A woman on a diversity mission

Earlier this month, Kimberly-Clark named Sue Dodsworth the company’s Global Diversity Officer.  @K-C News talked with Sue about diversity at Kimberly-Clark and what employees can expect in the coming months and years from the company’s efforts.
@K-C: Sue, to help establish some context, give us a brief explanation of what your role is and what you’re charged with accomplishing.

Dodsworth: Every employee by now is aware that earlier this year we launched our Global Business Plan (GBP) 2015.  That plan has four primary strategies, one of which is unleashing the power of our people.  At the heart of unleashing the power that’s within our people is diversity and inclusion. So my goal, my purpose for coming to work every day now is to help us find ways to bring out the best ideas from employees in every team, in every business and every region, all so that we can drive better business results.

That’s an ambitious goal…

Yes, it is, but I’m not working alone.  I’m working with the leadership of this company.  We’re pulling together sufficient resources, including a staff of people and a budget that allows us to do things such as research, training and the like.

You’ve also got support from high places.  It’s not every day that a personnel announcement goes out of its way to mention that someone is reporting dotted line to CEO Tom Falk.

It’s not about me personally being supported from the top; it’s about the effort being supported from the top. Tom, along with the entire Global Strategic Leadership Team (GSLT), is committed to creating a more diverse organization, and they’re not only putting the resources in place to make that happen, but they will be holding themselves, me and other K-C leaders accountable for it.

Everyone in the company would agree there’s more that we can do in the area of diversity, but in all candor, we’ve said for some time that diversity is important.  What’s different now?

Facts.  You can never argue with facts.  And the facts show that companies with more diverse workforces deliver better business outcomes.  We all know we’ve not delivered the greatest results in the last few years; we’ve held our own in a tough environment, but we’re not turning heads with our results.  We have to do whatever we can to gain competitive advantage, and having a more diverse, inclusive workforce is an advantage we haven’t yet fully tapped into.  As a business, we will be more likely to win – at the shelf and at those critical purchasing decision points – if our employee base looks, thinks and behaves like the people who use our products.

Then what you’re saying is that our employee base does not today look, think or behave like the people who use our products.  What has to change?

Well, visual diversity and inclusion of every employee is a good place to start.  We need to work to achieve more gender and ethnic diversity in our management ranks.  But we also have much work to do in the area of inclusion, and one of the best ways to do that is to improve the flow of people through our organization. We’ve found that we have less movement in K-C than in other companies.  That is, the flow of people – whether that’s promotions, lateral moves or exits – is slower than in many other companies of our size.  With more movement, people have more exposure to various teams and learning is shared more broadly.

What major activities will you use to improve the diversity of our workforce and our ability to foster more inclusive work environments?

Well, the flow through rate of our people that I just mentioned is one major area of emphasis.  The more people – with their variety of experiences, opinions and talents – who move through teams, the stronger the teams will be.

Another area is creating greater demand for diversity.  Our leaders should be demanding fresh talent, fresh ideas, fresh thinking.  Team leaders need to seek out talent and then make sure that every voice is brought to the table.  We’ll be driving this hard in 2011 by educating leaders on the economic value of diversity and inclusion.

A third area is engagement.  We have to identify areas where we’re limiting inclusion.  When we limit people’s ability to contribute, we limit the potential of the company. That’s not acceptable.

And a fourth area is improving the supply of diverse talent.  And that supply comes both from outside the company and from within.

Does that mean that diversity will play a role in hiring or promoting?

It means that when we make decisions about people – whether that’s hiring or promoting or moving someone into a new role – that we always have a full slate of qualified candidates.  With that robust slate of candidates in place, then we pick the best candidates.

When will people start to see results from this effort?

This is a five-year strategy and we’re getting a fast start in the next few months.  We’re putting this on the agenda of every leader in the company next year, raising their awareness of the economic value of diversity and inclusion.

Sue, what makes you qualified for this role?

I don’t know that anyone is perfectly qualified for a role like this, but here’s what I do know.  For me, this is not a soft issue.  It’s as tangible a business lever as manufacturing, brands or product research.  I’ve led strategy teams, I’ve been on numerous M&A teams, and in those roles I’ve learned to always look at the business levers.  So when I look at diversity and inclusion, I look at it through a business lens.  And with that lens, the facts are indisputable: companies that do it well do better.

Aside from that, I have to consider my own personal perspective on D&I.  The question I love to ask people is:  At what point did you know you were diverse?  When people really think about that question – at what point did they know they thought differently than other people – then they begin to see the value of diversity and inclusion.  I want that light to go off over every head in Kimberly-Clark.  That would be a good beginning.

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