keeping our strategy simple and connecting it to our broader people strategy, by using analytics to focus our actions and to assess progress, by broadly engaging all parts and levels of the organization, by focusing more on the notion of inclusion to drive engagement.
Based on your work in talent management and diversity and inclusion, how can the HR unit as a whole work together better?
I’ve found that when generalists and those of us who lead centers of excellence like talent management and D&I get aligned around common goals with clear outcomes, it makes it so much easier to work clearly as partners in this journey. That way we can cover more ground effectively as we rely on each other’s strengths. There are no, or fewer, turf battles. We are then able to present an integrated people strategy to the business leaders who we have been charged to help get the most from their folks, our human capital assets.
What would you say is ConAgra’s strength in this field?
Our strengths lie in our ability to leverage analytics and engage our employee resource groups. My operations background led me to push for reliable metrics and quantitative data to be used for analysis.
We don’t allow our D&I efforts to stand alone. We made sure that D&I best practices were just a part of those critical people processes. For example: “What D&I metrics should be reviewed as part of how we analyze our talent — is retention at parity? Is movement — lateral and promotion rates — at parity? Are our slates diverse when we acquire talent? How are we leveraging mentoring? Sponsorship? Understanding attrition? Oh, we don’t have any of those processes? Let’s get those developed.”
We now have seven employee resource groups. They are leveraged to drive real business results from employee engagement to new product development. We leverage these groups to build leader capability. Many of our ERG leads at the enterprise and local level are identified from our talent review processes.
Business consultants often speak about the need for D&I offices to know the real reason their company is focusing on D&I. What is “the why” for diversity and inclusion for ConAgra?
Our “why” is pretty straightforward. We believe that diverse teams of highly engaged people deliver better business results. We also recognize that managing diverse teams requires extraordinarily capable leaders. Solutions are so much richer when you can take advantage of the creative tension that comes through from engaged diverse teams.
How does your team include diversity and inclusion into the company culture?
Make sure the ownership for D&I doesn’t lie solely within the D&I and/or HR teams. Business leaders have to own the work. New diversity officers have to know the business cold, so that they know which strategies that need to be implemented should be structured, prioritized and “sold in.”
What are the most key elements of any diversity and inclusion strategy?
A clear connection to the business-organization people strategy; a business case and a case for change; a capability building plan (this is different from training); an accountability plan; and a change management strategy.
What’s the first thing you do when a diversity and inclusion challenge comes up?
First I determine who “owns” the outcome and therefore who needs to be engaged in the problem solving around the challenge. Then get into the problem solving. Identify the facts, understand what judgments are being driven by those facts and recognize the emotions that need to be acknowledged and managed.
Mary Camille Izlar is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.